One particular person among the autistic community has arguably been the most influential person in the field of autistic mental health disorders. Temple Grandin was born with autism and has suffered with it her entire life. She knows the pain and sorrows that most children with autism encounter in their life. The tells stories of being made fun of and teased for being different while in high school. She talks about some of the most effective therapies that worked for her in her life and provides insights on what struggling parents can do for their autistic children. More then anything, Temple Grandin is able to enlighten the rest of us who don’t struggle with such a disorder so that we can more fully understand those that do. The following links provide more information on Temple Grandin and some of her advice:
As people search for answers to autism, many have turned towards nutritional answers and diets. A popular diet that is said to relieve the symptoms of those suffering from autism is called the Gluten Free, Casein Diet. It is based on the hypothesis that gluten interferes with biochemical processes within someone that suffers from autism. It is thought that gluten acts as false opiate-like chemicals in the brain and disruptions homeostasis. Many report that the dietary elimination of gluten and casein has helped regulate bowel habits, sleep, activity, and other behaviors. Despite the praise of such a diet, science is indicating that their is no validity behind the claims. A study done on 14 autistic patients to test the gluten free, casein fee diet. The results indicated no difference among behaviors.
One of the main focuses in the field of research as it pertains to autism is finding the causative factors. Recent research may indicate that testosterone is one of these causative factors. This research seems to stem from the question, “why is autism so much more prevalent in males?” Scientists have revealed new findings that indicate that high levels of fetal testosterone during pregnancy may be the cause. The scientists found that high levels of testosterone in the amniotic fluid of the womb were significantly correlated with autistic-like behavior, such as whether the child tends to be more unsociable or less empathetic than normal. The study followed 235 children from the womb and found that those who were exposed to high levels of testosterone while in the womb showed autistic traits. The study in no way proves that testosterone is the sole causative factor for autism, but the results encourage further testing.
Autism is very fascinating disorder when one looks and various trends over time. To the right is a graph that indicates the prevalence of autism in the United States from 1996 to 2007. The graph indicates the number of reported cases of autism per 1000 people observed. The sharp increase of cases per year since 1996 could be due to changes in diagnosis among physicians.
Another interesting statistic is that males are much more at risk then females. The number of males suffering from autism compared to females is 4:1. There are various reasons for why this may be the case. A 4:1 ratio indicates that genetics are heavily involved in determining whether a child will have autism or not.
There has been growing debate on the topic of cod liver oil and autism. Many sources seem to indicate that cod liver oil provides essential omega 3-fatty acids that may reduce symptoms of those suffering from autism. Dr. Mary Megson has been using cod liver oil as a natural supplement for omega 3-fatty acids for her son that suffers from autism. She claims that omega 3-fatty acids raise levels of neurotransmitters in the brain and that by raising these levels of neurotransmitters one can reduce symptoms of autism. Another particular study was designed to observe the effectiveness of omega 3-fatty acid supplementation among those with autism. The study targeted 19 young adults with autism and followed them for 6 weeks while providing omega 3-fatty acid supplements. The results of the study indicated no improvement in symptoms. This particular area will need a lot more research before any major conclusions can be drawn.
A recent study of the effects of vitamin D on rats is gaining interest among the public. This study observed rats that had very low doses of vitamin D. Vitamin D is mainly obtained through direct exposure to sunlight. These particular rats demonstrated different behaviors then rats that had normal levels of vitamin D. It is hard to make behavioral correlations between rats and humans for obvious reasons. However, when the brains of rat pups from mothers deficient in vitamin D were observed, the found that the pups had increased brain size and enlarged ventricles. These signs mimic those found in autistic children. Studies have also found that children with rickets (a disease caused by vitamin D deficiency) display various signs and symptoms similar to those with autism.
There are other factors that seem to link vitamin D deficiency to autism. It has been found that consumption of fish containing vitamin D during pregnancy reduces autistic symptoms in offspring. Autism is more common in areas where people are exposed to less UVB rays from the sun. Autism is more common in dark-skinned people (severe vitamin D deficiency is exceptionally more common those with dark-skin). More info on the theory of vitamin D and autism can be found here.
My mother has always claimed that vitamin B6 supplements have helped my little brother with his autism. When my mother first started giving my brother the B vitamin supplements we noticed that he seemed to be more calm and collective. Other characteristics associated with his disorder subsided as well. Upon seeing how my brother reacted to these supplements I wanted to see if there was any science behind the B vitamin myth. Here it is:
One particular study looked at 33 children autism and followed them for at least 6 months; another group of 36 children (same age) devoid of any known autistic disorder were also observed. All autistic children received a magnesium-vit B6. The supplementation improved autistic symptoms (communication and social interactions) in 23 of the 33 children observed with no adverse effects. When the Mg-B6 treatment was stopped, autistic symptoms reappeared in few weeks.
Another study done on autistic children found that children with autism had a 75% higher level of total vitamin B6 than children without the disorder. This is consistent with other studies done that have found that pyridoxal kinase activity is low as well as levels of PLP (pyridoxal 5 phosphate) in autistic children. PLP is a major contributor for many chemical reactions in the body and aids in the formation of key neurotransmitters. This study suggests that patients suffering from autism are not able to utilize vitamin B6 as efficiently as most people and thus have high levels of B6 found in the blood plasma. This could be why autistic patients benefit from a supplement or an increased dose of vitamin B6.