How can I help my Grandson who has Autism?
Parents or grandparents with a child who is Autistic have an extremely challenging role, one which as a new parent we can not believe could be possible to us. I remember once watching the movie "The Horse Boy", which is about a pre-adolescent boy and his journey to Mongolia with his parents. I cried and held such admiration for the consistentpatience and selflessness of the parents to manage this completely ego-centric child. These children are sent to testour every fiber, however if we approach it from a positive place we can learn a lot from these children who are tryingto survive in a fast paced and over-stimulated world. We all need to stop, rest and rebalance ourselves as the worldtries to force us to multitask and fill our days with media, connections and hard work. These children are here to teachus to play in nature, reconnect with the simple things and to simplify our worlds. If we can do this we can harmoniseand feel homeostasis as a person, a community and a planet.
What is Autism?
Autism is a severe developmental disorder (brain disturbance) which begins within three years after conception. Autistic children look just as other children do, however they do puzzling and disturbing things which are remarkablydifferent behaviours from those of other typical children.
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a scale which helps parents to identify the level and severity of the symptoms the child isexhibiting. There are many labels which are used to categorise the extent of the Autism, some of these on theSpectrum are "Aspergers Syndrome", "High Functioning Autism" and "Pervasive Development Disorder" and at the otherend of the scale we find "Autism", "Classic Autism" and "Kanner Autsim".
Symptoms of Autism
The signs and symptoms of Autism vary greatly from individual to individual, some symptoms and impairments may bemore mild than others, however every child with an Autism spectrum disorder will display, to some degree thefollowing three key areas:
- Relating socially and interacting with the world around them
- Display repetitive or restricted behaviours
The most common early symptoms are:
- A lack of responsiveness to others, inability to socialise
- Limited eye contact
- Unresponsive to alerts
- Limited facial expressions and does not reciprocate smiles
- Dislikes cuddles, physical touch, inability to show or receive affection from others
- Delayed language development
- Displays repetitive behaviours
- Obsessions (books, television program, person, game, food)
- Bizarre behaviours which include compulsive habits (running close to walls, looking at walls sideways)
- Displays echolalia (repeats what you say)
- Sleep complications
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Some mental capacities may be highly developed (eg. memory, ability to perform mathematical calculations)
- Tantrums and adverse behaviour
Causes of Autism
The sensitive nature of the maturing child's body can leave them vulnerable to nervous system and brain disorders suchas Autism. The immature system of a child system coupled with the complexity of thousands of constant bacterial andnutritional changes means that the creation of an imbalance is high. The dysfunctional nature of Autism and itsinteractions on other bodily systems can be related to the health of the gastrointestinal, endocrine, immune system andthe central nervous system.
The underlying causes of Autism are unclear and there are many speculations and theories which try to explain thiscomplex mental health condition. The following is a list of possible causes which may be present at birth (post-partum) or occur during gestation. These causes may adversely affect the functioning of cells in the gut, nervoussystem and brain, resulting in the predisposition to Autism:
- Nutritional imbalances and deficiency of key nutrients in the modern diet may affect the neural development of a child and result in weakness in the cellular membranes and internal processes of a cell
- Antigens (foreign toxic matter, heavy metals, viruses and bacteria) attack vulnerable cells and damage them, resulting in cells which can not function normally. Antigens can damage or change the expression of the genetic code causing malfunction of the cell
- Dopamine metabolism or Opioid excess
- Gut health and bowel toxicity
Autism and the GUT
Autism and Gastrointestinal symptoms are an interrelated phenomena and are quite often overlooked in mental health. Investing care into the health of the GI tract and its ability to absorb, assimilate and repair are paramount to helpestablish better health for the individual with Autism. Some common GI symptoms observed are: loose stools,diarrhea, constipation, flatulence and foul smelling stools. These symptoms are strongly related to poor digestivecapabilities which will influence the nutritional absorption of foods and result in nutritional imbalance and theappearance of health complications such as those related to nerve and brain function. Poor health of the gut to brainis caused by leaky gut syndrome, inflammation, allergens and toxicity.
Autism and the young child
In order to address a child with Autism we need to look at the whole body of the person, rather than isolating thebrain and nervous system as being imbalanced. The body is a multifunctioning machine with many influences whichshould be taken into consideration. Like all health conditions there is no magic bullet, the best long term solution is tomake the necessary changes and slowly build on these to improve the health and wellbeing of the child. Naturopathically starting with the health of the gut, liver function and nervous system is where to start as a treatmentplan.
The nature of the Autistic child is to rebel any changes implemented in the diet or daily routine. These children tendto thrive on a structured and routine based daily life, anxiety can be increased by an environment of chaos andchanges. Beginning any small change may be strongly resisted and you may need to be extremely creative to makeany alterations to the child's diet, however I strongly suggest that you continue to try and stay committed. Take babysteps and slowly improve the diet and lifestyle of the child so as to better improve the health.
