At an alarming rate there appears to be an increase over the last decade in the number of children diagnosed with severely delayed or otherwise disturbed developmental disorders. Perhaps the most extreme and well known of these is autism, which is characterized by speech difficulties, an inability to develop normal social relationships leading to isolation, compulsive and ritualistic behaviors, and usually an abnormal intelligence.
It was once assumed that because persons suffering with autism generally have poor capacity to communicate and many unusual behaviors their intelligence was subnormal. While some autistics clearly are mentally disabled, this notion largely has been dispelled with the recognition that many autistic persons have quite the opposite: unusually keen intelligence and tremendous creative and/or mental capabilities.
Lewis Mehl-Madrona, M.D., Ph.D., a Native American physician working in Arizona who holds the title of Coordinator for Integrative Psychiatry and System Medicine in program in Integrative Medicine at the University of Arizona College of Medicine has worked extensively with autistic and otherwise developmentally disturbed children.
He states that once he unlearned many of the preconceptions he picked up during his medical training, he “discovered that children with developmental disorders are interesting, and have rich social and communicative lives, though different from their so-called normal counterparts...Autistic children do communicate and do respond, but as if they live in a parallel universe, which can nevertheless be accessed by those who want to reach them. ”
Several well known autistic persons such as Temple Grandier, Matthew Savage and the real life character portrayed by Dustin Hoffman in the movie “Rain Man” serve as clear examples of their unique perceptions and innate capabilities . Grandier holds a Ph.D. in agricultural science and has designed humane (or at least, more humane) methods for cattle to be treated before slaughter. Her unusual perspective helped for her to recognize the terror cattle were experiencing in the holding pens and she developed systems to alleviate it.
Savage is a 11 year old music prodigy who originally was unable to even tolerate the sound of music. His parents devoted themselves to various forms of therapy including auditory integration therapy to desensitize him to the sound of certain frequencies of sound, speech therapy and emotional therapy. Soon his genius began to express itself. Beginning with a toy piano at the age of 6 and within several at a real piano, Matthew began to play and compose original jazz pieces. Today, he performs at jazz festivals nationwide, leads his own trio, and put out a number of CDs.
The extraordinary focus on words and numbers with great powers of memorization which appears to be underlying Matthew’s abilities is termed “hyperlexia” and is characteristic of many autistic persons. This is most famously demonstrated in Rain Man when Hoffman’s character instantly comes up with the number of matches randomly poured onto a table top from a full box or his ability to instantly calculate computer like the day of the week of a date many years in the past.
These three persons are known as “autistic savants” and represent about 10% of the autistic population, ten times greater than the percentage of the general population with similar abilities.
Yet, despite these examples of remarkable intelligence, the world of most autistic children and their families is full of great challenge and difficulties. Parents of autistic children must devote enormous amounts of time and energy - physical and emotional - to properly meet the needs of their child. Autistic children can have dramatic tantrums, be quite aggressive or self-injurious, oversensitive to many external stimuli. Clearly, they must experience a great deal of suffering.
Meeting these families one understands the often overwhelming hardships they face and the often desperate search they have for therapeutic solutions to their child’s condition. It is difficult not to feel great sympathy for them.
What are the reasons that there are over 400,000 autistics persons in the United States — more common than Down Syndrome? The burgeoning number of children diagnosed as autistic or similar disorders like Asperger’s syndrome is often attributed, at least in part, to greater awareness medical personnel about these developmental disorder. This leads to greater number of children that previously might have slipped through the gaps and remained undiagnosed to be be properly identified.
It appears that there is a genetic component involved. Parents with an autistic child have a one in twenty chance of having a second. But more than likely that too is only part of the answer, perhaps only a small part. There are many researchers exploring various theories including exposure to various environmental toxins such as heavy metals, pesticides, and food additives; chronic viral infection; defective digestion with food intolerance's and allergic responses in the gut; vitamin, mineral and fatty acid deficiencies;
This research has lead to the development of many therapies that often have proven quite effective in treating autistics and developmentally disturbed children.
Autism is but one, extreme form of mental development disorder which are all being diagnosed with increasing frequency. Autism itself has come to represent this class of disorders, and as such, we will discuss therapeutic approaches that proven effective to reduce symptoms and, in some cases, even can alleviate the condition. What follows below, then, even though it discussed in terms of autism, actually applies to any of the disorders, such as Aspergers Syndrome, which fall into this group.
