Help for Children with Autism

Because many parents are searching for treatment options for children with autism, I have written a summary of what they can expect from the “biomedical” or “environmental medicine” approach.  (For more information on this approach, consult the resources listed in a downloadable document on my Resources page. )

Autism is a set of biochemical disorders that affect brain function and also cause physical symptoms.  The primary causes of autism are (1) the child’s exposure to neurotoxic metals and other environmental contaminants, (2) the child’s allergies and sensitivities to foods and chemicals, and (3) the child’s constant exposure to the brain-toxic chemicals that are produced by viruses, bacteria, or fungi living within the child.    These three underlying causes in turn produce chronic brain inflammation, chronic gastro-intestinal inflammation, impaired digestion and elimination, and chronic free radical damage to body tissues.

The toxins particularly affect the brain.  Why? Toxins target the child’s brain because toxins do their greatest damage in rapidly developing organs, such as a child’s brain. Many of these toxins have an affinity for fat tissues—the brain’s composition is 60% fat. Toxins target metabolically active tissues: the brain is one of the most metabolically active sites in the human body, and therefore it is particularly susceptible to damage from toxins and the free radicals that they create.

Because the causes of autism are so complex, conventional medicine is not sufficiently sophisticated to diagnose and treat the underlying issues.

But treatment programs variously called “environmental medicine” (EM) or “biomedical treatment” have helped many children to recover from autism and others to achieve major gains in their behavior and ability to learn.

Conventional doctors are taught that “there is no science” behind the environmental medicine approach, that toxicity plays no role in autism, and that the doctors who practice environmental medicine are callously robbing money from desperate parents.

On the contrary, the EM approach is supported by a wealth of peer-reviewed scientific papers and by the collective clinical experience of hundreds of doctors, worldwide.    This approach tests for and treats the underlying causes of autism: the brain-toxic metals and other environmental contaminants; the allergies and sensitivities to foods and food chemicals; and the viruses, bacteria and fungi inhabiting the child.

Analysis of the child’s unique situation may begin with a parents’ checklist of autistic behaviors, modeled upon the Autism Research Institute’s E-2 form.  A video highlighting the child’s baseline autistic behaviors may be made and repeated periodically.  These reports, along with the child’s existing medical and educational reports, will create a baseline so that the child’s progress can be monitored.   Parents may be asked to keep a daily journal of the child’s behavioral and physical symptoms, which will help to guide treatment decisions.

At the outset, a diet free of dairy products and most grains will be immediately recommended, on a trial basis.   Up to 80% of autistic children improve simply by avoiding the morphine-like proteins from grains and dairy.  These opiate-like substances affect brain function and digestion, and can even cause intestinal pain.   Parents will be taught how to implement this diet, which may be difficult because some children are physically addicted to these morphine-like substances.  Parents will also be taught how to eliminate food additives that cause neurological symptoms in susceptible children.  Parents will be counseled on reducing the child’s exposure to other neurotoxins in the child’s environment, such as garden pesticides, fumes from cleaning fluids and magic markers, and formaldehyde out gassing from carpets and plywood-based furniture and cabinets.

In addition to the initial dietary intervention, nutritional supplements will be gradually introduced, such as methyl B12, B6, and B3; the minerals magnesium and zinc; the vitamins A, C, and D; and the essential fatty acids.  Supplementation is essential because these children typically have poor digestion, which prevents them from absorbing essential nutrients from their foods.  Also, some children have a genetic need for larger-than-normal quantities of certain vitamins.

Other supplements recommended at the first visit may include digestive enzymes and probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that naturally occupy the intestines.  Enzymes and probiotics will improve digestion and relieve the constipation or diarrhea that afflict many children with autism.   The child’s continued need for supplements may be tracked with blood cell testing.   Epsom salt baths will also be recommended at the outset.  Epsom salt baths soothe children and help them to absorb sulfur, which is essential for their natural detoxification systems as well as for their brain development.

Urine testing at the initial visit will assess the presence of fungal infections; toxins from bacterial infections; and brain-toxic metals, chiefly mercury, lead, aluminum, and arsenic.   Stool testing will reveal fungal elements, parasites, and toxins from bacteria.  Treatments for fungal infections will include a diet low in sugars, and anti-fungal pharmaceuticals or herbs. Treatments for bacterial infections and parasites may include nutritional supplements, herbs, and pharmaceuticals.

