Feeding problems in autistic children

autism_food_1
Parents and caregivers of autistic children have been concerned for years and now the facts are in: children with autism, by and large, are eating poorly and perhaps dangerously so. That is the conclusion of the meta-study recently published by the Marcus Autism Center and the Department of Pediatrics at Emory University School of Medicine. After taking the research and results of every published study available on the subject and analyzing them together, they have concluded that children with autism are five times as likely as the general population to have feeding problems. After releasing these results in February 2013, researchers now hope to look more closely at what this means for individual autistic patients and their families.

What the consequences of these findings will be are not yet known. The first health concern is, of course, proper nutrition. A strictly limited diet over a long period of time could result in nutritional pitfalls for a population who can ill afford it. The Tufts University School of Nutrition Science and Policy found that even mildly poor nutrition can effect cognitive development in children. Another concern is the social and societal implications of poor eating. A child who already has social deficits may have an even harder time if their eating habits are noticeably out of the ordinary. Overcoming eating problems early can be an important part of the treatments and therapies an autistic child requires, impacting both the child’s overall health as well as the child’s ability to function socially in the world.

Maternal Obesity, Diabetes Linked to Autism, Other Disability

??????????????????Overweight mothers with either Type 2 or gestational diabetes may be more likely to have a child with autism or with other developmental disabilities according to a recent study conducted by the University of California – Davis. Because nearly one-tenth of pregnant women have a form of diabetes and one-third of women of childbearing age are obese, these findings could represent a significant risk for the health of the fetus.

Theories about how the disabilities develop include the idea that elevated maternal glucose levels leads to fetal overexposure to insulin as well as the possibility of less oxygen reaching the fetus due to insulin production and iron deficiency related to diabetes.

The study, published in the journal “Pediatrics,” looked at 1,004 pairs of mothers and children over a seven-year period. For women who do not have diabetes, 6.4 percent is the typical rate of children born with disabilities. For women with diabetes in the study, however, the rate was 9.3 percent of children born with autism and 11.6 percent of children born with developmental disabilities.

Even children of diabetic mothers who were not diagnosed with autism scored lower on tests of language and communication skills.

While the results of the study are persuasive, further testing must be done to establish a definite link between obesity, diabetes and autism or other developmental disabilities.

Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia! How Chia Seeds May Help With Autism

SONY DSC

Omega-3 fatty acids are known to be quite effective with protecting and promoting brain function. Recent studies have shown that administering substantial amounts of omega-3 to children with autism helps to significantly reduce their aggressive and hyperactive behaviors. Most people are aware of omega-3 that is derived from fish oil, but the richest plant-sources of omega-3 comes from chia seeds.

Chia seeds come from the salvia hispanica plant, native to Central and South America. They are considered to be among the most nutrient dense grains available today. Chia seeds are packed with protein, carbohydrates, fiber, and lots of vitamins and minerals. Approximately 64% of the oils of the chia seed are made up of omega-3 fatty acids, which is about 8 times the amount found in salmon!

Chia seeds are an exceptionally high source of easily digestible omega-3 fatty acids, as well as being a powerhouse of nutrition, very high in minerals and boasting an almost the complete protein spectrum (19 out of 22 amino acids). These seeds can easily be added to foods, recipes, baked, etc. Since many autistic children are deficient in omega-3, chia seeds can be a very useful food to add to their diets, and it’s gluten-free!

The 10 Biggest Advances in Autism Understanding in 2012

In 2012, the general understanding of what autism is became more apparent with the general public. Along with a larger public awareness, the actual costs that autism cost to the American public was outlined at $137 billion per year.

The overall effect of this was to increase the amount of research funding devoted to understanding what autism is, what causes it and how to treat it.

Below are the ten most important advances in understanding autism that were made in 2012. Each is listed in the grouping of causes, then treatments. Parents with children diagnosed with autism or those who suspect that they may be at risk for a child with the condition should pay very careful attention to this list.

  • The pre-symptom marker of autism was discovered.
  • The CDC changes the estimated rate of autism’s prevalence to 1 in 88.
  • Early intervention in children affected with autism allows their brain activity to be altered to resemble normal children.
  • Trials suggest that the criteria used to diagnose autism needs to be changed in order to be reliable.
  • The link between pollution and autism is better understood.
  • Hundreds of seemingly small mutations can all be traced to autism.
  • Further insight is provided into the link between immune system changes and autism.
  • Peer support Is found to be more effective than traditional autism treatment approaches.
  • Arbaclofen is hinted at being able to treat some of the very core symptoms associated with autism.
  • Evidence shows that children transitioning into adulthood nee more support.

These advances do more than just help the public become aware of how prevalent autism really is. Some advances have helped to understand what causes autism in children, which means that treatments can then be planned.

The biggest news, however, is that this means parents can find some peace knowing that autism can be treated more successfully. That means there is hope with the proper treatment for a normal life.

The Critical Need we have to Support Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in Society

Research tells us that young adults with autism are less likely than any other special needs group to gain employment or attain higher education.

As individuals with ASD turn 18 their lives change – drastically. Following high school, over half of young adults with ASD had neither had jobs nor enrolled in further education. Six years post high school, only a third of young adults with autism had gone to college and not even half had ever held a job.

This research examined data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, a nine-year study of youth enrolled in special education classes during high school. They compared the post-high school employment and education of young adults ages 19-23 across several disability groups. These included individuals with ASD, intellectual disability, speech-language impairment or learning disability.

As it turned out, employment and education due to degree of impairment. The higher functioning individuals had the highest rates. Nearly 60 percent of this group attended some college and 80 percent had some paid jobs. This was dramatically contrasted in the low functioning group who had 11 percent enrolled in post-secondary education and only 23 percent had ever had a job.

