Environmental Factors and Autism – Part 2

coal-power-plant-and-autism

From the time of conception, babies are de-methylated and as they grow and develop, they go through a process called methylation.  Both methylation and detoxification form an important balance that supports growth and development.  They work hand-in-hand so that as one slows down, so does that other.  Children with autism have shown to have impairments in these cycles, which may begin to explain why children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) are quite susceptible to environmental toxicity.

A 2009 study completed by researchers at the University of Texas, found startling evidence that the environment plays a large role in autism.  The study was designed to determine if living close to sources of mercury pollution in 1998 were related to autism prevalence in 2002. They found that for every 1000 pounds of industrial release, there were a 2.6% increase in autism rates and a 3.7% increase associated with power plant emissions. Overall, for every 10 miles away you got from industrial or power plant sources, there was a decrease in autism rates.

The same researchers revealed an association between environmentally-released mercury and autism rates also in Texas.  For each 1,000 lb of environmentally released mercury, there was a 61% increase in ASD.

Toxins play a large role in the health of our bodies. Lead levels have been linked to ASD, ADHD and learning disabilities.  The Environmental Working Group (EWG) released a study that found an average of 200 industrial chemicals and pollutants in umbilical cord blood from 10 babies born in U.S. hospitals in 2004.  Further tests revealed a total of 287 chemicals in this group of children. The umbilical cord blood identified pesticides, consumer product ingredients, and wastes from burning coal, gasoline, and garbage. It is clear that environmental toxicity is impacting all children and adults.

 

Environmental Factors and Autism – Part 1

coal-power-plant-and-autism

As a health care practitioner who specializes in autism, the relationship between autism spectrum disorder, genetics and environmental toxicity is first in my mind always and this has also been the subject of research for many years.  What we do know now is that one of the key reasons for the dramatic rise in autism rates in the last 15-20 years can be attributed to environmental toxicity.

Children with autism are more susceptible to oxidative damage and environmental toxins than other children. Autism research has shown that oxidative stress levels are high and antioxidant levels are low.  Antioxidants protect our bodies from harmful chemicals and substances circulating in food, air, water and soil.  They are essential for normal development.  Environmental toxins such as heavy metals, chemicals, pesticides and other harmful substances lower a person’s antioxidant status.

In each of our bodies there are 7 detoxification pathways that are supported by antioxidants.  There is a relationship between normal development and detoxification that is necessary to be in balance for children to grow, thrive, and learn new skills.

Research has shown that children with autism have depleted stores of glutathione, one of the body’s most important antioxidants that support detoxification of toxic substances. Researchers have identified that children with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) had up to 80% of this important compound depleted.  The brain relies 100% on glutathione to support development, therefore as glutathione levels decrease, so does the “fuel” needed for development.

The Autism Epidemic – a macroepigenetic approach to identify responsible factors

The demand for special education has risen unceasingly in the category of pervasive age-linked disorders. Autism, a developmental disorder, has been defined as a universal age-related ailment known to appear within the first three years of childhood. The number of children – ranging between the ages of 6 and 21 – in the United States alone receiving special education services under the autism disability category has increased by 91 percent in the last eight years.

Symptoms of Autism include:
• Failure to cultivate and preserve relationships with peers
• Declinations in verbal and nonverbal communication
• Inability to social interchange

Recent studies show that our constant exposure to pestilential substances plays an essential role in determining the probable causes of the autism epidemic in the United States to date. The utilization of dietetic elements and constant exposure to toxic substances being released into the environment on a day to day basis can in fact increase the chances of gene modification.

The alteration of gene expression can negatively impact neurodevelopment significantly simply because the resulting mineral disparities caused by OP pesticides (Pb) and heavy metals (Hg) have the ability to generate and open corridors for oxidative stress within the brain. By reducing levels in PON1 activity and exposing inorganic fructose and mercury to HFCS, the likely hood of accumulating levels of homocysteine – a substance often affiliated with DNA hypomethylation – carrying on into future generations could become greater. Even still, research has shown that patterns in gene expression vary geologically from one population to the next.

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.

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.

Autism and Mindreading?

There are still many misconceptions floating around about autism, including Asperger’s syndrome, despite the fact that so much research has been performed in the last decade. There is still much to learn about autistic behavior.

Some have theorized that people with autism may lack certain skills that some might call mindreading. Most individuals may seem extremely intuitive when it comes to their interactions with other people. These traits become significant in the way we communicate with others from the time we are very young. For autistic individuals, this may not necessarily be the case. According to this theory, autistic people may lack this specific intuition.

Part of this theory comes from studies performed on autistic individuals and other parts come from study of autistic people and social interactions. For instance, many autistic individuals avoid eye contact, which is a significant part of picking up on subtle social cues. Some of these nuances appear to go unnoticed, though the autistic individual may still pick up on more overt communication. Researchers are beginning to take note of these developments in an effort to improve the way teachers facilitate autistic individuals in the classroom. These findings may also help educators teach communication skills.

Puberty and Autism

The onset of puberty can be a difficult time for autistic children.  Many experience more frequent and severe behavioral problems. Nearly 20% of those afflicted begin to experience seizures during puberty. This is believed to be the result of hormonal changes.

What to Expect:

  • Unexpected rage or outbursts over small incidents.
  • Disturbed sleep schedule.
  • New food likes/aversions and odd cravings.
  • Decreased appetite followed by a ferocious appetite.
  • Overly affectionate.
  • Desires to control family members and pets.
  • Poor hygiene.
  • Return of old behaviors.

Puberty can be really scary for autistic children and parents have a difficult time knowing how to explain their body changes to them.

Here are some tips:

  • Start explaining to your preteen what bodily changes to expect before puberty hits.
  • Explain what will happen to BOTH boys and girls during puberty, so they’re not surprised when they see their friends changing too.
  • Show pictures of trusted, loved adults of both sexes – mom, dad, aunt, uncle – as babies, then children, then teens, then as adults. This allows them to see how the transformation has happened to everyone, and that it is a positive thing to go through.
  • Explain bodily functions inherent to being a boy (hardening of the penis, ejaculation) and being a girl (menstrual cycle). If you have a daughter on the spectrum, it may be a good idea to have her wear a pad before she begins her period, so that she gets used to the sensory aspect of wearing the sanitary pad.

Body changes are scary for those who don’t like change. By telling them and showing them the changes that will happen, you can make it much easier for them.

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder

Childhood Disintegrative Disorder is a rare but serious condition that afflicts one or two out of 100,000 children. It is also known as Heller’s syndrome, named after the doctor who discovered it.

In this disorder, children initially develop normally until the age of two to four at which time they begin to regress and lose skills formerly acquired. A child will demonstrate significant loss of language, motor and social skills. A previously toilet-trained child may even lose bowel and/or bladder control.

When symptoms are noted, it is important to seek medical attention. A complete medical history needs to be provided to the doctor, including the dates each developmental milestone was reached.

Although the cause of this disorder is not known, the doctor will perform a complete neurological exam including imaging tests and tests to measure the electrical activity of the brain. These tests will rule out other causes of the regression.

Genetic tests will be performed to determine if there is any condition the child may have inherited that is causing the symptoms. Other tests that will be performed include checking blood levels to rule out lead poisoning as well as hearing and vision tests. Behaviors will be evaluated to determine if there are abnormal reactions to certain stimuli.

All skills will be tested including motor, sensory and play skills. Cognitive skills will be tested as well as determination of what self-care skills the child can perform. Play with other children and interaction with adults will also be analyzed.