Diet tips for Autism
- Reduce allergens
- Avoid additives, sugars, salicylates, colours and flavours
- Avoid Salicylate foods
- Increase essential fatty acids in the diet from food sources such as - wheatgerm oil, salmon, tuna, linseed oil, flaxseeds, cod fish, mustard seed oil, nuts, seeds and avocados. The Omega 6 to Omega 3 ratio is much higher in the typical modern diet than it should be. We need to decrease foods which are high in Omega 6
- Increase B Vitamins from the diet - brewers yeast, cereal, chicken, egg yolk, legumes, mackerel, oatmeal, peanuts, salmon, tuna, walnuts, red meat, milk, oysters and sardines
- Increase Magnesium rich foods in the diet - almonds, brewers yeast, cashews, cacao, molasses, parsnips, soyabeans and wholegrain cereals
- Increase Selenium rich foods in the diet - alfalfa, brazil nuts, cashews, eggs, fish, garlic, mackerel, oysters, peanuts, tuna, wholegrain cereals and yeast
- Increase Folic acid rich foods in the diet - beans, eggs, green leafy vegetables, lentils, meats and yeast
- Increase coconut foods in the diet as they contain many beneficial bacterias and oils. Use coconut flour in cooking, add coconut milk to smoothies and include coconut flakes in cereals
- Avoid stimulants in the diet such as cordial, tea, coffee, sugar and caffeine drinks
- Follow a whole food diet which avoids processed, packaged, tined, refined, fried foods and concentrates on fresh ingredients
- Hot nut milk drink combined with anti-inflammatory and gut healing properties - warm 250ml cashew or almond milk add the spices (1/4 teaspoon of each - turmeric, cardamom, cinnamon, grated ginger, vanilla powder) and stir to remove any lumps, strain and add sweetner (honey, stevia or maple syrup)
- Make fruit chews using gelatine which helps the gut to heal and reduce inflammation
Lifestyle tips for Autism
- Identify any allergens through an allergy test. Wheat and Dairy are the most common allergies related to Autism
- Improve GUT health
- Address bowel toxicity. The delicate balance between beneficial and detrimental bacteria in the gut can be disturbed by antibiotic medication, toxic additives and environmental toxins. These causes of gut dysbiosis may further lead to irritable bowel syndrome, leaky gut (intestinal permeability) and food sensitivities. Poor nutritional status, absorption and assimilation are further reduced with these added complications
- Assess liver detoxification pathways via a liver function test and hair analysis. Dysfunctional methylation may result in abnormal genetic expression
- Consider following a Paleo diet which aims to heal the gut - brain barrier connection
Natural Remedies for Autism
- Vitamin B6 and B12 - improve methylation in the liver, reduces sensitivity in chemical sensitive people, involved in metabolism of essential fatty acids, improves brain oxygenation, promotes healing of the gut mucosa, health of nerve and brain fibers (myelination)
- Vitamin D - regulates cellular differentiation in the intestinal cells, regulates immune responses, stimulates enzymes needed for digestion
- Zinc - brain development, DNA and RNA synthesis, immune functions, maintenance of sensory functions, maintains immunity, promotes healing
- Selenium - methylation, detoxification of heavy metals, liver health, antioxidant, co-factor in liver enzymes to increase detoxification, inhibits liver peroxidation, detoxification of chemicals, maintenance of cellular membranes
- Magnesium - improved liver methylation, co-factor of energy production within the cells, neuromuscular transmission maintenance
- Folic acid - improved liver methylation, DNA repair, nervous system function, healing, synthesis of brain hormones (Seratonin and Dopamine)
- Essential Fatty Acids - cell to cell communication, growth, maintenance of cellular membrane structure and fluidity, anti-inflammatory
- Probiotics - increase healthy gut bacteria, promote better bowel function, improve Gut-brain health
- The herb Slippery elm helps the gut to heal and reduce inflammation. It coats the wall with a demulcent (soothing) lining and improves nutritional absorption and assimilation and increases nutritional status.
- Other herbs which address nervous system and brain function (cognitive ability) are:
- Ginger helps to calm the digestion, reduce constipation, potent anti-inflammatory
- Astragalus improves nervous system function, reduces anxiety, improves stamina, assists with concentration and adaption
- Ginkgo helps to improve blood circulation to the brain to help with learning, concentration, memory and cognitive function, improves oxygenation and reduces nervous system tension
- Gotu Kola has brain building effects, has high concentrations of B Vitamins, strengthens memory, concentration, alertness and is anti-inflammatory in action
- Calamus root is a bitter herb to assist with poor digestion and is also known historically to promote learning, memory and cognitive function while calming the nerves
One last note to any parent, grandparent or carer who is managing a child with Autism, remember to ask for help andsupport before you need it in any situation and to also take time out for yourself so that you are able to rebuild yourenergy, patience, love and care for the child. A stressed carer will not help the child to be balanced and calm.