What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurological and developmental disorder that impacts how a person perceives and socializes with others, causing problems with social interaction and communication. The symptoms are present from early childhood and affect daily functioning. In 2013 autism merged into ASD to become one umbrella diagnosis that would include the previously separate conditions; Asperger's syndrome, pervasive developmental disorder (PDD), Rett’s disorder and childhood disintegrative disorder.
The diagnosis of ASD has been on the rise in the last 10 years and does not seem to show signs of slowing. In 2020, the CDC reported that approximately 1 in 54 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with ASD. It has been staying consistent that boys are four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
Children with autism spectrum disorder usually show some signs of delayed development before age 2 years when there are obvious delays in language skills and social interactions.
Some common examples of delays in cognitive, language and social skills include:
- Doesn't respond with a smile or happy expression by 6 months
- Doesn't mimic sounds or facial expressions by 9 months
- Doesn't babble or coo by 12 months
- Doesn't gesture — such as point or wave — by 14 months
- Doesn't say single words by 16 months
- Doesn't play "make-believe" or pretend by 18 months
- Doesn't say two-word phrases by 24 months
- Loses language skills or social skills at any age
Autism & Methylation
A growing body of research supports micronutrient deficiencies and a connection between impaired methylation and ASD. Simply stated, the methylation cycle is a chemical reaction that occurs in our body and requires certain nutrients from our food in order to occur. Chemically speaking, methylation is the process of adding methyl groups (methylation) to other proteins that will then change the way the methylated proteins behave and react with other substances in the body.
Methylation regulates several essential biochemical processes, including cell division, gene expression, DNA and RNA synthesis, development of the nervous system, immune cell differentiation, neurotransmitter synthesis, histamine clearance, and detoxification. Methylation is needed for maintenance of our physical, mental, and emotional health.
When we have problems with methylation it can have adverse effects on both mental and physical health. Conditions associated with impaired methylation include ASD, fatigue, difficulty losing weight, depression, anxiety, hormone imbalances, poor detox capacity, infertility, and an increased risk of cancer.
MTHFR stands for methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase — an enzyme that converts folic acid into the usable form for the body by adding a methyl group. This usable form of folate, 5-MTHF, can then via methylation can donate its methyl group to other nutrients and substances. This process occurs within every cell the body and is very important for the body to stay balanced. 5-MTHF, along with several other nutrients, are also used to create and process neurotransmitters (messengers in the nervous system like serotonin, epinephrine, norepinephrine, and dopamine); create immune cells and process hormones; as well as to produce energy and detoxify chemicals.
Because of the association of methylation on the nervous system and neurotransmitters, it has led doctors to start focusing on delivering certain micronutrients to aid in the treatment of ASD. In 2002, Dr. James Neubrander discovered that the methylated form of Vitamin B12 (Methylcobalamin) helps children with ASD when used correctly. His research has led to nutrient driven protocols now used by practitioners worldwide and is one of the best treatments available for ASD. With limited options for families with a loved one that has been diagnosed with ASD, this brings hope for improving socialization, communication and more.
Most parents are not aware of alternative options for treating ASD
Despite that medications have not been found to cure ASD, numerous medications are used to treat ASD symptoms such as irritability, aggression, and aberrant social behavior. Currently, only risperidone and aripiprazole are FDA-approved for ASD patients, while several other medications are used off-label to treat symptoms as well. In many cases traditional medical management of ASD is dominated by over prescribing of medications without enough attention to nutritional supplementation and gut health.
Medications are used as “Band-Aids” to reduce or control symptoms, but often the side effects of the medications cause families to refrain from using and search for other options.
Non pharmaceutical support for ASD include:
- Nutrient therapy
- Behavioral therapy
- Cognitive behavior therapy
- Educational and school-based therapies
- Nutritional therapy
- Occupational therapy
Many cases of mental illness are caused or exacerbated by physical conditions, which expand our opportunity for treatment. Beyond traditional medical therapies there are also several research-supported alternative or wellness based therapies that can have a major impact on both disease treatment and prevention.
Alternative therapies can support the treatment of ASD:
Improving methylation and mitochondria function