Autism And Diet

Research on the effects of certain foods, specifically junk foods, and the autistic child suggest that some behavioral issues can be curved or avoided when a healthy diet is substituted. Several studies over the last five years involved hundreds of children with autism and specific types of diets. Since actresses and their children with autism swear by the “autism diet”, the approach has received much more attention in the past two years than ever before.

The assumption is made that many children with autism lack a particular digestive enzyme that dissolves gluten and casein, two main components of wheat and milk respectively. Doctors can test for this enzyme in children’s blood, but the test is very expensive, leaving most parents with autistic children in the dark as to whether or not to try the diet at all. The diet does have some benefits to the child’s health nonetheless.

A gluten free diet excludes a lot of high carbs and sweet treats that children shouldn’t eat on a regular basis anyway. Whole grain foods are much healthier, but gluten free breads or gluten free cereals should replace the whole wheat bread used in sandwiches and toast. As for milk, the diet suggests that almond milk should replace regular milk or the child should drink calcium and vitamin D fortified orange juice to avoid losing the necessary nutrients. No donuts, pastries, cake pies, or cookies are allowed unless they are made from a gluten free mix. That includes pancakes and waffles too.

Further research in the last year showed the diet had no effect when compared to a placebo control group. There was some change in sleep patterns, with the test group sleeping better on the diet, but as for extreme behavioral issues, there was little to no change. There are varying reports around the world as to the effectiveness of the autism diet. Some parents swear by it, while others have tried it and say it has had absolutely no effect on their children.

The only way parents can be sure the diet will have any effect on their autistic children is to pay for the testing that verifies their child lacks the enzyme that was central to the studies. Given that you could pay just as much for six months’ worth of gluten and casein food to test it out on your child anyway, wouldn’t it just make better sense to have the test done and avoid having to change the family diet for six months or more and find out it doesn’t work?

The test will require a visit to a gastroenterologist to explain why you would like the test done and a visit to a lab for a blood draw. If your child with autism is unlikely to sit still for any part of this process, you might want to reconsider it. Stressing an autistic child out from fear or resistance for something that’s not entirely necessary is just cruel.

Vaccines and Autism

Autism And Depression In Teenagers

Teenagers suffer from depression more often than any number of adults who live their entire lives with it. Parents are generally dismissive of their teens’ low moods because they think the teens are just “moody”, “hormonal”, or “tired and cranky”. This dismissive attitude generally results in teens being even more depressed because they think their parents don’t care and leads them to do unthinkable things.

Take that in combination with teenagers with autism who have very little impulse control as it is, and you have a horrible combination. Medical treatment for both can stop the downward spiral. Early recognition by parents who are proactive is vital.

Children and teens with autism already have emotional highs and lows. Their emotions can be very erratic, such that some parents worry that their children may be bipolar. Autism also has impulse control issues, making it next to impossible for children and teens to stop and consider the repercussions of their actions before they even do something rash. Teens have stabbed peers with pencils and other potential weapons, used their fists like champion pugilists, and attacked teachers who have otherwise been effective mediators. Children with depression do not act; instead they resist acting at all or are so depressive suicide seems like the only option.

Autism And Depression In Teenagers

Think about that for a second. If you take the extremes of autism, the impulsivity and lack of consequential forethought, and combine it with suicidal depression, it’s a recipe for something akin to the school slaughters that strike the news with regularity. Such horror stories can be turned around. The first step is getting your autistic teen to a therapist who specializes in working with dual diagnosis teens.

The next step is getting them a mild antidepressant. This is a trial and error process. (Personally I’m not an advocate for pharmaceuticals, but teenagers with autism and depression need more help than any behavior modification program and cognitive therapy can provide). Because the brains of children with autism are already so different, teens with autistic brains respond vastly different to brain and mood altering medications than their peers. Every one of the regularly prescribed medications for depression needs at least two weeks to work up to therapeutic level, but after two months your autistic teen’s mood hasn’t improved, a new med may be needed. Additionally, if their mood worsens or new symptoms appear, a new med change is needed immediately. Doctors are aware of the meds that have been shown to improve moods and impulsive behavior, and this is the starting point to work from.