Employment rates rose with family income (33% in families earning <$25,000; 75%  in families earning >$75,0000) suggesting that with the right support services (that higher income families may have access to) the chances for independence  in adulthood.

Dr. Shattuck’s report called for further research to determine the types of services that can best encourage a successful transition into adulthood. He also emphasized the need for more ideas on interventions to help low-income youth gain access to services that will allow them to have fuller participation in society.

 

Shattuck P, Carter Narendorf S, Cooper B, Sterzing P, Wagner M, Lounds Taylor J. Postsecondary Education and Employment Among Youth With an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Pediatrics. 2012; 129 (6): 1-8.

Can Innovative Cancer Research Help Solve the Autism Puzzle?

Scientists believe they understand how to normalize brain function to treat and correct autism-like behaviors. They found that a compound commonly used to treat cancer can also correct neuron imbalances in genetically engineered mice that showed autism-like behavior.

In Canada at McGill University and the University of Montreal, researchers discovered similarities in an overproduction of proteins in the brain and autistic behavior. They could stop the autistic behavior in mice by reducing the production of this protein, called neuroligins (NLGNs) Neuroligins overproduce in the absence of the EIF4EBP2 gene.

Lead author of the study, Dr Nahum Sonenberg of McGill University’s Goodman Cancer Research Centre is an expert in the abnormal proteins that are produced in cancer cells. The researcher’s team has long studied these proteins on engineered mice that were susceptible to cancer cells. In their research, they noticed that the mechanisms used were similar to ASD. This is what Dr Sonenberg had to say:

“My lab is dedicated to elucidating the role of dysregulated protein synthesis in cancer etiology. However, our team was surprised to discover that similar mechanisms may be implicated in the development of ASD.”

They started their research by engineering the mice to exhibit different types of brain gene expression. They removed the EIF4EBP2 gene, which again, subsequently causes an overproduction of the proteins that induce autism-like behavior.

These proteins are necessary for regulating the connection of neurons, called synapses. However, the overproduction causes an imbalance of synaptic activity.

The researchers discovered they could reverse the effects of the genetically engineered mice. Additionally, they also used a non-replicating cancer virus that acted as a block to inhibit the synthesis of neuroligins.

The study was successful in showing that there may be a pharmacological answer to helping reverse autism, but the substances used on the test mice were considered too toxic for humans. There is optimism about further long-term projects to help find other alternative substances that could produce the same effect and is safe for humans.

How a Healthy Gut Can Help Children with Autism


Balancing the microbes in the gut can lead to improved digestion, stronger immunity and overall better health. The flora of the gut of a child can be disrupted by things such as antibiotics, mom having a c-section, drugs, processed foods, infections and digestive issues.  What is important for healthy gut repair is a regime that includes many, many different strains of good bacteria.  Probiotics, healthy bacteria, that include multiple strains and between 10 – 50 billion per dose should be administered. These probiotics will function to repair the gut and prevent harmful microbes like yeast or clostridia from over-populating.

The healing process of the gut is so important because the digestive tract is responsible for making the majority of serotonin in the body and helps to produce and regulate dopamine. Both of these neurotrasmitters are out of balance in children with autism. Also important is the gut’s responsibility for regulating inflammation and supporting healthy immune function.

A large number of children with autism have digestive issues. The gut is important in regulating inflammation and according to recent research, it is believed that autism is an inflammatory issue.  An effective regime that involves healing the gut can have a dramatic role in decreasing the inflammatory load and show remarkable progress in helping children recover language, social and cognitive function.

10 Diet Tips for Autism

  1. Remove or reduce foods using an Elimination Diet to see which food controls symptoms and which aggravates them.
  2. A gluten-free and casein-free diet (gluten is the protein in wheat, and casein is the protein in milk).
  3. Eliminate allergenic foods like eggs, fish, seafood, tree nuts, peanuts, and soy.
  4. A low-carb ketogenic diet has been found to be effective for autistic children.
  5. A yeast and sugar-free diet is helpful in some cases.
  6. Some autistic children are deficient in certain vitamins and minerals therefore ensure that the child is getting an adequate amounts to aid their growth and treat symptoms.
  7. Include a diet rich in essential fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids like salmon and cod liver oil.
  8. A diet rich in fiber helps to alleviate and prevent constipation. Also include plenty of fluids and regular physical activity.
  9. Probiotics help with gastro-intestinal problems because they contain healthy bacteria and can improve the micro flora in the digestive tract in many autistic children.
  10. Digestive enzymes also help to aid digestion.

DSM-5 changes to criteria for an autism spectrum diagnosis

In the upcoming DSM-5 psychiatric guidelines, the diagnoses of autism, Asperger’s syndrome, and pervasive developmental disorder not otherwise specified (PDD-NOS) will all be combined into one diagnosis called autism spectrum disorders.

One group of researchers, whose study has not yet been published, expressed concern that the new guidelines will leave out a high percentage of patients who are on the milder end of Asperger’s or PDD-NOS. The developers of the DSM-5 criteria insist that their own compilations of data show that the new guidelines do include higher-functioning individuals, both children and adults.

While all three of the current diagnoses are based on delays in social and communication ability, autism implies that a child has a higher level of mental disability and requires more educational intervention. The tendency in schools has been to provide services based on the diagnosis rather than on the student’s individual needs.

Dr. Mark Bertin, an assistant professor of pediatrics at New York College of Medicine, believes that combining the diagnoses into one spectrum will help educators focus on determining what services a child needs rather than on making sure the child has the correct diagnostic label. By making the differences between autism, Asperger’s, and PDD-NOS a matter of degree rather than type, the process of determining what help a patient needs will be simplified and students on the autism spectrum will receive the services they need more easily.