Autism is a developmental disorder that initially occurs in early childhood. It generally affects a child’s language, behavior and social skills in development.
The exact cause of autism is unknown, but some reasons may include medications (specifically valproic acid and thalidomide) taken during pregnancy, exposure to toxins, infections, inflammation, leaky gut, nutrient deficiencies, food allergies and inborn errors of metabolism. Unfortunately, an autism cure is yet to exist, which is why learning about treatment for autism is so crucial.
Some children with autism have been known to improve with natural interventions such as a gluten-free and casein-free diet. These types of diet changes are just some of the many forms of autism natural treatment that are making parents of autistic children more hopeful these days while autism rates continue to ominously climb.
What Is Autism & How Common Is it?
Autism, also referred to as autistic disorder or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), is defined as a developmental disability that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. Autism is considered a spectrum disorder because while some children only have mild symptoms, others can have severe life-challenging signs of autism.
Autism symptoms can defer by individual, but people with ASD often have ongoing social difficulties including trouble communicating and interacting with others. They may also perform repetitive behaviors while not taking interest in many activities. Symptoms of autism are usually noticed within the first two years of life in 80 to 90 percent of cases. (1) The CDC estimates that 1 in 68 children has been identified with some form of ASD and ASD is about 4.5 times more common among boys (1 in 42) than girls (1 in 189). (2)
What causes autism? According to the CDC, there may be several different factors that make someone more likely to have autism including environmental, biologic and genetic factors. (3) A leaky gut and an abnormal gut microbiota have also been associated with ASD. (4)
These days, children with autism are receiving a diagnosis of ASD, which includes several conditions that used to be diagnosed individually. Before the term autism spectrum disorder or ASD existed, autistic disorder, pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) and Asperger’s syndrome were all separate diagnoses. This is why autism is now often referred to as autism spectrum disorder or ASD.
ASD commonly begins before a child turns three years old and then lasts throughout his or her life. Some children with autism meet their developmental milestones until about 18 to 24 months, but then they stop progressing or even lose skills they already had. Research shows that 33 to 50 percent of parents notice ASD symptoms before their child turns one. By two years of age, 80 to 90 percent of parents notice issues. (5)
Conventional Treatment of Autism
After an autism diagnosis, the type of autism treatment recommended for your child depends on his or her individual needs. For example, some children may receive a diagnosis of ASD and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). This is why there isn’t just one best treatment package for every child with autism.
Is there autism drug treatment? There is no standard autism medication. According to the CDC, “There are no medications that can cure ASD or treat the core symptoms. However, there are medications that can help some people with ASD function better. For example, medication might help manage high energy levels, inability to focus, depression, or seizures.” (6)
Treatment for autism spectrum disorder is challenging, but many experts agree that early intervention is key and that the majority of autistic children respond well to highly structured, specialized programs. (7)
Sometimes medications are recommended by conventional doctors that can address certain aspects of autism behavior. Medications for autism treatment include serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) and antipsychotic medicines. However, these medications are limited in their ability to improvement autism symptoms. Rather, they may prevent problematic behavior (such as self-injury). (8)
If you decide to use antidepressant medication as treatment for autism, it’s important to note that the FDA has issued a “black box” label warning (the most serious of warnings) on antidepressant use and the risk of suicide. The FDA recommends that people who use them are watched closely for warning signs of suicide or any other unusual behavior, particularly at the start of treatment or when there is a dosage change. (9)
Some people are being diagnosed with autism much later in life. There is a new test to help diagnosis autism in adulthood called the Adult Repetitive Behavior Questionnaire (RBQ-2), which measures the extent to which adults are affected by repetitive and restricted behaviors. Diagnosis of autism as an adult is trickier since their parents are often not around to discuss the autistic adult’s behavior as a child. An adult with autism can also be better than a child at hiding classic autistic behavior such as repetitive rituals. (10) If you’re looking for autism treatment for adults, you can check out resources, therapy options and support programs online at the Autism Speaks Resource Library for Adults.
