For any parent coping with raising an autistic child, managing the chaos that earmarks the disorder — not to mention the dizzying array of medications, treatments, and therapies — can often feel exhausting, overwhelming, and quite frequently, disheartening. autism is simply a very difficult and very complex disorder to treat. Yet, according to Janet Lintala and Martha Murphy, authors of The Un-Prescription for Autism: A Natural Approach to a Calmer, Happier, and More Focused Child, the problem might just be that we are targeting the symptoms and not the root cause of autism.
Janet Lintala, a mother of an autistic son herself, lends her many years’ experience coping with her son Evan’s violent outbursts, irritability, poor impulse control, and difficulty focusing before uncovering that it was only through using a natural approach heavily anchored in restoring gastrointestinal health that her son found any palpable relief. Now the founder of Autism Health, Lintala writes, “We discovered that children on the [autism] spectrum aren’t mentally ill or inherently violent, that they have underlying gastrointestinal, immunological, and other metabolic dysfunctions that cause many of the problems Evan was experiencing, and that they are in a lot of pain.”
According to Lintala, the typical constellation of autism symptoms — difficulties with mood, behavior, language, cognition, and mental clarity — only masks a much deeper and more pervasive problem autistic children face: poor gut health. And while medications may attenuate some autistic symptoms, they don’t improve gut health and often make it worse. Gut health, Lintala tells us, begins during birth, and children who are born through C-section are not exposed to the necessary bacteria that create a healthy gut microflora. Without this, children often suffer from constipation, rashes, allergies, infections, chronic inflammation, and irritability.
Treating the gut microflora then becomes the first step toward improving autistic symptoms. To do this, Lintala offers a helpful questionnaire, including everything from bathroom routines to in-school behavior to demonstrate just how interconnected gut health and autism are. “It is estimated that 60 percent of ASD children may struggle with mitochondrial dysfunction which may be due in part to oxidative stress caused by chronic inflammation,” she writes.
To go about restoring gut health, Lintala’s approach is comprehensive and ongoing. To begin, parents must first correct their autistic child’s constipation, as it leads not just to reflux, poor sleep, and difficult behavior, but also disables the body’s natural ability to detoxify and absorb nutrients. Through progressive use of enzymes — Lintala offers advice about just which types to buy — gastrointestinal regularity can often be restored.
Lintala then emphasizes the importance of probiotics: “As a matter of fact, in 2005, probiotics were suggested as a beneficial addition to therapy for depression.” In addition to improving mood, probiotics serve a wide range of helpful functions including, activating neural pathways, improving brain signaling systems, and enhancing brain development, all of which are critical for autistic children. Here again, Lintala offers a wealth of helpful information on just which probiotics to buy, when to give them, and any potential drawbacks. For example, she advises never starting a probiotic at the beginning of the week as use can lead to some initial discomfort.
On the topic of antifungal rotation, Lintala shares the story of Bindee, a young girl who was initially treated for Helicobacter pylori (a bacterium that may cause peptic ulcers) upon which her behavioral symptoms resolved. Six months later, however, Bindee’s screaming fits, crying, and irritability returned, along with a bloated belly. What Lintala discovered through a stool test was a parasite called Ascaris lumbricoides, also known as giant human roundworms. Lintala writes, “Bindee’s story is a call to action to parents and pediatricians everywhere to realize that irritability is a symptom, not a core deficit of autism.”
However, autistic children can also suffer from chronic immune deficiency and particularly inflammation. Lintala writes, “Inflammation, which is a tool of the immune system, may be left in the “on” position leaving a child in a state of systemic inflammation, including brain inflammation.” Restoring proper immune function, like with gut health, is an ongoing practice, but Lintala offers many helpful and some surprising tips: use Zinc, moderate levels of Selenium, exercise daily, and avoid hand sanitizers as they are thought to be endocrine disruptors.
And if parents are left wondering just how to put the wealth of information Lintala provides together, she includes a year-long sample of her basic gastrointestinal health diet, along with a list of typical setbacks and how to prevent them. One setback is not giving her methods time to work. Treating autism, and ultimately transforming a child’s behavior, she reminds us, is not impossible, but it does take time, dedication, and perseverance through the tough times.
The Un-Prescription for Autism: A Natural Approach for a Calmer, Happier, and More Focused Child
AMACOM, April 2016
Paperback, 234 Pages