You may have noticed that we've featured a few articles on autism
in the past few weeks. No, we aren't fixated on the condition, but we are
paying tribute to "Autism Awareness Month," which is recognized in the month of April. In today's article, we focus on possible alternative treatments for the disorder and explore whether or not they actually work.
According to the CDC about 1 out of 110 American children have an autism spectrum disorder - the broad term used to describe a group of disorders that affect communication and social abilities. While autism can be mild or severe, at its core is a complex developmental disorder with three defining features:
- Impaired social interactions
- Problems with both verbal and nonverbal communication
- Repetitive behavior and restricted interests such as a preoccupation with numbers or dates
Autism has little to do with intelligence, and cognitive abilities vary among individuals. It occurs at all intelligence levels. Though it's true 75% of autistic individuals have a lower-than-average IQ, the remaining 25% may have normal or higher-than-average intelligence. What causes autism?
Most scientists agree there is a strong genetic component that determines who will develop autism and who will not. But since there has been a sharp increase in the number of diagnosed cases in the past few years, experts are looking at other factors that could lead to the disorder. What they have found is that various environmental, metabolic, and immunologic components come into play as well. The role of vaccinations
has been in the media spotlight in the past few years, but the latest research reveals no definitive evidence of a link between vaccines and autism. So it appears there is no definite cause or solution.Medical treatments for autism.
The good news is that decades ago, children with autism were put in institutions. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. With the proper care and treatment, autistic individuals can live at home with their loved ones.Traditional treatments
for autism are primarily focused on controlling behavioral aspects of the disorder. Sometimes psychotropic drugs are given to manage behavioral and emotional problems while other medications are used to control seizures. All have some type of impact on brain functioning and are used to lessen attention difficulties, hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and anxiety so that behavioral modification and educational approaches to treatment can deliver greater benefit.
Obviously, these drugs carry a long list of potentially hazardous side effects and are by no means a cure for the disorder. Behavioral and educational approaches come with problems, too, as years of patience and commitment may be necessary before improvement is easily identified. That's why many people – including parents, physicians, and autistic people themselves – often turn to alternative treatments.
But are these treatments based on science or pseudo-science? The more we learn about autism, the harder it is to separate fact from fiction when it comes to what really works in relieving the signs and symptoms of the disorder.Alternative treatments for autism.GFCF diet.
One of the most popular alternative treatments is the GFCF (Gluten-free, Casein-free) diet. Proponents swear by the diet's ability to improve the symptoms of allergy-induced autism and as a result, the diet has seen a surge in popularity. Once implemented, the GFCF diet can deliver mild to dramatic improvements in behavior and speech and in some cases, parents report that all traces of autism disappear after following a strict GFCF diet.
Gluten proteins are found in grains such as oats, rye, bulgur, barley, kamut, durum, and spelt. You can also find “hidden” gluten in food colorings, soy sauce, some vinegars, teriyaki sauce and flavorings.
Casein is a milk protein and as the name suggests is found in milk and milk products. Sometimes casein is added to non-milk products like hot dogs and soy products.
Since both casein and gluten are often responsible for gastrointestinal problems, and since there appears to be a link between autism and GI ailments, the GFCF diet has received much attention. Because some autistic individuals can't properly digest these proteins, the resulting peptides act as opiates in that they may alter behavior, perceptions, and environmental response. Of course, the diet hasn't been embraced by mainstream medicine, but the documented case studies certainly lend credence to its effectiveness. Dimethylglycine (DMG).
Dimethylglycine is a vitamin-like enhancer compound. It's classified as a food and is even found in small amounts in liver and brown rice. New research shows that DMG enhances the immune system, boosts physical performance, and overall has numerous health benefits. But what does it do for autistic people?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that DMG can improve behavior, eye contact, frustration level, speech, and speaking within just a few days of adding DMG to the diet.
Many parents have reported that, within a few days of starting DMG, the child's behavior improved noticeably, better eye contact was seen, frustration tolerance increased, the child's speech improved, and more interest and ability in speaking was observed.
As with most alternative treatments, the warmth of response from mainstream medicine varies. If you're interested in the GFCF diet or DMG as a means of relieving the symptoms of autism, talk with your doctor first. Then make your own well-informed decision.
While you may not get immediate results from alternative therapies, any improvement appears much more quickly than the years required for behavioral and educational approaches. More importantly, these therapies are without the risks associated with psychotic drugs.