Autism is a brain development disorder that impairs a child's social abilities and communication with others. Parents frequently become concerned when their child does not begin to talk and does not show interest in playing with peers. Affected children usually do not develop speech normally and may appear deaf, although hearing test are usually normal.


Autism tends to run in families which could mean that genetics plays a role. However, scientific evidence suggests that environmental factors play a major role in the development of the disorder. These environmental factors include but are not limited to: heavy metals such as mercury, solvents, PCBs, chemicals contained in plastic products, brominated flame retardants (such as in carpets), pesticides and certain food ingredients. Additional probable causes such as childhood vaccines remain controversial and no definite scientific proof exists.

The incidence of autism is about 1 in 100 births in the US and that number has been increasing dramatically since the 1980s. Because the incidence is rising so rapidly, genetic factors cannot be the sole cause of this disorder.

The severity of symptoms varies greatly among children on the spectrum, with some children needing assistance in all aspects of their lives, while others are able to function at a high level. It is important to remember that autism is not considered a mental condition and is certainly not caused by bad parenting or problems in the home.

What are the symptoms of autism?

All children with autism have difficulties with social interactions and forming relationships with peers and adults and often show signs of repetitive behavior. Additional symptoms include: stereotypic behavior, such as hand flapping and body rocking, compulsive behavior, such as lining up toys and restrictive behavior such as the preoccupation with a single activity or watching the same show on television.

It has long been suggested that improper bowel function and inflammation in the gut are partly responsible for the behavioral symptoms seen in autism spectrum disorders (White 2003, Jyonouchi et al., 2005, Parracho et al., 2005).

Many children on the spectrum have disturbed sleep patterns, which include difficulty falling asleep, nocturnal and early morning awakenings, as well as increased levels of anxiety combined with high frustration levels, both of which could interfere with social behavior.

Treatment Options

Since autism is a multi-factorial condition, the best results are achieved by using a combination of various therapies. It is important to note however, that the sooner therapy begins, the better the outcome.

Treatment plans will vary greatly from child to child, since every child is unique and has it's own special needs. Treatments may include occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, speech therapy, art therapy and music therapy.

Since dietary intervention has been so beneficial for many children on the spectrum, it has been suggested that autistic symptoms could be the result of mal-absorption of or intolerance to certain food ingredients. Many parents have seen great improvements after following a special diet, in which gluten, casein and food colorings were eliminated. It is important to consult a nutritionist about this to ensure that your child's diet contains the proper balance of nutrients that can compensate for the elimination of certain food ingredients.

Natural treatments can be very effective and can be integrated very well into an overall treatment plan. If your child is taking prescription medications, it is recommended to consult your child's doctor before starting a natural treatment.

Read more about Potocki-Lupski Syndrome, a genetic condition caused by a duplication of chromosome 17p11.2, which includes symptoms of developmental delay, speech and sleep problems.

Learn about our Autism Supplement (available soon).
Learn the early signs of autism
Additional information about Asperger's Syndrome.

Further Reading

Jyonouchi, H., Geng, L., Ruby, A. and Zimmerman-Bier, B. (2005) Dysregulated innate immune responses in young children with autism spectrum disorders: their relationship to gastrointestinal symptoms and dietary intervention. Neuropsychobiol. 51: 77-85.

Parracho, H.M., Bingham, M.O., Gibson, G.R. and McCartney, A.L. (2005) Differences between the gut microflora of children with autistic spectrum disorders and that of healthy children. J. Med. Microbiol. 54: 987-91.

White, J.F. (2003) Intestinal pathophysiology in autism. Exp. Biol. Med. 228: 639-49.

Disclaimer: The above information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to substitute medical advice or care. Always consult a health care professional about any health problems or illnesses that you or your child may have.

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