Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that begins in early childhood. It affects a person’s ability to interact socially, communicate, and learn. ASD comes with varying degrees of differences, which is why it is called a “spectrum” disorder.
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that begins in early childhood. It’s characterized by difficulty with social communication and interaction, and patterns of repetitive behaviors, interests, and activities.
The main symptoms include problems with social communication and repetitive behaviors and may include the inability to maintain eye contact, not showing average communication skills expected by a specific age, repeating words or phrases, following specific routines, intense interests in a particular topic or activity, delayed language development, delayed cognitive development, seizures, gastrointestinal dysfunction, and sleep problems.
ASD symptoms are typically seen within the first two years of life. Because of this, it is recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics that all children are screened by a healthcare provider at 18-month and 24-month check ups. During the screening, a questionnaire, clinical observations, and cognitive tests are usually done. Testing choices and diagnosis is up to the discretion of the healthcare provider.
There are no standard treatments for ASD. Since ASD has varying effects on people, treatments are tailored to individual needs. Treatments include behavior management programs, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy, neurofeedback, symptom-specific medications (e.g., antipsychotics for irritability and certain selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors for repetitive behaviors in adults).
Many dietary supplements have been investigated as potential treatments for ASD, including omega-3 fatty acids, melatonin, vitamin-d, and a combination of vitamin-b6 and magnesium. There appears to be little evidence for omega-3 supplementation and some conflicting evidence for vitamin B6 and magnesium cosupplementation in treating the core symptoms of autism. However, correcting low vitamin D status through supplementation shows some promise, and melatonin appears to improve some sleep parameters, thus improving daytime behavior.
A popular dietary approach that caregivers of children with ASD adopt is a gluten-free, casein-free diet, but the current evidence for this diet appears to be lacking. The specific carbohydrate diet has also been a suggested dietary intervention for ASD, but the evidence for its efficacy is also limited. The gaps-diet is based on a 2004 book and implicates certain foods, dysbiosis (an imbalanced microbiome), and “leaky gut” in the development of ASD but this diet has never been formally researched. Food selectivity has been associated with ASD, so it is important that parents work with their pediatrician or a dietitian to make sure their child’s nutritional needs are being met.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns against the use of a variety of products and therapies marketed to treat autism. These include chelation therapy, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, detoxifying baths, essential oils, raw camel milk, and chlorine dioxide. Always consult a healthcare provider before considering alternative treatments.
Genetic and environmental influences appear to play a role in the etiology of autism, but the interplay between these factors is not fully understood and likely varies across individuals.