Introduction & Overview
Autism. The one word a parent never wants to hear. Mom & Dad recall how healthy their little boy had been. He started babbling at 3 months, crawled at 7 months and walked along the furniture at 1 year. He was just starting to say some words when he developed a runny nose, a simple cold. He was due for his well-child check up and 15 month immunizations. Mom asked the doctor if it was safe to give the immunizations and was assured that indeed there was no concern.
The immunizations were given and things seemed to be fine. But over the next few days, their son’s nose and eyes grew disturbingly red. Dark circles formed under his inflamed eyes. Patches of scaly skin grew on his face. He no longer wanted to play. He was always tired, congested and irritable. His bowel movements changed. He became withdrawn and stopped speaking. This was the beginning of a long journey that these parents could never have imagined.
Autism is a complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first two years of life characterized by unusual behaviors such as speech difficulties, lack of eye contact, cognitive and social impairment and repetitive stereotypical movements. Autism is not a psychological problem and should not be treated as such.
Autism may be used as an individual term or diagnosis or more commonly as part of a spectrum of disease. The autistic spectrum includes problems labeled as Asperger’s Syndrome or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) and most likely ADD and ADHD. Contrary to conventional medical wisdom, autism is not primarily genetic but is a combination of genetics and environmental influences. Genetics, so to speak, “loads the gun”, but the environment “pulls the trigger.”
This is part one of a two part article. This article will focus on a cutting edge diagnostic process for children or even adults with autistic behaviors. The second article will appear in the November issue of CoSozo Living and will focus on biomedical treatments for autism and autism spectrum disorders.
Genetics don’t cause epidemics. Genetics are essentially constant from one generation to the next. Epidemics occur when genetic vulnerability is assaulted by environmental changes such as the introduction of a new virus, a new bacteria, or new toxins. Over the last 20 years we have witnessed an explosion, an epidemic, of four medical problems that although are each unique share many common characteristics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies – the 4-A disorders of childhood.
Autism has increased from one in 10,000 births to one in 150 births in the last twenty years. One in 68 boys will be afflicted with autism, four times more than girls. This is a 60+ fold increase in incidence now affecting between 500,000 to one million American children. ADHD has increased by at least 400 percent over the same twenty years affecting over 3.5 million children.
The very worst symptoms of ADHD are similar to children on the autism spectrum. For this reason many physicians consider ADHD as part of the autism spectrum of disease. Asthma has increased 300 percent over the same period and asthma deaths have increased by 56 percent, despite major improvements in acute asthma emergency care. Six million American kids now have asthma. Allergies have increased by 400 percent in the last twenty years. Approximately 20 percent of all kids have some type of allergy. Peanut allergy, one of the most common fatal food allergies, has more than doubled since 1997. Two hundred people, many of them children, now die from food allergies each year.
Add together all of the children who have these disorders, and it comes to 20 million kids, or almost one-third of all American children. Of these 20 million, at least 10 million have serious problems: autism spectrum disorders, ADHD, asthma or severe allergies. These conditions limit their lives, define their identities, and haunt their families.
The Four Catastrophic Changes
Toxins Proliferated. Over the past 20 years our water has become increasingly polluted with hydrocarbons, pathogens and waste. Our air has been saturated with mercury from coal-burning plants, IQ-damaging lead from diesel exhaust and other pollutants. Our foods have been fouled with chemicals, hormones and antibiotics to levels unheard of twenty years ago. The total toxic burden on the average American is measurably higher in just the past 10 years.
Nutrition Deteriorated. The average intake of essential nutrients has steadily declined since 1980 and the eating of unhealthy foods has increased. Children have been lured into the seductive slump of fast and process foods. Obvious results, including obesity, are less destructive than subtle metabolic damage, which contributes to the 4-A disorders. Without the right nutrients, the body can’t properly protect, detoxify or restore itself. Our children don’t stand a chance.
Vaccinations Increased. They doubled in number since 1991 and have tripled since the 1960’s (a total of 36 injections by age 5 are currently recommended). This increased the level of the second most toxic substance known to man - mercury. Mercury, in the form of thimerosol, has now been removed from most vaccinations (except most influenza and swine-flu immunizations). Many children are given multiple vaccinations that are often given when the child is ill with a cold or ear infection and has a susceptible immune system.
