Autism spectrum disorder, most often diagnosed in children usually up to the age of two and a half, has increased in epidemic proportions in the last thirty years. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 1 in 94 children are currently diagnosed with autism; in 1970, the rate was 4 children out of 10,000.
Characterized by a multitude of signs and symptoms, a child diagnosed with autism usually has varying degrees of detachment from people and surroundings. Many parents report that their baby or child was fine and either suddenly or gradually began to withdraw from parents and their environment and regress in their developmental skills physically, mentally, and emotionally. In babies, this includes a lack of visual connection to people, a cessation of smiling and other kinds of social expression, aversion to being touched, and regression in previously developed skills such as crawling. In toddlers, loss of vocabulary, emergence of strange speech patterns and body mannerisms, such as the flapping of arms or ritualistic motions, are all potential indicators of autism. Naturally, families are shocked and baffled in these instances, and feel they have lost their baby to a world they cannot understand and do not have access to.
As the rates continue to escalate, concerned parents are demanding to know about the causes of autism, how it can be prevented, and treated once diagnosed. Medical science has yet to offer satisfactory answers regarding the causes of autism and its potential treatments. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics and Center for Disease Control, “There is no single cause of autism, but genetics plays an important role,: to “Learn the signs of autism, act early.” Outside the confines of what the AMA would consider credible health sources, there lies a plethora of information – often contradictory.
As a primary care physician, I am often asked about autism from concerned parents. Autism is a complex complicated syndrome. Most families of autistic children in my medical practice are convinced that the blame lies with vaccines, while, more generally factors such as environment, pollutants, ultrasound in pregnancy, pitocin during childbirth, antibiotics, and changes in family life have all fallen under suspicion as possible causes.
Because there have been many opinions as to causes of autism, consider the following overall choices (when possible) for optimal health care and possible prevention from the holistic medical perspective:
1. Natural Pregnancy and Birth
Your child’s life begins in utero. Nowadays, the 21st century baby-to-be is bombarded with stimuli such as ultrasound to procedures as amniocentesis. The womb is no longer a safe haven! The long term effects of repeated ultrasound exposures on the fetus are not fully known. Because the risks of ultrasound include increased learning disabilities, epilepsy, delayed speech development, dyslexia, The American Pregnancy Association recommends that “ultrasound only be used if medically indicated.” With regards to childbirth, the synthetic hormone Pitocin is commonly used by obstetricians to induce labor contractions. Dr. Eric Hollander of Mount Sinai Medical Center has theorized that the use of Pitocin may be a possible risk factor in autism. For more information see the movie, “The Business of Being Born,” and Dr. Feder’s website on Prenatal Tests and Procedures.
2. Breastfeed. When possible breastfeed, ideally for more than a year. Reasons to breastfeed include: stronger immune system, less chronic disease, less obesity, improved vision, nutrients for brain growth and development, and improved bonding and sense of well being.
3. Healthy organic food. Eat fresh organic food, locally bought and in season. The benefits of whole fat in the diet such as butter was prized for health and fertility by our healthy ancestors. The type of diet I recommend and follow comes from the recommendations of Dr. Weston Price, an American dentist from the 1930s. . Price travelled the world and studied over a dozen groups of isolated communities worldwide who enjoyed excellent health and longevity. See Weston Price Foundation
4. Natural medicines when sick. Antibiotics have saved many lives over the decades. However, success can lead to excess and we now are experiencing problems from antibiotic overuse causing infections from resistant organisms. Dr Joan Fallon published a study of 206 autistic children linking antibiotic use as a possible cause of autism. Antibiotics can lead to overgrowth of yeast (candida) in the body, and this link has also been questioned. When possible employ natural medicines and homeopathy to treat simple colds, ear aches, to chronic conditions, including autism.
5. Choose non toxic products. When possible minimize exposures to toxins, beginning before pregnancy. Consumer products from baby bottles to shampoo can also be toxic. For example. BPA (bisphenol A), a chemical used by manufacturers has been linked to cancer, hyperactivity, miscarriage, obesity and reproductive problems. Concerns about toxins being linked to autism are becoming more apparent in the news. For more information about your products go to the website: safecosmetics.org.
6. Vaccines. Although the vaccine-autism link has been scientifically disproved by what the AMA would consider reliable sources, I have met many parents who claim their child has been ill from a vaccine, including autism. The vaccine debate continues to be the most difficult decision for some parents in deciding whether or not to vaccinate. I recognize that a vaccine is like any other medication: it can have side effects. In my office, we offer a Safe Shot Strategy for parents who choose to vaccinate their children. In doing so, we have avoided any possible major side effects from the shots. This includes the following:
Vaccinations are given separated when possible, and on a slower schedule
Homeopathic medicines are used before and after a shot to minimize or prevent side effects.
Vaccines are purchased thimerosal (mercury) free, in single dose vials.
Children must be in good health on the day of the shot (no fussiness or runny nose)
See Dr. Feder’s book on The Concise Guide to Childhood Vaccinations
Children with autism and similar disorders—including Asperger’s syndrome, attention deficit disorder (ADD), learning disorders, developmental delays, and hyperactivity—have available to them a wide array of medications and therapies meant to integrate him or her back into mainstream school and life. However, I would encourage parents to seek other avenues in the holistic field before resorting to medications, which often only suppress symptoms and come with a host of side effects. Early intervention is important!