Addressing Underlying Medical Conditions in Autism

March 26, 2012

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently estimate that 1 in 110 children in the United States are diagnosed with autism. In 1990, the figure was 1 in 2,000. While the prevalence of autism has rapidly increased since the early 1990’s so too has our understanding of the medical conditions that contribute to this troubling condition. In the past, an autism diagnosis was tantamount to a sealed fate – treatment options were few and far between. For better or [sometimes] worse, the pendulum has swung. As the public profile of autism spectrum disorder has increased in recent years, the number of treatment options, some efficacious and some dubious, has grown to bewildering proportions. Separating out the most effective treatments from those that are ineffective can be a challenge for both concerned parents and physicians alike.


As a naturopathic physician, my approach is to find and treat the underlying causes of illness, rather than merely alleviate symptoms. This same approach holds true when addressing patients with autism. By utilizing the appropriate diagnostic and functional testing we can elucidate and treat underlying medical conditions contributing to autistic symptoms.   Fundamental to my approach is an understanding of some of the most common medical issues affecting children on the autistic spectrum. These issues include: food allergies/sensitivities, gastrointestinal disorders, nutritional deficiencies, and heavy metal toxicity. One of my initial interventions, typically, is to utilize appropriate testing to determine if any of these complications are impacting my patient. I can then apply a simple guiding principle, central to the naturopathic approach: remove what is causing harm and add what is missing. As each of the following sections will show, this approach can provide key insight in to effectively treating autism spectrum disorder.


Food Allergies and Sensitivities


Anyone who has worked with or who has a child with autism has probably heard of a number of different diets that physicians are known to recommend (e.g. gluten free, casein free, low oxalate diet, specific carbohydrate diet, soy free, egg free, anti-candida diet, Feingold diet, etc). It can be quite overwhelming for a parent of an