Ability to Detoxify Dwindled. The toxins that entered children’s bodies over the past ten to fifteen years became more likely to stay there. This is due to damage of two important detoxification processes known as methylation and sulfation. The toxic world we live in and the exposure to various chemicals and heavy metals most likely decreases our ability to detoxify adequately. These processes are responsible for the removal of mercury and other toxins. Without the ability to adequately detoxify the child has no chance of being healthy.
These four catastrophic changes created a veritable perfect storm of physical and neurological insults. These insults struck hardest at our society’s most vulnerable members: our children.
Adults have suffered, too, as is apparent in the rising rates of cancers linked specifically to toxins, such as bladder cancer and lymphoma. But kids, with their smaller bodies and immature metabolism, have absorbed a disproportionate blow. As evidenced by the new childhood epidemics, children are our society’s proverbial “canaries in the coal mines,” the probable harbingers of increased, widespread illness among all Americans in the future.
The Diagnostic Process
The biomedical approach to diagnose and treat these disorders involves identifying the metabolic problems that contribute the symptoms of autism and associated illnesses. There are four steps to this biological approach to diagnosing and treating autism:
- Assessing gastrointestinal (GI) functioning and determining if the normal GI organisms (good bacteria) are present or pathogens (such as yeast or certain “bad” bacteria) are present.
- Identifying potential allergic causing foods. Certain foods may have a drug-like effect on children or provoke significant allergic responses.
- Assessing the current nutrition of the child and looking for ways to support improved nutrition.
- Assessing the ability to detoxify and evaluate heavy metal (mercury, lead, etc.) burden.
Specific testing typically important or helpful in evaluating your child includes:
- Routine blood testing – Used to evaluate the blood count, blood chemistries, thyroid function, iron level, and ammonia levels.
- Organic Acid Tests and/or Comprehensive Stool Digestive Test – This urine or stool test assesses yeast or bacterial overgrowth in the GI tract. These organic compounds affect neurological function, vitamin utilization, energy level, intestinal wall integrity, hormone utilization, and muscle function. They also allow detection of nutritional deficiencies such as vitamins B & C, inborn errors of metabolism, problems in fatty acid metabolism or neurotransmitter imbalance.
- IgG or IgE Food or Inhaled Allergy – The impact of food allergies on behavior can be profound and individuals often crave the same foods that cause allergic reactions. Allergic foods may play a role in encouraging abnormal growth of GI organisms. Foods commonly showing high antibody levels in children and adults with chronic health conditions are: dairy (casein), gluten grains (wheat, barley, rye, spelt), eggs, peanuts, and soy.
- Peptide Opiates from Gluten and Casein – Individuals with allergies to milk and wheat usually have problems breaking down peptides from casein (milk or dairy) and wheat (gluten). These small peptides interact with receptors in the brain and cause an opiate (drug-like) effect. Some people who show a food allergy to milk or wheat may not have the peptide problem and visa versa. They may appear as if they were using some form of drug when eating these foods.
- Immune Deficiency Panel – This tests the immunoglobulins that help your body ward off infection. Infections to yeast, bacteria, or viruses may be a sign of a compromised immune system that may lead to the symptoms of autism.
- Copper/Zinc Profile (CZP) – The CZP tests for imbalances among zinc and copper. Free copper may be just as dangerous to cells as the toxic metals such a lead, mercury, or cadmium. Zinc can balance copper and is required for proper immune function. Zinc deficiency is common in autistic children.
- Heavy Metals – The toxic heavy metals (lead, mercury, cadmium, aluminum, etc.) impair the detoxification process. Heavy metals can come from the air we breathe, water we drink, exposure from dental fillings, or various other environmental sources. A hair analysis or provocative urine testing is usually the best method to obtain an accurate assessment of the heavy metal burden.
- Advanced Cholesterol Panel – This panel assesses total cholesterol level, abnormalities in cholesterol transport, and homocysteine levels. These are key elements in the metabolic health of those with autism spectrum disorders.
Initial testing may lead to further or repeat testing. These results will allow a physician to develop a comprehensive treatment program to improve your child’s symptoms and put you on the road to recovery.
The diagnosis and treatment of autism is truly a journey. It is much like a detective case or treasure hunt as new clues are discovered and new paths explored. On this journey your child will be your mission, your beacon, and your blessing. The love of your child and your family, made eternal by each new generation undefeated by this epidemic, will guide you on this journey of healing.
In the November issue of CoSozo Living, I will discuss the specific treatment measure that will improve or eliminate the symptoms of autism. The causes of autism are detectable. There is hope. Autism is indeed treatable!