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  • Writer's pictureCarina Hopen

A Functional Approach to Autism

The CDC estimated that 1 in 68 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Key diagnostic criteria for ASD include repetitive patterns of behavior, interest, or activities and deficits in social interaction and language. I have personally experienced the day-to-day challenges of living with a child on the spectrum. Early intensive behavioral therapy was slightly helpful, but it wasn’t until I incorporated the concepts of functional medicine into my child’s daily routine that we finally started to experience forward momentum. To an observer looking from the outside in, the improvement may have looked insignificant. However, to any parent and sibling affected by autism, any gain HUGE and a WIN!

The concepts of Functional Medicine are well suited for disorders like autism; however, it’s important to note that each child is different, and that autism has a wide range of severities and a wide range of causes. Functional medicine recognizes this and investigates for the possible triggers that caused imbalances in the patient’s body.

Here are 7 principles of Functional Medicine to consider for an individual with autism:

1. Decrease inflammation. Excessive inflammation in the body can impact brain development. Some common causes include food allergies/sensitivities, imbalances in the gut bacteria, and infections. The following steps include more information on how to treat these causes of inflammation.

2. Trial a gluten and dairy free diet. There are components of gluten and dairy that can cross the blood-brain barrier and impact the neurological system through inflammation. This causes symptoms such as confusion, fatigue, fluctuations in mood, and attention issues. In addition, antibodies against dairy have been found to block an important receptor in the brain for a number of autistic patients. This receptor is called the folate receptor. Folate receptor antibodies have been found in many children with autism and is one of the reasons that many parents notice significant changes when they change their child’s diet.

Now, I will be the first to tell you that changing your child’s diet can be difficult, especially when they are very selective (picky) about the foods they eat and don’t eat. Often a individual with autism have a limited palette, and it is more likely that they prefer highly processed foods that contains gluten in it. Starting slow is better than not starting at all.

3. Focus on the digestive system. Multiple studies have shown that there is a correlation between autism and gastrointestinal symptoms. Many children on the autism spectrum have symptoms of bloating, diarrhea, constipation, and abdominal pain. We evaluate the gut microbiota and use treatment to help improve the balance of the bacteria and yeast in the gastrointestinal system. Try using a good quality probiotic and a digestive enzyme if your child has these symptoms.

4. Fish oil supplementation. Omega-3 fats are naturally anti-inflammatories and are necessary for proper brain development.

5. Avoid refined and processed foods. Additives that can cause behavioral problems and digestive issues are found in many products. Avoid anything with added food coloring and do your best to provide your child with whole foods at every meal.

6. Good quality multivitamin/mineral formula. Some nutritional deficiencies in children on the spectrum, either because of inadequate intake, poor absorption, or a genetic variation that increases their individual needs. A good multivitamin is a great addition for most children.

7. Manage stress & the home environment. Coping with stress uses many different cognitive functions of the brains such as recognizing the symptoms, identifying causes, formulating a coping strategy, maintaining control of emotions appropriately and remembering these techniques. Being on the autism spectrum can make it difficult to balance all these processes to manage stress. Learn various strategies to cope with stressful situations. Identify what changes can be made to control the situation and reduce stress levels.

The above 7 steps are a great start and will often have a positive impact on your child’s health and development.

If these changes are not enough, I recommend that you see a doctor to investigate other imbalances in the body that might be the root cause. At Inspired Wellness, PLLC, we often work to support the mitochondria (which influences the body’s energy production) with carnitine, CoQ10, and B vitamins. We test for genetic variations that influence a person’s need for certain nutrients. We test for toxins, including heavy metals, and then work to help support the body’s natural detoxification system.

Inspired Wellness, PLLC can help you reimagine your health by diving deeper into your health narrative and personalize a health plan for you. We will never promise a cure, but we will always help you to get closer towards attaining your health goals. You will be heard, supported, and empowered with the knowledge, tools, and skills that will carry you throughout your health journey. We offer two different types of packages: non-membership and membership options. If you are a DIY action taker, we have an Inspired Menu Library that takes the guess work out of many different types of meal plans (e.g., anti-inflammatory, elimination, plant-based, etc.) and we also have an online academy for a structured learning format.


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