To begin with, it is important to grasp that these disorders can indeed be worked with effectively. This has not always been the assumption of many in the medical world. For instance, Lewis Mehl-Madrona, MD, Ph.D., the Coordinator for Integrative Psychiatry and System Medicine at the University of Arizona Program in Integrative Medicine, writes the following about his experience:
“During my medical training, I learned that autism and its related disorders were essentially incurable, a finding certainly confirmed by our dismal experience. Our autism clinic was an exercise in diagnosis and no treatment; what little we did for children was largely ineffective... we were stuck in a genetic-biochemical hypothesis allowing no possibility for cure or improvement.”1
But Dr. Lewis Mehl-Madrona’s work with autistic children and their parents gave him another perspective altogether. “The parents of autistic children convinced me that everything I learned was wrong, to everyone's benefit.... (Autistic children) respond to many treatments, including just receiving attention and being cared for. They respond to nutritional therapies and body therapies, such as reiki or craniosacral therapy. They respond to acupuncture. They respond to biofeedback and to behavioral educational therapies. What don't they respond to?...Can autistic children become indistinguishable from so-called "normal" children? I have seen it happen sufficiently often to believe (so). “
Indeed autistic children can not only become indistinguishable from “normal” kids, but they can just be outright cured. Consider the experience of Amy Lansky, who less than a decade ago was a computer scientist with a doctorate from Stanford leading research projects for NASA and today is a professional homeopath and author of the new published book “Impossible Cure: The Promise of Homeopathy”. (Parenthetically, I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in not only autism but to interested in understanding the nature of homeopathy, homeopathic principles and homeopathic cure.)
She writes in her book that, “I... just happened to be a fairly knowledgeable devotee of modern medicine. An avid “Dr. Mom”, I slept with a medical reference, the Merck Manual, on my night table... Our two young sons, Izaak and Max, were six and three years old at the time... Our younger son Max was inexplicably afflicted with autism. This tragic and supposedly incurable disorder dramatically limits a child’s ability to communicate and connect with others.... Given the limited options for treatment, we were coping as best as we could... By January of 1999, only four years later, everything had changed. I was now the mother of two sons progressing nicely through grade school. Max was no longer autistic — bright, talkative, and sociable. His autism ahd been cured with a controversial medicine of the past — homeopathy.”2
Along her journey with Max, Lansky learned one of the most important lessons associated with the ever increasing population of developmentally delayed children. Many of them developed the disorder after childhood immunizations. Though as a research scientist, she cannot say so with certainty, Lansky is highly suspicious that this was indeed so in the case of Max.
Anyhow, Lansky and Max were fortunate. The homeopathic remedy Carcinosin, derived from cancerous tissue, proved to be a very exact match for the child and over a course of several years, repeated dosages of the remedy at varying strengths brought the child out of the autistic state altogether.
Homeopathy, however elegant and astounding the results may be, is but one of a number of effective therapies for the developmentally delayed. Perhaps the most fundamental and universal therapy is nutrition. The vast majority of these children have compromised digestive tracts and thus display many food allergies.
It goes without saying that eliminating foods with additives such as artificial colorings, aspartame, preservatives and the like is important. These artificial foods often have a destabilizing effect on the fragile brain chemistry of these children.
Dr. Mehl-Madrona begins his therapeutic work with nutritional counseling and has found that the elimination of gluten and casein are the most essential first step that provides profound relief in many children. Gluten is the thing that makes wheat sticky and is found in many grains. A gluten-free diet is an ambitious enterprise for the average person because it eliminates many “normal” foods in our diet.
Casein is a component of milk, though it should not to be confused with lactose. Structurally, it is similar to gluten and can cause similar distress in the GI tract of sensitive individuals. The idea behind the gluten/casein free diet is what is called the “opioid hypothesis of autism”.
Briefly, it states that “defective intestinal enzymes allow large molecules to "leak" through the gut (what is known as “leaky gut syndrome”. Gluten and casein are incompletely digested and pass through the gut as molecules with opioid-like properties. In larger doses, these molecules cause hallucinations. The effect of opioid-like compounds are, in part, the symptoms seen in autism, Asperger's, and other developmental disorders.”3
Not all children will have the same food sensitivities, so individualization will be even more useful in terms of the specific needs of each. Even so, careful consideration to the dietary needs of autistic children is often the foundation which successful therapies are developed.
1 - http://www.healing-arts.org/children/autism 2- Lansky, Amy L., Ph.D. “Impossible Cure”: The Promise of Homeopathy”, pg. 1-2 R.L. Ranch Press, Portola Valley, California, 2003. 3-- http://www.healing-arts.org/children/autism