Can Diet Have An Impact On Autism
Theres no specific diet designed for autistic people. Nevertheless, some autism advocates are exploring dietary changes as a way to help minimize behavioral issues and increase overall quality of life.
A foundation of the autism diet is the avoidance of artificial additives. These include preservatives, colors, and sweeteners.
An autism diet may instead focus on whole foods, such as:
Some autism advocates also endorse a gluten-free diet. The protein gluten is found in wheat, barley, and other grains.
Those advocates believe that gluten creates inflammation and adverse bodily reactions in certain autistic people. However, scientific research is inconclusive on the relationship between autism, gluten, and another protein known as casein.
New Research On Autism And Our Environment
Sex hormones, medications, certain metals such as lead, pesticides, and chemicals used to make plastic hard or pliable have long been suspected of having a role in autism. They have not been proven to cause autism, but these are known to trigger or worsen other health problems, including some that affect the brain. Many studies have shown that chemical exposures during development in the womb can have much more serious health effects than the same exposures would in adults.
A large 2014 study investigated the connection between autism and genital malformations using health insurance claims from almost a third of the U.S. population. Like autism, genital malformations are increasing: cases of undescended testicle increased 200% between 1970 and 1993, and the percentage of boys born with a deformity of the penis known as hypospadia doubled. Many studies have shown that these malformations are more common among children whose mothers have high levels of chemicals that affect the hormones in their bodies, such as phthalates which are found in cleaning products, medicines, and personal care products like shampoos and creams The link between these chemicals and genital malformations has surfaced in other studies, particularly those involving women in professions that require working daily with these chemicals.
What Role Do Genes Play
Twin and family studies strongly suggest that some people have a genetic predisposition to autism. Identical twin studies show that if one twin is affected, then the other will be affected between 36 to 95 percent of the time. There are a number of studies in progress to determine the specific genetic factors associated with the development of ASD. In families with one child with ASD, the risk of having a second child with the disorder also increases. Many of the genes found to be associated with autism are involved in the function of the chemical connections between brain neurons . Researchers are looking for clues about which genes contribute to increased susceptibility. In some cases, parents and other relatives of a child with ASD show mild impairments in social communication skills or engage in repetitive behaviors. Evidence also suggests that emotional disorders such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia occur more frequently than average in the families of people with ASD.
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What Research Is Being Done
The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease. The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health , the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world. NINDS and several other NIH Institutes and Centers support research on autism spectrum disorder.
Nearly 20 years ago the NIH formed the Autism Coordinating Committee to enhance the quality, pace, and coordination of efforts at the NIH to find a cure for autism. The NIH/ACC has been instrumental in promoting research to understand and advance ASD. The NIH/ACC also participates in the broader Federal Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee , composed of representatives from various U.S. Department of Health and Human Services agencies, the Department of Education, and other governmental organizations, as well as public members, including individuals with ASD and representatives of patient advocacy organizations. One responsibility of the IACC is to develop a strategic plan for ASD research, which guides research programs supported by NIH and other participating organizations.
Understanding Aggressive Behaviour In Autistic Children And Teenagers
If you understand what causes your autistic childs self-injurious and aggressive behaviour, you can help your child learn to manage the behaviour.
You can do this by looking at whats triggering the behaviour and what your child is getting out of it. Try keeping a diary of the behaviour for 1-2 weeks, noting what happens before and after the behaviour.
Understanding how well your child can communicate is also a key step in finding out whats causing the aggressive behaviour. When children cant express feelings or ask for what they need or want, they might use aggressive behaviour to communicate.
It can be helpful to ask yourself, Is my child trying to tell me something? For example, if your child doesnt like corn flakes but cant tell you, your child might hit you as a way of saying Take it away, I dont want it!
One way to manage your childs aggressive behaviour is by changing the triggers for the behaviour. Our article on managing challenging behaviour in autistic children explains how to do this.
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How Common Is Autism Spectrum Disorder
Based on most recent CDC report, ASD is estimated to affect about 1 in 54 children, with boys being more likely to have ASD than girls. There were more than 5 million adults in the US, or 2.21% of the population, with ASD as of 2017. Government statistics suggest that the prevalence of ASD has risen 10% to 17% in recent years.
Who Is High Risk For Autism
Children born to older parents are at a higher risk for having autism. Parents who have a child with ASD have a 2 to 18 percent chance of having a second child who is also affected. Studies have shown that among identical twins, if one child has autism, the other will be affected about 36 to 95 percent of the time.
