Autism is a developmental disorder that typically manifests in the first 3 years of a child’s life. Simply put – and Autism is anything but simple - Autism impedes the brain's normal development of social and communication abilities. Children with autism display a myriad of symptoms / behaviors at varying degrees which include, but are not limited to:
- Demonstrate hightened sensitivity in some or all of their senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, and/or taste)
- Exhibit repetitive behaviors or rituals and show distress when routines are interrupted
- Struggle with language and may communicate through gestures rather than words
- Show increased or unusual attachment to objects
- Difficulty communicating and being "social"
- Does not respond to "normal" social queues such as smiling and eye contact
- Struggle with empathy and concepts of the “self” versus “others”
- Often display a very specific or narrow span of interest
Despite rigorous scientific analysis, there is still quite a bit of mystery shrouding autism. Genetics appear to be an underlying factor in the development of autism. Fraternal twins, for example, are less likely than identical twins to share the diagnosis suggesting a definite link to the child’s chromosomes. Also, families with a history of nervous system or neurological issues have a higher predisposition for autism. But science has shown that autism is likely the result of several variables – not genetics alone. Studies have suggested a strong correlation with external influences, specifically chemical exposure and sensitivity, diet, digestive tract changes, and an inability of the child’s body to properly utilize necessary vitamins and/or minerals.
Chemical Exposure & Chemical Sensitivity
It is believed that chemical exposure – either to the woman during pregnancy or the child’s direct exposure - may be a contributing factor to the development of autism. Mercury and environmental chemicals that cause oxidative stress have both been areas of particular concern. Even after autism is diagnosed, these chemicals may increase the severity of symptoms. For these reasons, it is advisable for child-minded families to reduce the amounts of chemical exposure a child bearing adult and the subsequent offspring are exposed to in the home. You can do this by using non-toxic cleaners designed for chemical sensitivities. For more information on specific ingredients to avoid, check out our past post on chemical sensitivities in the home. Install water purifiers and drinking faucets and consider treating water with ion water purification. Lastly, choose toiletries that are salicylate (SLS) free, including soap, shampoo, conditioner, lotions, sunscreen and salicylate free dental care.
Food additives and pesticides are another possible autism trigger. According to a 2005 Barlow studies, these toxic elements "act as an additional insult to the system and prevent the normal recovery of [antioxidant] defenses." This in turn can lead to "neurodegeneration" especially with concurrent exposures. A diet rich in these preservatives and pesticides can not only trigger autism, they have the potential to aggravate and intensify symptoms. For this reason, reducing or eliminating foods that use pesticides or are rich in preservatives is important.
Some things to keep an eye out for include:
- Processed foods – the more processed, the more likely it will contain preservatives.
- Sodium nitrate – often found in meats such as bacon, lunch meats, smoked fish and corned beef.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – often associated with Asian food, but can also be used in soups, salads dressing, chips and frozen meals.
- Salicylates – can be naturally occurring in whole foods including fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, but can also found in sweets, condiments, oils, grains, meat, dairy, soy, processed foods, and even beverages.
- Potassium Bromate – increasingly uncommon but still legal in the US. Used to increase volume in some bread products.
- General “Food Coloring” – found in candy, fruit cocktail, beverages and baked treats.
Digestive Tract Issues
An Australian study discovered a significant difference in how autistic children digestive tracts metabolize amino acids and also identified notable differences in the levels of healthy intestinal bacteria in the large intestine. These digestive limitations likely contribute an inability to utilize important vitamins and minerals. If your child is autistic, ask your physician to use appropriate amino acid urine and fecal tests to help identify any issues in your child’s digestive tract. Promote digestive enzyme health with a natural probiotic cleanse, which in turn will help your child absorb necessary nutrients and stave off toxins.