Overall, the outlook or prognosis of autism definitely differs by individual. Some experts say that there is a better prognosis for children with autism if they have an I.Q. over 50, are able to speak before they turn six years old, and if they have a useful skill. (11)
Natural Remedies for Autism
For autistic kids or adults, I firmly believe that autism natural treatment, including diet, can play a huge role in improving autism symptoms. There are certain foods that should be added or increased in the diet while there are several that should ideally be avoided altogether.
Autism natural treatment options also include many supplements and traditional medicine approaches (from both Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine) that may help. Natural remedies for autism and ADHD need to address the additional symptoms that come with having two separate diagnoses.
Foods to Eat vs. Foods to Avoid
Foods to Eat
Additive-free, unprocessed foods: Food additives may be problematic for ADHD, it is best to eat unprocessed nutrient-dense whole foods prepared at home.
Bone broth: Bone broth (ideally made from scratch) provides important amino acids and minerals that can help heal leaky gut and improve mineral deficiencies.
Poultry: Poultry like organic turkey contains tryptophan, an amino acid, helps produce serotonin (a calming neurotransmitter). Research has shown that people with autism spectrum disorders may have decreased “tryptophan metabolism,” which can change brain development, neuroimmune activity and mitochondrial function. (12)
Foods high in probiotics: Try to add fermented foods into the diet such as kefir, amasai, sauerkraut or kimchi. These fermented foods contain probiotics, which are essential in helping repair a leaky gut. Increasingly research is showing that a healthy balance of bacteria in the body has a major impact on autism. I’m not surprised that “evidence is mounting that intestinal microbes exacerbate or perhaps even cause some of autism’s symptoms.”(13)
In fact, a study published in 2013 showed that compared to healthy children, those with autism had “altered levels of several intestinal bacterial species, including fewer Bifidobacterium, a group known to promote good intestinal health.” (14)
Wild-caught fish: Omega-3s for ADHD? Yes, a diet high in omega-3s is critical for brain health and research has shown it can be particularly helpful for someone diagnosed with ASD and hyperactivity. (15) According to a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials published in 2017 in the journal Neuropyschiatric Disease and Treatment, a deficiency of omega-3 fatty acids may be linked to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This analysis concludes that supplementation of omega-3 fatty acids may improve hyperactivity, lethargy and repetitive behavior in children with autism spectrum disorders. (16)
Foods to Avoid
Gluten: Some parents of children with ASD report worsening symptoms after gluten consumption, which may indicate sensitivity. It’s a wise idea to have your child tested for food allergies, especially gluten and cow’s dairy.
To see if a gluten-free diet helps, avoid all foods made with wheat — such as bread, pasta and wheat cereal. According to Autism Speaks, “Many parents of children with ASD report that behavior improves when their children eat a diet free of the proteins gluten and casein.” (17)
There are also over 140 scientific studies involving gluten and autism. One of the most recent studies published in 2018 reveals how autistic children who were given a modified ketogenic gluten-free diet with MCT significantly improved core features of autism spectrum disorder assessed by the ADOS-2 and CARS-2 behavioral tests after just three months. (18)
Cow’s dairy: The protein in cow’s dairy, called A1 casein, can trigger a similar reaction as gluten and, therefore, should be avoided in a dairy-free diet. For calcium, increase green leafy vegetables. You may also want to try goat’s milk kefir, which provides calcium and other key nutrients as well as probiotics.
Sugar: Sugar can cause fluctuations in blood sugar leading to behavioral problems. Avoid any forms of concentrated sugar including candy, desserts, soda, or fruit juices. Sugar has also been shown to have major negative effects on the brain.
