At Knox Wellness in Knoxville, TN, we know that having a child with autism often challenges the whole family. Symptoms vary widely, and problems with repeated routines and/or communication can be difficult to understand, much less manage. That’s why we provide comprehensive autism support that addresses a variety of concerns and can likewise improve a variety of symptoms.
Who Can I Talk to About Autism Support? 8 Ways We Can Help
1. Recommend Therapies
Although no cure exists for autism spectrum disorder (ASD), several interventions do exist to reduce symptoms, maximize a patient’s ability to participate in the community, and improve cognitive and daily living skills. Our duty is to recognize the unique strengths and challenges an individual with ASD has to identify the most beneficial therapy.
Treatment plans are usually multidisciplinary and for young children may also include parent-mediated interventions. The goal is to target each person’s individual needs. This means the intervention we recommend for one patient may not be the same as that for another and will depend on the results of a thorough exam. We will also consider a variety of factors, including:
- Long-term goals
- Patient age
- Increased or decreased reactions to sensory stimuli
2. Navigate Integrative Medicine Approaches
Integrative medicine seeks to achieve balance in the body. Essentially, this means eliminating what a patient doesn’t need through detoxification and delivering what they do need with supplementation and an appropriate diet (we’ll discuss this more in just a moment). Integrative medicine also seeks ways to support patients with therapies focused on such skills as communication and socialization.
At our office, we recognize the need to try simple treatments first to encourage patients and parents with early positive results. Easy activities can also pique patients’ interest, which in turn encourages interaction as they ask you for items and establish common ground with others. Key principles of integrative medicine include:
- An equal partnership between patient and practitioner in the healing process
- Preference for natural and less invasive interventions
- Considering the whole of a person, including mind, body, and spirit
- Using treatments that encourage the body’s natural healing responses
Benefits for Parents
Parents and family members of ASD children also benefit from the integrative medicine approach. Parents often get overlooked in this equation, but they need autism support, fortitude, and encouragement to continue providing a high level of care. Integrative medicine meets these needs with training in areas like parenting techniques, behavior management, and family therapy.
We understand parents are the ones who bring their sons and daughters into the fullest measure possible of healing. For this reason, we allow time for you to meet with doctors and address changes. Kids frequently move up and down the autism spectrum as time passes. They also tire of taking supplements, get exposed to different toxins, and go through a range of other emotions and behaviors that may require evolving treatment plans.
3. Explore Functional Medicine Approaches
While integrative medicine seeks to treat a person with a holistic approach, functional medicine focuses on the optimal function of the body. It understands each patient is different in both biochemical composition and genetics. Because of this, the treatment plan is highly personalized – from diagnostics to treatments. In addition to correcting health concerns when possible using natural supplements, this approach also heavily emphasizes lifestyle changes, including:
- Stress levels
- Sleep patterns
Because patients with autism have a wide range of severities and causes, functional medicine is a well-suited approach. It identifies triggers responsible for imbalances in the patient’s body, which we can then start to address.
An Investigative Process
Functional medicine considers that one condition may be traced to many culprits or, conversely, one culprit may lead to many conditions. For instance, you may have depression, a single condition, caused by antibiotic use, low thyroid function, and vitamin D deficiency. On the other hand, inflammation may be the lone cause of arthritis, heart disease, and depression.
To identify the cause and condition relationship, functional medicine relies heavily on the collection and organization of information. Because this requires communication with patients and their families, we’re able to develop close relationships with those we treat. This approach also helps to identify unhealthy patterns in individuals and families – such as grocery shopping for convenient but chemical-laden foods – to address the multiple facets of autism.
4. Review the Importance of Digestive Health
In 2015, Harvard researchers determined a neurotransmitter in the brain is linked to autistic behavior. Specifically, the GABA signaling pathway, one of the brain’s chief inhibitory neurotransmitters, is “broken.” GABA exists in the brain, but a step in its pathway seems to be missing.
What does this have to do with the gut? Plenty. The gut-brain axis is a connective system of 500 million neurons, meaning gastrointestinal events have a significant impact on the brain. Chemicals known as neurotransmitters also link the gut and brain; in particular, gastrointestinal microbes produce GABA.
A Deep Connection
The trillions of microbes living in your gut make other chemicals that influence your brain as well. This is why digestive health is so crucial in reducing the symptoms of autism. Multiple studies confirm a correlation exists between autism and gastrointestinal symptoms; to illustrate, many children on the spectrum present symptoms of abdominal pain, constipation, diarrhea, and bloating.
