Autism can turn a person's life and their family's lives upside down. Thankfully, there are some autism therapies that can help smooth things out so that life can be more manageable.
Following are some things that have helped us, including the best autism support of all.
Our oldest son has Asperger's Syndrome, a form of autism, and we have been on the road of supporting him using therapies, diet changes, and more for some 5 years now. We've put him on a gluten-free diet, a candida diet, we use only non-toxic personal care products and we drink only filtered water.
In short, we've tried a lot of things to get him healthier, and while we've seen progress, it's been a long road.
A long "are we getting anywhere yet?" road.
The start of the road was a fast and furious one. Well--actually, I take that back.
It actually seemed like more of a major road block.
Our family physician recommended an appointment with the Dept. Head of Psychology at our local children's hospital and a mental nervous drug prescription. I had already started down the "alternative medicine" path prior to the autism diagnosis, but at this point I found myself moving quickly into a brand new world.
The following months are a blur now, consisting mainly of mom being up until midnight (or later), scouring the internet for therapies that might help, reading accounts of things others had tried, wondering if what other parents had helped children --might.just.help.mine.
I do not want to insinuate that what we have done might work for your child - and thus set up for you expectations that might not become a reality. However, at the same time, I feel that not sharing the things that have helped us would be a true disservice to others who are looking for help.
So here is a brief history of our path with autism. Some successes. Some "failures". What we have done and what we are doing now. And what I think is perhaps the best supportive technique of all.
Natural Supports for Autism
1. Occupational Therapy
We did quite a bit of OT at the beginning of our journey with autism--both in-house and in various clinics. Sensory Integration, massage, touch, and brushing were all part of what we worked on. It was time consuming to keep going to clinics, so eventually we pulled most of it in-house and did various therapies with balls, etc.
I have to say that we enjoyed it and I think our son did improve with this therapy.
One of the books that we found to be helpful that touches on Occupational Therapy is The Out-of-Sync Child.
2. Genetic testing & Nutritional Supplementation
This was overall a flop. While the testing was interesting, the supplement regimen was completely overwhelming both mentally and financially. We could not afford the expert-directed evaluations and I was unable to handle the intense trial-and-error approach to supplement management. We spent quite a bit of money upfront and quickly moved on.
Luckily, I still had all my hair :-).
Update 4/17: After trying out several different practitioners, we are going back to this and moving much more slowly. It's based on MTHFR and other genetic testing. I've seen some improvement and am thinking we'll be checking this out more.
3. Dietary Intervention
Gluten-Free and Casein-Free
There is a lot of information available in books and on the web about gluten and casein (a protein found in cow's milk) and the roles that they are thought to have in aggravating autism.
I won't go into all of this here, but suffice it to say that I think that removing these proteins from your child's diet is imperative. There is data showing that the real effects can sometimes take quite awhile to show up, though there are plenty of stories about children showing marked improvement almost instantaneously.
While I follow more of a whole foods approach than the author, the book Special Diets for Special Kids contains a wealth of information on this topic.
To see how manageable (and tasty :-)) a gluten-free and dairy-free diet can be, take a look at my Recipes page. There, you'll find healthy, whole food ideas for some of our family's favorites like:
- Chocolate Almond Chip Coconut Milk Ice Cream
- Dairy-Free Bean Fudge
- Dairy-Free Berry Mousse
- Focaccia Flax Bread
This means whole grains, and few to no processed foods. Basically, no "junk." This is crucial. It sounds overwhelming, but basically, kids with autism have broken bodies and we need to do everything we can to support them having healthier guts and overall health.
Putting "junk" food into a broken body will just continue to muck up the mechanisms and delay healing of all kinds. In fact, it might even worsen the situation.
The Candida Diet
Our son, like many persons with autism, struggles with candida overgrowth. Candida basically is a candida albicans, a fungus that is present in all people's bodies, but, when one's digestive flora is out of balance, grows out of control and starts to cause systemic issues.
I love baking and, well, my son loves to eat. For a good part of his childhood, I was baking whole grain goodies regularly, and he ate them--well, too regularly. At one point, things really got out of hand and his trunk was covered with a rash and he was lifting up his shirt in public to scratch himself.
Suspecting that the rash might be caused by candida, we took him off of all sugars, including dried fruit and fruit, and limited his grain intake. The rash cleared up within two days, following one night of worsening, which is typical when the candida is starved of its food (sugars).
We kept him on a pretty strict diet for a while, and his skin is perfectly clear now. Simply gorgeous, in fact. He now has fruit and dried fruit occasionally, and we are not limiting his starches as much. But refined flours and sugars are out of his diet almost 100%, and I suspect that that will continue for his entire life.
And while it can be tough to keep your child (or yourself) on a special diet, here are some tips to help you do just that.
4. Nutritional Balancing / Hair Analysis
For awhile, we tried this approach, but frankly, we didn't see much benefit. I know that a lot of people think that Hair Mineral Analysis is great, I don't personally know how much weight should be put on it. So many things can skew it, and the relationship between what is in one's hair and what is in one's body seems complicated to me at best.
We spent a lot of money on the evaluations and supplements with very little improvement.
5. Essential Oils
As I mentioned in my post on Natural Sleeping Tips, I have begun gradually experimenting with essential oils. One way that I have been using these with our son is when his anxiety gets out of control.
Every night my son asks me to use lavender oil to prevent bad dreams. Seems to work :). Sometimes younger brother asks for it too. (You can read Which Essential Oils Company is Best for more information on how I chose which essential oils company to go with.)
The oils really seem to help him better manage his mood swings and get the sleep that his body so greatly needs. In fact, while I put the finishing touches on this post, my son had a panic attack and asked that I would please rub some lavender oil on his feet.
Within two minutes, the panic had subsided.
6. Perhaps the Best Therapy of All - "Low and Slow"
There are, in my opinion, a number of causes of autism. My theory is basically that it is a "whole person" affliction, affecting the nervous system, brain, digestive system, and endocrine system. The more I learn about adrenal health, the more I see how it's crucial to whole wellness.
So while it is my tendency to try to find new ways to help my son and to work tirelessly at them, I find that really, one of the best ways to help him is to do whatever I do--calmly.
A dear friend told me of another mother of a child with Asperger's who called being calm with her son, "Low and Slow."
Just simply loving our son as he is, speaking softly and sweetly, and having a sense of peace has an almost magical effect on him. Literally, any day that I can slow down and live at a more restful pace is a day when I can really "see" him healing and blossoming.
It isn't easy, but it is cheap! And keeping my own self-calm truly is the most effective healing technique that we have tried (though it is likely the most difficult).
Have you had any natural supports help your child?