The third, and most important step, is keeping the lines of communication open with your autistic teen, if he or she is verbal. Even if they communicate using other devices or sign language, it’s still important to try and talk to them about how they are feeling. If they are nonverbal, keeping a very close eye on their behavior and how they do in school is important. Do not be dismissive of any little nuance that suggests a change in mood or behavior and always document what you see. You can’t help your autistic teen with depression if you’re not tuned in to them.

It’s important to remember: autism alters brain structure, development and function. Hormones alter brain function. The two together means a much altered brain is walking around in a body the size of an adult. Ergo, this may be the most difficult time in your life as well as theirs.

Read about, “Autism and Bad Behavior” and “How to Manage Behavior in Children With Autism

Autism Vs. Developmental Delay

Really there isn’t a “vs.” here. Autism IS a developmental delay, of sorts. Developmental delays separate from autism itself are only notable if they delay a child’s development by more than six months. Because children grow and develop at their own pace, milestones for development are more of a guideline than an expectation.

For example, let’s say a child is supposed to walk between twelve to fifteen months. Early walkers can start as young as nine months while late walkers can start at seventeen or eighteen months. However if your child isn’t at least trying to pull up on the furniture and walk around it with one hand on it by the late walker stage, that’s a developmental delay worth taking note of.

Does that mean they have autism? No.
Does it mean they have some other developmental delay or disorder? Maybe. If everything else about your child seems to be developing normally, you shouldn’t be really worried unless they still aren’t walking by the age of two. If you are taking them to their well baby checkups, the pediatrician will be able to assess the situation to see if there is a problem or not.

On the flip side, if they also have problems with eye contact, mutual friendly smiles and gazes, understanding or speaking, small and/ or large muscle control, or any other developmental delay markers for autism, then it’s possible they are on the spectrum. Again, noting when your child accomplishes all the expected milestones and writing it down will help your pediatrician decide how serious the situation is. A pediatrician can also refer you to an early childhood developmental program where you child can get extra help to catch up to peers prior to going to school full time.

Can autism coincide with developmental delays?
No, because the developmental delays associated with autism are already part of the disorder’s diagnostic criteria. They do not exist together because they already are, if that makes any sense. However, one or two developmental delays can exist apart from autism and be a separate diagnosis where autism isn’t clearly the problem. The biggest delays that might signal one or the other is a social deficit or language deficit. Of course, it can only be one deficit in these two areas for it to be just a developmental delay; having both these deficits is autism.

Think of autism this way: an array of co-existing developmental delays co-occurring. This is entirely different from a single developmental delay, that with or without additional therapy or support, the child outgrows. A child never outgrows autism, but the symptoms can be improved upon through lots of therapy. An initial diagnosis of autism might be changed if all of a sudden the child no longer has the symptoms. Second and even third opinions from behavior analysts will show ahead of time if the first was incorrect and the diagnosis of autism was presumptive.

In the meantime, don’t assume anything about your child until a team of certified specialists can tell you if there’s really a problem there. Weekly therapy with a birth to three program counselor helps every child, even if they end up not having autism. The services are provided by government agencies, so the parents rarely have to pay anything. Community supports for autism allow your child to get together with other children who definitely have autism and you might see quite a difference between them and your own child. It doesn’t mean he or she doesn’t have autism; it just means they might not and it’s just a developmental delay instead.

Find more on, “The Early Signs of Autism

Autism and Bad Behavior

Bad or unacceptable behavior can be quite a problem when you are dealing with a child with autism. Those that don’t speak need constant physical cues to stop what they are doing and need constant positive reinforcement for behavior that is socially acceptable. These children cannot take their cues from others because they are unable to visually check their peers and themselves for those cues. For non-verbal children with autism, this training process is even more difficult because you can’t confirm what it is the child heard you say and whether or not they clearly understood. That is why consistency is such a big factor in how these situations are handled.