Food coloring and dyes: Children with autism, especially those that also have ADHD, can be sensitive to a variety of food dyes and colorings. Therefore, all processed foods should be avoided. Many experts in the U.S. believe that the FDA should require manufacturers to include a label warning parents that artificial colors may affect hyperactivity in some children. (19)
Soy: Soy is a common food allergy and contains phytic acid, a type of antinutrient that impairs nutrient absorption and can irritate the intestines causing leaky gut syndrome.
The Ketogenic Diet for Autism
Two human studies and five research studies in animals have returned impressive results about the possibility of the keto diet (a low-carb, high-fat dietary regimen) for managing autism. While large-scale research is still required, animals on the ketogenic diet have markedly lower instances of behaviors common to that model of autism, such as social deficits, mitochondrial dysfunction, reduced sociability, communication, increased repetitive behavior, stress response deficits and microbiome issues. (20, 21, 22, 23, 24)
In children, a pilot study found that most of the subjects displayed “mild-to-moderate improvements” when rated on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale. Two of the children had “significant improvements.” (25)
A case study of a child with both epilepsy and autism reported that the patient lost a lot of weight and improved in both cognitive and behavioral symptoms of autism. This particular patient dropped from a 49 to a 17 on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale, moving from a severely autistic rating to “non-autistic,” boasting a 70-point IQ increase. (26)
Natural Supplements for Autism
1. Fish Oil (1,000 milligrams daily)
Long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, specifically the EPA/DHA in fish oil, is critical for brain function and is highly anti-inflammatory. Supplementing with omega-3 fatty acids like fish oil is one of the most commonly used complementary and alternative practices in children with autism spectrum disorder. Study results have been mixed but some have demonstrated marked improvement in autism symptoms. (27, 28)
2. Digestive enzymes (1-2 capsules with each meal)
Since children with autism tend to have digestive problems and may also have leaky gut, digestive enzymes can help with absorption of vitamins and minerals. According to Autism Canada, digestive enzymes can improve digestion and reduce inflammation, which is very helpful since “impairments in digestion and absorption contribute to the child’s impaired nutritional status, which can in turn contribute to and further impair immunity, detoxification and brain function.” (29)
3. Vitamin D3 (2000–5000 IU)
Vitamin D deficiency is more common in children with autism compared to children without autism. This is a key vitamin required for healthy brain function. A vitamin D deficiency in a pregnant mother may also increase autism risk in her offspring.
One study even showed that autism rates are highest among babies conceived in winter months (when vitamin D levels tend to be lowest in humans due to decreased sunlight exposure) and, furthermore, that the season of conception accounts for 11.4 percent of cases of autism, intellectual disability and learning difficulties. This was a record-linkage study of 801,592 children in Scotland. (30, 31)
4. Probiotic (50 billion units daily)
Children with autism commonly experience gastrointestinal problems such as abdominal pain, constipation and diarrhea. Since autism may be connected to digestive issues, taking a good quality probiotic daily can help maintain intestinal health and an optimal balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut.
5. L-carnitine (250–500 milligrams daily)
This amino acid has been shown to improve the symptoms of autism. A study published in 2013 with 30 autistic children as subjects shows that l-carnitine supplement can improve behavioral symptoms. L-carnitine therapy (100 milligrams per kilogram of body weight weight each day) administered for a total of six months “significantly improved the autism severity, but subsequent studies are recommended.” (32)
6. Multi-vitamin with folic acid/folate (daily for pregnant women)
A study published in 2018 concludes, “Maternal exposure to folic acid and multivitamin supplements before and during pregnancy is associated with a reduced risk of ASD in the offspring compared with the offspring of mothers without such exposure.” (33) I recommend a prenatal vitamin that contains folate rather than folic acid, which is the synthetic form of folate commonly found in many fortified foods and supplements.
Autism treatment in homeopathy can vary. According to the National Center for Homeopathy, “There is no recipe book for which homeopathic remedy to give to a child. Absolutely any homeopathic remedy — polychrest or small, from the animal, plant, or mineral kingdom—may be needed in an individual case.” (34)
If you’re interested in using homeopathic medicine to treat your child’s autism, then it’s best to look for a certified homeopath who has experience treating autistic individuals.
