Has Autism Gone Viral?

One thing for sure about the diagnosis of autism is that it is skyrocketing. What used to be an almost unknown disorder, is now common verbiage among doctors, teachers and mothers.  While some report the incidence at 1 in 88, some other sources indicate it could be as high as 1 in 20 and if it isn’t that high now, it seems like it will be soon!  Where is this coming from?

Could this be genetic? Is it just that we diagnose it more? Probably not either of these.

The over-diagnosis myth could take a whole separate article to cover, but whether public awareness has led to additional diagnosis or not, there is simply a larger proportion of our childhood population that are having autistic symptoms. What used to be common was ADD/ADHD, but now that diagnosis seems to have progressed to something a slightly or severely worse, the presentation is now autism. I group these two because they often share similar root causes.

Is autism genetic? I don’t think it is purely genetic. Up until now there has never been a genetic disorder in the history of medicine that has ever come close to affecting 2 percent of all children and maybe even more. It is not probable that a genetic syndrome could produce such profound symptoms that increase at the rates we have seen in such a short period of time.

So if it’s not the diagnosis and it’s not purely genetic, what is it? If we compile all of the autism research over the last 15 years, it may not point to a specific mechanism, but it does point to some sort of disease-mediated neurological dysfunction. A large component of the neurological dysfunction could be traced back to immune dysfunction due to a low-grade chronic infection or other immune irritant.

This hypothesis besides being supported by research isn’t out of the norm, as you are seeing many people get results from immune related diets to help with their allergies, autoimmunity and histamine intolerance for example. These immune system details were almost unheard of in the lay public previously, but now have become common knowledge to much of the general public.

One thing that makes treatment of autism difficult is that the children often present in the hyper-immune state, which basically means they are sensitive to foods, chemicals, drugs or almost any environmental stimulus. This dysfunctional immune regulation can decrease blood flow to areas of the brain such as the temporal lobes. The temporal lobes play significant roles in auditory perception, memory and speech. This decreased blood flow to the temporal lobes is also noted in people who are fighting colds or other illnesses, except in the autistic child, the cycle doesn’t seem to end. This is one of the clues that autism may at times be more of a disease process related to the immune system rather than a developmental or genetic disorder.  In order to restore blood flow to the temporal lobes, the immune dysfunction must be assessed and brought back into regulation.

How do we fix the immune system?

Well I’ll first tell you that drugs available for any immune related condition are not very effective.  Once again we are dealing with a highly volatile and sensitive system that can’t be bullied like the skinny kid on the playground.

So, the very first thing that needs to be done is to remove anything that is causing a reaction from the immune system or anything that acts as a stimulant.

Common stimulants can include dairy, wheat/grains, nuts, solanines, soy, GMOs, eggs, corn and caffeine. For this reason you see many people starting a Paleo-type diet for their family as the diet eliminates many of the above items.

Often the immune system is stressed by a chronic viral or fungal process. These need to be treated with the right natural supplement, which is usually an herbal remedy if possible, but if the child is unable to swallow supplements different tinctures or homeopathic remedies may be necessary. If we look back to traditional medical training, we know that the herpes virus has a tendency to affect the temporal lobes of the brain.  thus it could and maybe should be considered a “standard protocol” to check for herpes.

It is important to note that antiviral medications and supplements have decreased efficacy if the child’s diet is still out of control. Even less effective are antifungal supplements if the child is still consuming processed sugars.

These two components, diet and infection related to immune function, are only a portion of possible contributors to the complex presentation of autism, but they are two considerations that need to be assessed early on in treatment.

Vaccination in Autistic Children

Another immune irritant that needs to be mentioned is that of vaccination.  If you look above and see that the immune system in autistic children can at times be already in a less than optimal state.  If the immune system is already overreacting to simple foods or other viruses, then more stimulation may not be the best option.  Please note, that it is not an anti-vaccination opinion to state that vaccinations temporarily stimulate the immune system.  They are designed to do so.  The question is whether the timing is right for your child.  This is what personalized medicine is all about.  For specific contraindications to vaccination, please read the CDCs recommendations here.

Optimizing your child immune’s system will at a minimum help them be healthier and happier and maybe on the other end of the spectrum if it is an underlying problem, it has been shown to help autistic individuals to begin their journey back to health.