April is National Autism Awareness Month
Autism is a developmental disorder that affects a child’s ability to communicate and interact with others. Autism is one group of disorders that comprise Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) and usually appears in early childhood, according to MayoClinic.com. Other ASDs include Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD or atypical autism).
ASDs affect all children regardless of ethnicity. It is estimated that 1 in 110 children in the U.S. have an ASD and boys are four to five times more likely to develop autism according to the CDC.
Also, families with one autistic child have greater risk of having another child with autism. A study published in the February 2010 Autism Research Journal found a correlation between the age of the parents and autism risk. According to the study, risk increased both with parent’s age and increased double when the father was over 40 and the mother under 25.
According to the MayoClinic.com, “No reliable study has shown a link between autism and the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccination.” Also PubMed Health, states the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Institue of Medicine both agree that vaccines or any part of vaccines are not responsible for causing autism.
Many studies have been conducted on nutrition and its relationship to autism. A common finding is low vegetable intake. In the September 2010, Journal of the American Dietitic Association, The Quality of Nutritional Intake in Children with Autism, 30 children were recruited for the study. The children were aged 3 to 9 and only 24 completed the 3 day study. While the study was small, the results noted low intakes of key nutrients needed for bone, digestion, and brain health such as calcium and vitamin D.
Children tend to be picky eaters, ASD afflicted or not. However, parents of children with an ASD have a significantly harder time especially if their child is unable to communicate likes and dislikes.
The Autism Society provides a great summary of alternative nutrition treatments such as gluten free and dairy free (GFCF) diets. The main theory supporting these diets is that the proteins: gluten and casien do not completely break down, pass into the blood stream and cause some of the symptoms. Gluten is a protein found in wheat and casien is milk protein. In a double-blind crossover trial of 15 children on a GFCF or similar diet, “…there were no differences in measures of severity of ASD symptoms, communication, social responsiveness, and urinary peptide levels after 12 weeks.”
Although the above study was limited it is important as it illustrates:
- the need for further research; and,
- Parents should consult their doctor and a registered dietician prior to commencing restrictive diets (i.e. gluten-free or dairy-free).
Autism is a complex disease that is mostly attributed to genetics. While the exact cause of autism is still unknown, research continues and you can help through advocacy, volunteering, or donating directly or indirectly such as running a 5K in support.