Autism treatment in Ayurveda addresses dosha imbalances, specifically an increase in the vata dosha. According to Dr. Denise Tarasuk, who holds a Master’s Degree in Ayurveda and lectures internationally on autism, Asperger’s syndrome and Tourette’s syndrome,
In Ayurveda, the dosha that is out of balance is treated first. Addressing the vata dosha will help the child with organization, apprehension, and anxiety. Many children have difficulties with a change in routine, getting ready in the morning, and going to school. A daily Ayurvedic massage can be soothing for a child. (35)
Autism treatment in India and in Ayurvedic Medicine around the world typically includes a daily Ayurvedic massage, which can really help to relax someone with autism and as a parent can be a no-cost way to help your child’s symptoms.
Traditional Chinese Medicine
Traditional Chinese Medicine, including acupressure and acupuncture, is another approach to treating autism symptom. As it does with all health concerns, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) views autism as an energy imbalance that can be addressed by stimulating specific energy points (acupressure/acupuncture points) and pathways (meridians). In TCM, reason and awareness, which are greatly affected by autism, are mainly ruled by three organ systems: the heart, spleen and kidney.
Dr. M. Cissy Majebe, O.M.D., director of the Chinese Acupuncture and Herbology Clinic in Asheville, N.C., TCM autism treatment typically includes: eliminating phlegm; tonifying heart blood, qi (energy) and yin; clearing heart heat; and tonifying spleen qi and kidney essence. (36)
Autism Parenting Magazine recommends the following essentials oils for children with ASD and/or ADHD for their various positive effects, including boosting the mood, promoting mental clarity and reducing stress: (37)
- Ylang Ylang
Here is more information from the Autism Academy for Education & Development on essential oil use in autism: Essential Oils And Autism: Treating Autism With Only A Drop.
Behavior and Communication Treatments
There are also autism therapy techniques that address the behavior and communication difficulties experienced by autistic individuals. The programs to further look into to see if they are a good fit for your child include applied behavior analysis (ABA), verbal behavior intervention (VBI), discrete trial training (DTT), pivotal response training (PRT), and mainly for children under five, early intensive behavioral intervention (EIBI). (38)
Every child (or adult) diagnosed with ASD is unique, which is why treatment programs — both autism natural treatment and autism conventional treatment — differ so greatly from person to person.
There have been cases where autism was misdiagnosed. For example, a child who initially was diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum, but it was later realized that he was actually suffering from “a constellation of GI disorders that were directly tied to his disruptive behaviors and inconsistent sleep patterns.” (39)
This is why getting multiple expert opinions is crucial when someone is diagnosed with ASD. Food allergy testing can be incredibly helpful as well.
In general, the more research you can conduct about autism and its treatment options, the better. Education can greatly help to empower yourself and your child and likely lead to better outcomes.
Key Points About Autism Natural Remedies
- Autistic symptoms can vary by individual. Symptoms of autism in children are usually seen within the first two years of life.
- Kids with autism can struggle with symptoms that make life more challenging, but they also tend to have some incredible strengths and abilities at the same time.
- There are many natural remedies for autism spectrum disorders. Before making decisions about your child’s treatment, I highly recommend learning as much as possible about the different treatment options that are available.
- Getting food allergy testing and eliminating common problematic foods like gluten and cow’s milk may help. A diet focused on whole, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods is a must when it comes to autism natural treatment.
- Ayurvedic Medicine, Traditional Chinese Medicine and homeopathy can offer unique yet helpful perspectives on autism and various autism natural treatment options.
- So many parents have seen their children’s autism symptoms improve drastically with natural autism treatment approaches so please don’t lose hope if you’re struggling at the moment with an autistic child.
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