Children who are verbal can confirm that they heard you, but they still need the same level of consistency in their plan to adapt to socially acceptable behavioral norms. Although it’s controversial, reward systems can be effective with children who understand enough to know that they get a special treat or reward for behaving properly. The controversy here arises from the argument about what would happen if the reward system is taken away? The child needs to internalize his own sense of accomplishment through proper behavior, but that is as much a tough thing to teach as it is with a child who doesn’t have autism!

Additionally, the approach you choose to go with that seems to work the best for your child with autism has to be taught and used with everyone who has the least contact with your child. The slightest inconsistency throws them for a loop and they will act out with the person who becomes lax in their care. Then it’s almost like you have to start the whole training process all over again. Even siblings have to address this child the same way you do, otherwise the child with autism knows who they can behave badly with/against and when.

Moving the extrinsic rewards to the intrinsic value in children with autism is the most difficult thing to teach. With non-verbal children, you have to get past the communication barrier first before you can hope to begin to teach proper behavior. Non-verbal autistic children can become overly aggressive because they can’t argue or fight with you over your expectations for their behavior. A silent but firm response is the best way to go until you find a communication system that works with them. Removal from an activity that they find enjoyable or obsess over or a visual demonstration of the removal of a favorite toy if the toy gets thrown are a couple of examples of what you can do. Trying to explain to a non-verbal child with autism, without first knowing that they understand you, that the behavior they are exhibiting is unacceptable is a lot like rubbing a puppy’s nose in his accident while potty training him. The puppy doesn’t understand, and neither does your child.

The verbal child does understand, and so it’s a little easier to move the extrinsic reward system to the intrinsic. These children absorb verbal praise like sponge sops up water. The slow exchange of rewards for praise for a job well done gets the verbal child with autism to value their own personal achievements as its own reward.

Because the autism spectrum is so broad, it’s a case of trial and error with the above suggestions acting only as a guideline. There are no hard and fast rules for addressing unacceptable behavior in autistic children, beyond never using corporal punishment. Since many children with autism shy away from touch, the last thing you want to do is make them even more fearful of touch through spanking.

Do Children With Autism Spectrum (AS) Get Better?

Autism and Depression

Depression can occur in just about anyone. Because depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain that does not allow for a natural balance between the “happy” and “sad” biochemicals, anyone can find themselves at odds with depression at any juncture in their lives. Typically, depression hits those who have had a traumatic experience in their lives and either have not overcome it on their own or not sought sufficient help to deal with the source of the depression. But depression can hit without a trauma too.

The brains of autistic children are already altered at the point where they were to gradually grow into the brains they will have the rest of their lives. Essentially, brain scans of children and adults with autism clearly show their brains are “damaged” when in comparison to the average human brain. The question is raised then “Can children with autism become depressed?

The answer is yes, it’s a probability. Depression in these children is difficult to diagnose because if they can’t speak they can’t tell you how they feel, physically or emotionally. Since key diagnostics in depression is how well someone functions, behaves and feels physically and emotionally, in a child or person with autism this is very difficult. Since their moods are not quite apparent, their behaviors are erratic, and half the children won’t let you touch them and feel defensive and oversensitive when you do, you cannot tell if they are in pain from depression, acting out from depression, or not acting at all because of depression. Long term observation and recording of the child by a parent is necessary to determine if the child is depressed.

On the other hand, a high functioning and speaking autistic child can clearly tell you how he or she feels emotionally and physically, and then you can get them the help they need right away. Be forewarned; many pediatricians and pediatric psychiatrists are a little wary at prescribing medication to an autistic child to treat depression because there’s some uncertainty in how they work in the modified brains of these children. However, some medications often prescribed for anxiety but have been shown to work for depressions as well are prescribed to these children with very good results.

Hyperactivity medications seem to affect the moods of children with autism as well. Medications meant to treat ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have shown to alter some signs of depression in children with autism, questioning the previous diagnosis of either depression or ADHD. Complicating matters further, children who seem to have both autism and bipolar disorder make it difficult to differentiate between true bipolar disorder, depression, AND ADHD.

