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Autism Spectrum Disorder

Published by Dr. Meghan Haggarty

Autism is a multi-system disorder that requires a multi-faceted approach for the patient to make significant progress. The Nardella Clinic naturopathic doctors in Calgary use a biomedical approach for treating Autism Spectrum Disorder and offer extensive diagnostic assessments to identify the most appropriate treatments for each individual patient. Given that autism has multiple origins, treatments focus on different body systems. They commonly include:

  • immune system regulation
  • addressing digestive issues
  • dietary changes and nutritional optimization
  • heavy metal detoxification
  • neurological support

Immune System Regulation

Autistic patients often have varying degrees of immune dysregulation. Research has found many connections between the immune system and the neurological system. Abnormal immune responses can cause inflammation in the nervous system resulting in changes in behavior, language and mood. Identifying the cause of this autoimmune response and providing naturopathic treatments to effectively help to regulate the immune response can help to control the symptoms of autism. Potential causes that are investigated by our naturopaths include:

  • Food and environmental allergies
  • Chronic infections
  • Heavy metals and toxin exposure
  • Digestive dysfunction

This process allows for an individualized naturopathic treatment plan to be developed. This includes a combination of dietary modification, specific nutrient supplementation, herbs or medications to treat infections, detoxification support and optimizing digestive function.

Digestive Disturbances

Chronic digestive disturbances may be a problem for many patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Stool analysis can identify abnormal bacteria, fungus, and parasites that cause digestive dysfunction. Certain by-products that affect the neurological system can also be measured and help to identify various abnormalities. Dietary changes, naturopathic supplementation and addressing dysbiosis help to correct these digestive problems. This has a positive impact on both immune and neurological function.

Dietary Changes and Nutritional Optimization

Diet can have a profound impact on autistic children. It is important to identify areas in the child’s diet that may be causing problems and increasing symptoms. Once these are identified, nutritional advice is offered from our Calgary naturopaths to adapt the diet to be healthy for that individual. Certain nutritional deficiencies are very common in patients with ASD. Specific vitamins and minerals have been shown to be very effective in reducing the symptoms of autism. When given in therapeutic amounts, these nutrients can improve behavior, language, and mood among many other things.

Neurological Support

Although autism is a complex multi-system disease, special attention is given to supporting the neurological system. Testing allows us to detect any imbalances of the chemicals messengers in our brain, called neurotransmitters. These messengers impact mood, social interaction, self-injurious behavior, and attention. Imbalances can be corrected using the amino acids, herbs and vitamins that are the building blocks of these neurotransmitters and help to restore balance. Specific anti-oxidant support is also recommended by a naturopathic doctor to protect the nerves and support proper nervous system function.

Case Studies

We have our little girl back

A mother brought her 5 year old girl into the clinic because the child was experiencing extreme sensitivity to clothing and texture. At 2.5 years old she was diagnosed with sensory processing disorder. She was also having approximately 5 tantrums per day and recently began having night terrors. Her behavior was getting worse as time went on and she was now getting upset very easily. Separate of behavioral issues she was having tummy aches and frequent ear and throat infections.

The following naturopathic tests were done to identify potential underlying causes for the behavior:

  • Thyroid function
  • Iron and other vitamin levels
  • Presence of strep antibodies and PANDAS
  • Food allergy and celiac testing
  • Neurotransmitters
  • Comprehensive stool testing
  • Gluten/casein peptide testing

The first thing detected was elevated levels of the peptide casomorphin in the urine. Some children are unable to break down the proteins in casein completely, which leaves peptides that have a neurological effect on the body similar to morphine. After removing dairy from the diet within a few weeks there was a significant decrease in outbursts.

Neurotransmitter testing detected elevation of many of her neurotransmitters-the chemicals in our brain that control mood and behavior. When these chemicals are being overproduced it can lead to overstimulation of the nervous system resulting in bad behavior and sensitivity to texture. Naturopathic stool testing also found the yeast candida and a parasite. In children GI infections have also been shown to affect mood and behavior.

