Autism Awareness: Seven Simple Things Your Pediatrician Can Do
World Autism Awareness Day comes every April. Lots of blue lighting going on. I’m not sure this is the best use of the enormous monetary resources that Autism Speaks has at its disposal. What does it cost to light all those buildings blue anyway? Rather than pediatricians wearing happy blue neck ties today, why not give out vitamin D drops instead, or offer a free vitamin D status check for all kids on the spectrum? Seriously, it’s just one of dozens of nutrients that may have a key role in preventing or even ameliorating autism features.
Autism Speaks does not underwrite treatment. They do spend big on genetic research (dead on arrival in 2010), EEGs for babies as a screening tool (OK, then what?), or looking at brains post mortem (um, too late). And, they are spendy on a few unimpressive corners of environmental triggers, like flame retardants (we knew about that already) and folate deficiency in pregnancy (sorted out long ago as a trigger for profound birth defects or neurodevelopmental disorders). I give one tip of the hat to some funding for studying gut microflora in autism. Out of the millions in their hands, Autism Speaks chose to give one grant to look at the gut-brain-immune interface, which is, treatment wise, possibly one of the hottest spots to be.
They are not tackling the burning questions most parents of children with autism have, eg, Do vaccines have anything to do with this? Not in a blue moon will AS touch that one, as they are “excited” (see video here) to work closely with pharmaceutical giants (who of course also make vaccines) to investigate the “very interesting” territory of all the new drugs that could be invented to manage children and adults with autism. Or what about this question: Is there a nutrition protocol that will alleviate my child’s symptoms and help him/her function as an independent adult? That one is not too popular with the pharma set either.
Well, here’s simple seven things your pediatrician can easily do for a child with autism. These routine screenings can yield clues as to why a child is fatigued, inattentive, combative, hyperactive, underweight, overweight, sleep deprived, or having unexplained rashes:
1 – Vitamin D status – Relates to immune function, kidney function, mood, and more. Optimal range is between 45-75.
2 – Thyroid study: TSH, T3, T4, Reverse T3, thyroid antibodies – All cells in the body have receptors for thyroid hormones! Thyroid hormones balance all metabolic functions directly or indirectly; receptors for them are especially rich in heart muscle. Optimal ranges for thyroid parameters, and what they mean, can be found in this book.
3 – Serum iron, transferrin, and CBC – Iron is critical for immune function, learning, math learning, sleep, attention, appetite, mood; the CBC is a complete blood count that will further describe iron status as well as screen for subclinical infection or immune dysregulation.
4 – Serum zinc – Linked to tactile defensive behavior, eating/mouthing non food items, appetite, immune function, and is essential to build metallothionein, a protective molecule that helps trap and excrete heavy metals like lead.
5 – Copper status – Serum copper and ceruloplasmin – Copper zinc ratios are an area of study in autism; click here for more info to discuss with your doctor. High copper levels are linked to aggressive and obsessive compulsive behaviors.
6 – Vasopressin – This is a hormone secreted by the pituitary gland that tells kidneys to function properly. Proper functioning of vasopressin can yield clues to frequent urination, bed wetting, low muscle tone, low affect, or lethargy. Pituitary function can change with head injury or infection. This is a critical master gland that regulates other endocrine and homeostatic mechanisms in the body. Too little vasopressin can make for weakness, fatigue, blood sugar swings, and excess urination. If vasopressin (also called ADH or anti-diuretic hormone) is low, a porcine (pig) based source called Desmopressin is available by prescription from your doctor (same idea as using thyroid hormone to help an underactive thyroid gland).
7 – Total IgE and IgG subclasses – A standard first pass check for inflammation from food or environmental sources, and to see how robust the immune system is in general. If your child’s immune function is low, this may relate to autism features, which may improve with corrections to immunoglobulin levels.
If your child’s lab test results fall out of range, or just far toward upper or lower ranges, explore the meaning of that with your doctor. For example, a ferritin level of 20 is considered in range, but in my clinical experience, it is too low for good sleep, attention, and behavior in children. If symptoms in your child are active even when findings fall in range, those are good clues to integrate some nutrition supports. Work with me if your doctor doesn’t know how.
Kids with autism are at higher risk for nutrition deficits, immune dysregulation, or painful inflammatory symptoms. Twenty five years into rising autism rates, it’s time we give kids with autism the same opportunity to feel and function well as any other kid. Ask your doctor for these screenings to help your child feel better. For even more investigating, check out my e book on Five Essential Lab Tests For Kids With Autism, or contact me to get started on a personalized nutrition care plan to help your child thrive. For more resources, visit this resource guide from Autism Parent Magazine. Kids with autism can thrive, and your child deserves this too.