If your child presents with a constant low mood, irritability not otherwise triggered, and cries frequently, it is much more likely that they have depression even if they can’t tell you how they feel. A trip to the child’s pediatrician to rule out any physical ailments will also help document medically the behavior they present to you and others. If it still isn’t completely apparent but you suspect it, you can start keeping a diary of the daily activity level and moods of your child. After about a month to three months, you can present it to a behavior analyst who works with children with autism. The behavior analyst will be able to tell you even more than a pediatric psychiatrist can tell you about what’s going on with your child.

Other resources to consult on this difficult to diagnose matter, when your child is non-verbal, are the local chapters of NAMI for mental health, as well as the parent support groups. The parent support groups for autistic children may have a parent or two who has been through a similar situation, and can offer helpful advice on how to deal with your situation.

Is there any link between vaccines and autism?

What about autism compared to mental retardation?

Vaccines and Autism

There have been several arguments in the last decade over whether or not the current vaccines that most children receive cause autism. There is an incredible amount of hype to this with no solid proof.  While the prevalence of autism has increased in the same time frame, little has changed about the vaccines used in children as part of their regular health checkups and maintenance. One does not necessarily cause the other, i.e., correlation does not equal causation without substantiated proof.

The real problem here is that proof cannot be obtained without exposing healthy infants and toddlers to the suspected vaccines. Medical ethics prohibits this and no mother in her right mind would ever allow  it. It is also a problem because those who believe it is the source of the autism diagnostic rise continue to perpetuate the conspiracy theories and hype such that mothers are declining the vaccines that might  otherwise save their child from needless illnesses that could kill them. Infant mortality rates will also rise because of these unsafe decisions to not vaccinate children, throwing the entire medical community  back one hundred years.

While it is a parent’s right to choose not to vaccinate their child, wouldn’t it be better to err on the side of caution rather than to take the risk of death or hospitalization? After all, it has been proven that there is at least a genetic link to autism that predisposes children born to sets of parents to developing this developmental disorder, and if your child has it, they will develop it anyway. Only parents who might not want to face that possibility might be looking for an excuse to evade it, thinking they can keep their children safe from something that isn’t caught like a disease or introduced to the body as a foreign organism that needs to be fought.

Another flip of the coin, here, is the other theories on how autism occurs. There is a genetic link of some sort in families, as more than one child is affected. Interestingly enough, siblings can be affected,  but apparently first cousins cannot. Scientists are pursuing every avenue as a cause, but have long since dropped the theory that vaccines are responsible. Children whose parents chose not to vaccinate still develop the disorder, and their parents placed them at risk for childhood illnesses because of the fear around vaccines as the probable cause. This has proven that vaccines aren’t to blame, because these children still ended up with autism.

A more recent theory suggests that a mother under extreme stress and duress while pregnant introduces elevated biochemicals to her baby in utero. Our society places a lot of pressure on women to  be superhuman, and when a woman is pregnant, that goes against the human biological nature to just rest and nest. Fetuses that have been lost to miscarriage present with high levels of these chemicals,  suggesting that a woman’s response to stress while pregnant is a matter of self preservation. While this is also just a theory, it does explain the altered brains and the altered brain development of children
with autism a lot better than vaccines as the cause.

Whatever the cause, which is still out for debate, vaccines aren’t it. Until proven otherwise by the medical community, vaccinating your children helps them fight off disease that could kill them or  debilitate them far worse than autism can. Again, it’s still up to individual parents to make that call, but the risks of life versus the highly unlikely risk of autism development seems like a pretty easy call to diary of the daily activity level and moods of your child. After about a month to three months, you can present it to a behavior analyst who works with children with autism. The behavior analyst will be able to tell you even more than a pediatric psychiatrist can tell you about what’s going on with your child.

Other resources to consult on this difficult to diagnose matter, when your child is non-verbal, are the local chapters of NAMI for mental health, as well as the parent support groups. The parent support  groups for autistic children may have a parent or two who has been through a similar situation, and can offer helpful advice on how to deal with your situation.