In addition to the removal of dairy from the diet, the girl was given supplements to balance her neurotransmitters and antimicrobial herbs and probiotics to treat the GI infections. After 4 years of increasingly worse behavior a 70% improvement was noticed within a month.

I first started noticing that something was wrong with our daughter when she was around 18 months old. She would scream for hours and nothing could console her. She would cry out to me to help but nothing I did seemed to work.  Clothes bugged her so bad that she would spend 90% of her time naked. I knew in my gut that this was not normal behavior and took her too the doctor, thus starting the endless diagnosis that seemed to change at a whim depending on who we were seeing for treatment. We got told everything from, she is just acting out, to she had textile sensitivity disorder, to sensory processing disorder, and even talk of Oppositional defiant disorder. We saw doctors, specialists, and therapists. We tried diets from sugar free to gluten free. Nothing seemed to help. As the years went on, there were moments when things got better but she would still have these massive break downs, which we call episodes. As she started school the episodes were horrible starting as soon as she came home from school, so I took her back to the doctor. They started to tell me she might have some other kind of disorder and started to talk about medication options. The thought scared me of drugging my 5 year old and I was not ready to go there. I decided to bring her to Dr. Nardella with hopes that she would find something, anything else that could help us.

Dr. Nardella was so understanding, never making me feel like it was all in my head. The best thing she said to me was that it was behavioral but something medical was causing it. We did a series of tests and waited for the results. We got back some surprising results and took action right away. The change I see in my daughter is night and day! She no longer has episodes of screaming and crying, she is able to wear all kinds of clothes without them bugging her, she is able to focus and concentrate 100% better, if she does get upset she is able to calm down with out it lasting for hours like it used to. Even teachers have been telling me of the difference they see in her. I love that even though my daughter has to take pills, they don’t turn her into a spaced out zombie that some prescription drugs can do to a child. She still has her wonderfully expressive personality. We have our smart, sweet little girl back and could not be happier! I am so grateful to Dr. Nardella and the Nardella clinic for finding the cause to my daughter’s behavior and not just writing her off as another child with behavioral issues that can’t be fixed.

Making a Difference for an Autistic Boy

A six-year-old boy diagnosed at age four-and-a-half with severe Autism Spectrum Disorder. Since the diagnosis he has been on a gluten-free and casein free diet. He was on a naturopathic supplement regime and completed a detoxification protocol. In addition to this, he was working with a speech therapist, a behavioral therapist, and an occupational therapist. The boy also suffered from severe constipation and allergies. To help with this his mother started him on the Specific Carbohydrate Diet. The boy was having difficulty concentrating, he had mild anxiety, fine motor skill delays, suffered from light and noise sensitivity and had significant trouble with socialization with family and other children.

One of our naturopathic doctors in Calgary recommended stool testing that identified Candida and a parasite in his digestive tract. The Specific Carbohydrate diet was continued and herbal antimicrobials and probiotics were prescribed to address the infection. The child also completed 40 daily one-hour hyperbaric treatments.

After the 40 hyperbaric treatments, the boy’s aid that had not seen him in two months made the following observations:

  • happy and compliant;
  • much easier to work with;
  • improved communication;
  • engaged in pretend play;
  • improved language and word selection;
  • speaking in full sentences;
  • more open to correction during therapy.

In addition the mother noticed the following:

  • more interested in communicating with others;
  • showed an interest in reading and writing for the first time;
  • very happy mood and the anxiety had resolved;
  • artwork was elaborate and he was using lots of color;
  • significantly improved imaginative play;
  • singing all the time now;
  • improved focus;
  • making good eye contact;
  • able to sit and work on a task for an extended period of time;
  • normal bowel movements;
  • socializing with the family.

The boy returned to school in the fall with an increased ability to learn and grow. Further hyperbaric sessions and other biomedical naturopathic treatments will be implemented to maintain and enhance his progress.

Therapies used for treating Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Chelation
  • Hyperbaric Medicine
  • Pharmacological, Herbal and Nutrient Therapy
  • Nutrition Optimization