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How Parents Can Spot The Warning Signs
As a parent, youre in the best position to spot the earliest warning signs of autism. You know your child better than anyone and observe behaviors and quirks that a pediatrician, in a quick fifteen-minute visit, might not have the chance to see. Your childs pediatrician can be a valuable partner, but dont discount the importance of your own observations and experience. The key is to educate yourself so you know whats typical and whats not.
Monitor your childs development. Autism involves a variety of developmental delays, so keeping a close eye on whenor ifyour child is hitting the key social, emotional, and cognitive milestones is an effective way to spot the problem early on. While developmental delays dont automatically point to autism, they may indicate a heightened risk.
Take action if youre concerned. Every child develops at a different pace, so you dont need to panic if your child is a little late to talk or walk. When it comes to healthy development, theres a wide range of typical. But if your child is not meeting the milestones for his or her age, or you suspect a problem, share your concerns with your childs doctor immediately. Dont wait.
Regression of any kind is a serious autism warning sign
So What Does Cause Autism
At the end of the day, autism is a complex disability and as far as we know theres no single cause. Instead, its likely to be due to a combination of environmental and genetic factors .
What research has told us is, there do seem to be a few factors that can increase the risk of autism, such as:
- Your childs sex: autism is four times more common in boys than girls.
- Family history: families who have a child with autism have an increased risk of having another child with the disorder.
- Other disorders: children with certain medical conditions have a higher risk of autism, or autism-like symptoms .
- Extremely pre-term babies: babies born under 26 weeks may have a higher risk of autism.
While these factors may increase the risk, it is important to know that falling into one of these categories does not mean that you or your child will definitely develop autism.
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How Autistic Delays Can Be Masked Or Hidden
Some children with autism have severe cognitive delays, behavioral challenges, or physical “stims” that make it obvious that something is wrong. But many autistic children have few or mild delays, challenges, or stims. When that’s the case, developmental delays may be hard to spot.
Here are a few groups of children whose developmental delays may not be obvious until social, emotional, or communication demands increase :
Finding A Place In The Social World
Even if they escape bullying, many teens with ASD struggle with social isolation. A large national study of teens receiving special education services revealed that students with ASD were less likely to take part in social activities than adolescents with speech and language disorders, learning disabilities or intellectual disability.1
More than 40 percent of the teens with ASD never saw friends outside of school. Half were never invited to take part in activities. For 54 percent, friends never called.1
A smaller study found that “social withdrawal worsened with age for a substantial proportion of youths” with ASD between ages 9 and 18, regardless of IQ.2
“Teens say actually the hardest part is not having friends. People think they don’t want to have friends, but they do,” Ms. Sicile-Kira said.
Dr. Keefer said many teens and young adults with ASD want, at a minimum, to be accepted. “There is a desire to be accepted, to have people around you who are nice to you and with whom you can share your interests,” she said.
The “special interests” common to autism can be an escape from social interaction, if a teen occupies himself solely with his favorite topic. “But, if used correctly, those special interests can be a way to connect with other people. An interest in gaming, for instance, is often a way for teenage boys to connect with one another,” Dr. Keefer said.
- See IAN’s Adults with Autism section.
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Prenatal Factors That May Contribute To Autism
Taking antidepressants during pregnancy, especially in the first 3 months.
Nutritional deficiencies early in pregnancy, particularly not getting enough folic acid.
The age of the mother and father
Complications at or shortly after birth, including very low birth weight and neonatal anemia
Maternal infections during pregnancy.
Exposure to chemical pollutants, such as metals and pesticides, while pregnant.
More research on these prenatal risk factors is needed, but if youre pregnant or trying to conceive, it cant hurt to take steps now to reduce your babys risk of autism.
Reducing the risk of autism: Tips for expectant mothers
Take a multivitamin. Taking 400 micrograms of folic acid daily helps prevent birth defects such as spina bifida. Its not clear whether this will also help reduce risk of autism, but taking the vitamins cant hurt.
Ask about SSRIs. Women who are taking an SSRI should talk with a clinician about all the risks and benefits of these drugs. Untreated depression in a mother can also affect her childs well-being later on, so this is not a simple decision to make.
Practice prenatal care. Eating nutritious food, trying to avoid infections, and seeing a clinician for regular check-ups can increase the chances of giving birth to a healthy child.
Source: Harvard Health Publications
Signs Of Speech And Language Difficulties
- Speaks in an atypical tone of voice, or with an odd rhythm or pitch .