We evaluate gut microbes to identify imbalances between yeast and bacteria. A quality probiotic is often recommended for patients. These supplements promote healthy digestion to, in turn, filter and eliminate harmful chemicals, toxins, and other waste products from the body. Probiotics can also improve immune system functions to fight against:
- Autoimmune disorders
- Allergic reactions
5. Consider Inflammation and Its Causes
Researchers have long believed a connection exists between autism and excessive inflammation in the body. Inflammation is our inherent way of fighting attack. When a “foreign” substance – such as a virus or toxin – enters the body, inflammatory processes and chemicals increase to fight off the invader. Once the battle is complete, the body once more calms down as it enters an anti-inflammatory process.
This transition of ramping up and cooling down in some people, however, does not smoothly unfold. These people essentially become stuck in a state of constant inflammation. In other words, their bodies remain in battle mode and subsequently produce chemicals that, with time, impact brain development. Exploring the culprits behind individual inflammation can reduce the symptoms of autism.
6. Eliminate and/or Subtract Foods From the Diet
The additives found in many foods can lead to digestive issues as well as behavioral problems. Therefore, a key component of autism support is recommending patients and their families avoid refined and processed foods.
Studies reveal autistic children have higher levels of propionic acid (PPA) in their guts than children without the disease. PPA is a short-chain saturated fatty acid with antifungal properties. It occurs naturally, but manufacturers also use it as a flavoring agent and preservative in processed foods. High PPA levels can lead to a buildup of glial cells that cause inflammation in the brain and disrupt neuron connectivity.
Additional Food Recommendations
Diets that are gluten and dairy-free can also be beneficial in reducing the symptoms of autism. Components of both gluten and dairy can cross the blood-brain barrier and influence the neurological system. Symptoms of this scenario include:
- Problems paying attention
- Mood fluctuations
Gluten and dairy can also promote inflammation in certain people, and studies confirm antibodies against dairy can block the folate receptor. Folate receptor antibodies have been found in a number of autistic children and contribute to the many positive changes parents see when they alter a child’s diet. We’re not suggesting that making food changes is easy; just the opposite, we know it can be difficult, and that’s why we’re here to help.
With our guidance, you can be prepared for common eating pitfalls like pickiness; many children with autism are sensitive to food textures, smells, and tastes that present barriers to balanced eating plans. Likewise, getting your child to try new foods can seem nearly impossible. But we can help you develop strategies to make foods more interesting, such as incorporating positive and low-pressure ways to encourage more flexible eating.
Where appropriate, we can also help you make meals a routine. A child with ASD may become stressed by bright lights and a busy kitchen. Establishing predictable scenarios can ease this stress. We can additionally review the adjustments you might make to improve your child’s comfort during mealtime, such as dimming the lights and/or playing soft music.
7. Recommend the Right Supplements
Earlier, we discussed the ways probiotics can promote health, but these are just one example of the supplements that may benefit children with autism. Another is melatonin, proven to treat sleep difficulties associated with ASD. Growing evidence shows melatonin may also be beneficial in reducing pain, depression, and anxiety. And some children show improved gastrointestinal functions with this supplement.
Around 70% of Americans have omega-3 deficiencies, a condition that may be linked to autism. Supplementing with omega oils can therefore reduce a variety of symptoms. These nutrients help the body:
- Maintain sufficient levels of DHA, crucial to mental clarity
- Reduce inflammation in the body, including the brain
- Improve working memory throughout the day
- Increase concentration levels
Omega oils are additionally rich in vitamins A and D, both of which contribute to overall health. The former can support eye health and may even influence your child’s eye contact. The latter likewise supports healthy immune functions.
Children with ASD often present nutritional deficiencies that extend beyond omega-3s. This can be traced to poor absorption (remember the gastrointestinal issues we discussed earlier), inadequate intake, or genetic variations that increase an individual body’s needs. A high-quality multivitamin can provide the nutrients your child is missing in a quick, easy-to-take manner.
8. Present All the Options Available
This list discusses only some of the autism support options that may be available to you and your child. We will discuss these and any other recommendations we feel may ease your child’s symptoms. From increased recreation to changes in diet, we’ll also ensure you feel comfortable with the treatments we recommend before further proceeding. Remember you and your child are both equal partners in the treatment process.
Most autism interventions come in packages that address your child’s distinct and individual needs. Autism is not a one-dimensional condition and therefore should not be treated as such. Through a mutual share of information, we will help you make critical decisions about what’s best for you and your family, and in turn, we’ll develop a treatment plan specifically for your child. Schedule your consultation today by calling Knox Wellness in Knoxville, TN.