Other tests administered at the outset may include a comprehensive metabolic panel; a lipid panel (many children with autism have cholesterol levels that are too low for proper brain development); erythrocyte sedimentation rate and C-reactive protein panel  (these are tests for inflammation); a thyroid panel (a poorly functioning thyroid slows the body’s natural detoxification processes and prevents proper brain development); a vitamin D assay (D is required for proper brain development); and an immune system evaluation that assesses levels of specific types of immunoglobulins (these are immune-related proteins that should be naturally present  in the blood).  By doing all these tests at once, the pediatrician can minimize the amount of blood that needs to be drawn and thus reduce needle trauma to a sensitive child.  Several weeks will be needed for the results of these tests to be received and analyzed by the pediatrician.

Once the child’s digestion is stabilized, a series of treatments to eliminate brain-toxic metals, such as mercury, lead, arsenic, and aluminum, can begin.  This process may last months or years, depending on the child.  The process ceases when the child no longer makes cognitive gains with each treatment.  Prior to and at intervals during the treatment, the pediatrician will test the child’s kidney and liver function to ensure that these remain stable during the series of treatments.  The pediatrician will choose  “chelating” (metal-removing) agents on the basis of their capacity to increase the individual child’s urinary excretion of the toxin.  Some parents fear IV chelation; for these families, non-IV chelation methods may be used.  Children who have mercury amalgam fillings will have these removed prior to chelation.

During chelation therapy, glutathione may be supplemented.  Glutathione is a chemical naturally produced by the body for detoxification. Some children improve with non-denatured whey protein, which increases the body’s ability to create its own glutathione.  High-dose methylcobalamine (a form of B12) and methylfolate (a form of folic acid) may also be administered, because these nutrients are required for detoxification.

Sessions in an infrared sauna will help the child to sweat out heavy metals and other neurotoxic contaminants, such as phthalates, petrochemicals, and pesticides. During chelation and sauna therapy, nutritional minerals will be supplemented because these may be lost during treatment.

Industrial chemical contaminants are particularly high in children with autism, as measured by urine testing.    Children with autism are contaminated with PCB’s at concentrations 10 to 85 times the amounts found in normal children.  Benzene shows up at four to ten times the amounts in normal children. Dry cleaning fluid appears in children with autism at a magnitude 6 to 200 times as great as the load in normal children.  These are all brain-toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.

Also on a later visit, the child may be given a 24- to 72-hour EEG to test for seizure activity.  Seizure activity is common in autistic children, but the seizures may be subtle and hard to recognize without an EEG.  One study found that 50% of children with autism were having unrecognized seizures.  A high-fat or ketogenic diet, supplements, or medications will be recommended to reduce the frequency and severity of seizures, if detected.

Children with deficient immune systems may be given transfer factor, often in the form of colostrum.  Intravenous immunoglobulin may be offered in cases of severe immune deficiency.

A blood test for food sensitivities may be given to enable parents to fine-tune the child’s diet.  Urine testing for oxalate excretion may indicate the need for a low-oxalate diet.  Oxalate residues cause razor-sharp crystals that cause excruciating pain in body tissues, such as the stomach or the eyes. The presence of these crystals may be the reason that some children have poked out their own eyes.

Other tests administered at later visits include genetic testing and viral titers.  Genetic testing will determine specific metabolic weaknesses that can be addressed with targeted supplementation.  Viral titers can identify ”stealth” viruses that cause low-grade chronic infections, which in turn cause behavioral symptoms, gastro-intestinal distress, and pain.

Mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy will be offered to increase blood flow to the brain.  Many children with autism make cognitive gains with hyperbaric oxygen therapy.  Others become more sociable and affectionate.  This treatment is simply a matter of playing quietly or napping in a pressurized chamber, along with a parent, for 60- to 90-minute sessions.  Generally, pediatricians recommend a trial of at least 40 sessions before evaluating the success of the treatment.  Most parents elect to continue the treatments, seeing improvement in their children’s brain function.

Some children will benefit from dermal application of the digestive hormone secretin, which helps to normalize digestive function and to regulate the rage center in the brain.   Some will benefit from low-dose naltrexone, which stimulates the immune system. Melatonin, a sleep hormone, may be given in small doses to improve the child’s sleep patterns.  A chiropractic evaluation may be undertaken to ensure that spinal misalignments are not interfering with brain function. Homeopathic remedies may be offered to aid detoxification, to fight fungal and bacterial infections, and to calm the child.

To find more detailed information on the EM or biomedical approach to autism, consult my Resources page.

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