- Repeats the same words or phrases over and over, often without communicative intent.
- Responds to a question by repeating it, rather than answering it.
- Uses language incorrectly or refers to him or herself in the third person.
- Has difficulty communicating needs or desires.
- Doesnt understand simple directions, statements, or questions.
- Takes what is said too literally .
Children with autism spectrum disorder have difficulty with speech and language. Often, they start talking late.
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Some Children Do Outgrow Autism But It’s Not What You Think
In the largest national study of children with autism to date, researchers examined one of the most mysterious aspects of autism spectrum disorder: that it sometimes simply vanishes.
An estimated 1 in 68 children have been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the U.S., but researchers are beginning to take note of a small minority of children with ASD who seem to “grow out” of their diagnoses.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention surveyed more than 1,400 children with ASD — the largest nationally representative sample of children with autism to date — and found that about 13 percent of them seemed to shed their ASD-associated behaviors as they grew up.
The catch: that doesn’t mean they’ve stumbled upon some kind of miracle therapy or cure. Rather, as some previous researchers theorized, most of them were simply misdiagnosed or intentionally diagnosed with ASD for other reasons.
“The present study confirms that ASD diagnoses can and sometimes do change as children mature and overcome delays, and as new information is assimilated by their healthcare providers,” said Stephen Blumberg, lead author and an associate director for science at the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.
Based on parent feedback, the diagnosis most often disappears in:
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Autistic People May Act In A Different Way To Other People
Autistic people may:
- find it hard to communicate and interact with other people
- find it hard to understand how other people think or feel
- find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable
- get anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events
- take longer to understand information
- do or think the same things over and over
If you think you or your child may be autistic, get advice about the signs of autism.
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Brain Development And Autism
The brain develops differently in autistic children compared with typically developing children.
In young children, the brain is developing all the time. Every time a child does something or responds to something, connections in the brain are reinforced and become stronger.
Over time, the connections that arent reinforced disappear theyre pruned away as theyre not needed. This pruning is how the brain makes room for important connections those needed for everyday actions and responses, like walking, talking or understanding emotions.
In autistic children, the brain tends to grow faster than average during early childhood, especially during the first three years of life. The brains of autistic babies appear to have more cells than they need, as well as poor connections between the cells.
Also, pruning doesnt seem to happen as much in autistic children. This means that information might be lost or sent through the wrong connections. The lack of pruning might also explain why the brain seems to be growing faster in autistic children than in typically developing children.
Its not yet clear what causes this difference in brain development.
Research Early Signs And Treatment
There’s been widespread controversy about a possible connection between vaccines and the soaring autism rates. Some parents of children whose autistic symptoms first appeared shortly after their measles-mumps-rubella immunization are convinced the shot was the cause, but repeated studies have failed to find scientific evidence. Although one small, heavily publicized British study published in 1998 suggested a link, 10 of the 13 authors publicly retracted the findings in March 2004, saying they were unreliable. The study, lead by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, only studied a small sample of 12 kids, eight of whom were diagnosed with autism. By early 2010, the same British journal, The Lancet, that published his findings retracted his study and in January 2011, the British Medical Journal publicly denounced Dr. Wakefield’s research as “fraudulent.” The British Medical Journal announced that Dr. Wakefield had “falsified data” and tampered with his research results to give the MMR vaccine bad publicity. At the time of his study, Dr. Wakefield had been involved in a lawsuit against the manufacturers of the MMR vaccine and would have gained money if he’d won, making his research an obvious conflict of interest.
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Rates Are On The Rise
An estimated 1 in 40 children in this country have autism to some degree, according to a recent study from Pediatrics based on 2016 data. That’s about 1.5 million children between the ages 3 to 17. Nationwide, autism strikes three to four times more boys than girls the rates are about the same for kids of all races.
Although there seems to be an autism epidemic, the Pediatrics study attributes the increasing prevalence to more inclusive reporting. The definition of autism has been expanded in the past decade to include a wider spectrum of problems with communication and social interaction. “Ten years ago, many children with mild autism were simply not diagnosed,” says Adrian Sandler, M.D., a developmental-behavioral pediatrician at Mission Children’s Hospital, in Asheville, North Carolina, and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ committee on children with disabilities. Plus, there are more state and federal programs for autistic kids, giving doctors an incentive to diagnose and refer them. However, there may be additional, unknown reasons for the spike in autism rates, and researchers are investigating everything from environmental toxins to viruses to food allergies.