Autism and Alternative Therapies
There is no one “autism”. People with autism are generally described as eccentric, different, intense, or ‘odd’. People who live on the Autism Spectrum are all different, they each have different ways in which their autism manifests, and they have different interests and reactions. They are highly regimented, and love structure and routine.
What is autism?
Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It is a lifelong condition and cannot be cured. People with autism often have difficulty interacting with other people, and they experience the world differently to other people.1
Causes of autism
There is no known cause of autism, but it is generally accepted to be the result of abnormalities in brain structure and/or function. Brain scans show differences in the shape and structure of the brains of children with autism spectrum disorder and children who are neurotypical.
Symptoms of Autism
The characteristics of autism tend to start becoming apparent between the ages of 2 and 4. Common symptoms include:
- Avoiding eye contact
- A difficulty understanding emotions
- Delayed communication skills
- Getting upset about changes in routine, surroundings, etc.
- Performing repetitive behaviours such as rocking, repeating words or phrases, etc.
- Unusual and intense reactions to strong sounds, colours, lights, smells
- Highly restrictive interests
How many people live with autism?
There is no exact figure for the number of people in the UK living with autism, as there is no official record. However, it is estimated that around 700,000 (over 1 in 100) people in the UK with autism.2
Lifestyle tips for dealing with autism
People with autism need a little bit of help with everyday tasks that the rest of us find second nature, and living with someone who is autistic, or living with autism can be challenging at times. However, there are certain tips you can do to improve the symptoms and lifestyle of someone on the autistic spectrum. Perhaps the most important thing to do, is to keep a schedule and routine. People with autism often struggle with change, and it can cause them intense anxiety. Similarly, they can often find it difficult to communicate, so it is necessary to look for nonverbal emotional cues. Likewise, socialisation does not also come easily to someone with autism, so social situations may be stressful for them. Do not force them to overdo it socially, and try to limit their exposure to things which they are very sensitive to, such as lights or sounds.3
Dietary tips for people with autism
Most people with autism thrive with routine and struggle with change, this includes their food and meals. Picky eating is common as a number of people with autism have difficulty eating certain foods due to their colour, smell, or texture. If certain foods touch other foods on the plate, some people cannot eat anything on the plate. Certain people with autism will only eat certain brands, colours, or at certain times. This means that maintaining a healthy eating plan and diet can prove difficult. Due to these restraints, it is not uncommon that people with autism may have certain vitamin or nutrient deficiencies.4
Typical nutritional and mineral deficiencies
Due to the prevalence of processed foods in our diets, vitamin and mineral deficiencies are becoming increasingly common. These deficiencies are present in people who eat a balanced diet, so it would make sense that people with autism would be even more prone to vitamin and mineral deficiencies due to their restrictive eating habits.
There are a number of diets that people with autism have been known to use in order to alleviate their symptoms. These diets generally include removing certain things from their diets entirely, which can also lead to vitamin and mineral deficiencies. As such, it is helpful to take a supplement of the following to ensure that they are getting the adequate amount.
A number of people with autism are on a casein-free diet. Casein is a protein found in dairy and its by-products. Adopting a casein-free diet eliminates all dairy from the diet, which can lead to a calcium deficiency. Calcium is found in higher doses in dairy products, and due to the difficulty many autistic people have in eating, it might not be easy for them to consume the amount of leafy greens which can increase their calcium. A lack of calcium can cause brittle bones, fatigue, and brittle hair. A calcium supplement could help prevent these complications.5
A study published by the Centre for Disease Control in the United States in 2012, found that children with autism are 3.5 times more likely to suffer chronic constipation than their neurotypical peers.6 This could be due to a number of reasons, but given the restrictive nature of eating that autistic people commonly have, this makes sense. Their diets can lack fibre, creating constipation and irregular bowel movements. Including psyllium husk supplements can prove very worthwhile for people with autism as it is very beneficial for gut and colon health.7
Papain and Bromelain
Due to the prevalence of digestive problems experienced by people with autism, it is often necessary to supplement their diet to ensure they are healthy. Papain and Bromelain are enzymes found in papaya and pineapples.8 These enzymes have been proven to help digestion and reduce any inflammation.9
This is a probiotic, otherwise known as ‘friendly bacteria’. Supplementing friendly gut bacteria with a probiotic can help to balance out the enzymes and encouraging digestion.10 This bacteria is found naturally in the body, so a supplement is relatively safe. It can help with alleviating diarrhea, and improving the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn’s Disease and lactose intolerance.11
Vitamins A, C, D, E and K, Zinc, Copper, Magnesium, and Iron
It is commonly understood that people with autism are deficient in Vitamin A because it is necessary for the correct functioning of the receptors for sensory perception, attention and processing language.
Milk products are a huge source of not only calcium, but of Vitamin D, too. Therefore a dairy free diet could lead to a vitamin D deficiency. A number of experts have suggested that a Vitamin D deficiency could be a contributing factor to autism.
A higher level of an imbalance of zinc and copper in the body has been found in people with autism.
Iron is necessary for normal neurodevelopment, and a number of studies, such as those undertaken by Dosman in 2006 and 2007, have found that children with autism have a higher rate of iron deficiency.12
Therefore, a good quality multivitamin with a selection of vitamins and minerals commonly lacking in people with autism.
People with autism tend to suffer with digestive problems, difficulties with eating, and nutritional deficiencies. This is often the result of their sensory issues: unable to eat certain foods due to texture, or due to intolerances or allergies. Therefore, there are a number of different supplements which are recommended to ensure that adequate nutrients are being consumed.