I Know What Causes Autism, proclaims Carrie Cariello, writer and mother of a child with Autism, in an article she wrote in the Huffington Post. It’s beautifully written. In it, she talks about everything she went through, as a parent of an autistic child.
Trying to understand the child as he grows up through the first few years of life, dealing with all his issues, listening to people talking about acceptance, tolerance and open-mindedness, facing a world that looks at autism as an epidemic, facing each day head-on, making the most of every moment, not knowing what is coming next, coming across people proclaiming that the cause for autism is vaccines, heavy metals, pesticides, GMO food, air pollution, chemicals on non-stick cookware, and even poor maternal bonding; wondering if there even is a definite cause and oscillating between believing that it was something that could be prevented and therefore help people prevent it in the future, versus something that is completely genetic, which takes the blame off her mind, the need to feel there is nothing wrong with her child and the reality that there is something to be dealt with.
The truth is this: today, one in 70 children born in the United States is autistic. The rest of the world is not far behind. And when the United States leads the world in the incidence of a disease, you know it means two things: one, some amount of it could be due to the high rates of diagnosis and official records. Two, some amount of it is definitely due to the Western Nature-Deficit Lifestyle, in some way, at some point.
Let me explain what I mean: what are the problems autistic children face?
To put it in one line: Attention, focus, processing of sensory stimuli, behaviour, mental peace, speech, digestion and immunity.
Mrs. Kavitha Krishnamoorthy, founder of Sampoorna Music Therapy Centre for Children with Autism, says, “Autistic children are extremely sharp and remember much better than most kids. When you talk about neurological functions, attention, focus and cognitive functions are the issues, along with hyperactivity. Sensory issues – they are either over-reactive or under-reactive. Some kids may seek a lot of light, may shine a torch in their own eyes, some others may not be able to sit in normal light. Some constantly seek sounds, some want to close their ears. Speech is a problem. Even if they can talk, they may not talk like other kids. There’s a lot of self-talk.
“A lot of the kids have gut-related issues, especially when they’re younger. It could be constipation, or gas, something that makes them irritated. This is a very common complaint. Also, skin allergies are very common in this group, for some reason.
“Then, there are behavioral problems – aggression and self harm. Sensory issues of lack of communication result in a lot of frustration, and they end up injuring themselves or others.”
Mrs. Radha Eswar, founder of ArtyPlantz, which runs a Horticulture Therapy initiative, adds, “When it comes to autistic children, the problem seems to be looking at themselves as a whole. Each child is different, there are no two autistic children who have symptoms, but there is a common thread. Each sense is either too sensitive or too dull, and they have a need to feel complete, like nothing is missing. This makes them aggressive, get into repeated actions and unable to understand the world around them.”
Dr. Sugan, a Naturopathy Physician who works at Sparsh for Children, Chennai, gives some medical insight into autism, “There are basically four things that must be assessed in an autistic child: attention, hyperactivity, behaviour and mood swings, apart from sensory impairment. But when we get down to earth, there is no common set of symptoms we can expect to find in all autistic children. ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, broadly covers ADD, Attention Deficit Disorder, ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, PDD, Pervasive Development Disorder and LDD, Learning Difficulties and Disability. Each child’s symptoms and problems are unique. The word autism does not mean anything concrete without a detailed diagnosis, to a doctor. The one thing that I can say for sure, after having seen hundreds of autistic children, is that half the problem lies in the digestive system.
“Constipation is very, very common among autistic children. A high protein diet or even a little junk food causes constipation. This leads to what is known as Leaky Gut Syndrome, where particles of undigested food leak across the intestinal membrane into the blood, affecting all t=parts of the body – especially the brain and the immune system. Constipation instantly aggravates all their symptoms.”
And how are these problems solved?
To cut a long story short, again: diet, sensory integration, nature connect, encouraging them to learn what they love – be it music, art or sport, and therapies like speech therapy and occupational therapy.
Dr. Sugan swears by the effect of food on autism. He says, “When I convince the parents of an autistic child to follow a Naturopathic diet, along with yoga and a few therapies, such as mud therapy, massage therapy, steam bath, hip bath and spinal bath, I am able to bring about a significant change of up to a 30% reduction in symptoms in the child in just a month, and 40% in three months. If, however, the parents are not convinced enough about changing the child’s diet, the same change takes three months. The intestines need to be cleaned first. Just stopping everything processed, including oil and sugar, along with wheat and milk in all forms, and increasing the child’s intake of fresh fruits and vegetables cooked without oil can accelerate the process, and this effect stays for as long as the child is fed a good diet. Along with a reduction in symptoms, immunity develops too. Frequent fever, cold, cough, diarrhea, etc. start reducing.
“Another important thing in the initial stages of therapy is physical activity. An autistic child has immeasurable amounts of energy. He thinks faster than you can, you have to develop the skill of anticipating what he is going to think and do next, and be there before him. Intense physical activity helps them spend all the excess energy and calm down.
“Naturopathy and Yoga for autism is very powerful. The only way you can use it to help is through rapport. Become the child’s friend, earn his trust. Only then can you help them.”
Mrs. Radha Eswar talks about helping the child developing a positive self image and a feeling of independence, “Depending on each child’s sensory needs, there are specific plants we introduce them to. Textures, smells and colours leave deep imprints on a child’s mind. When we connect each child to the plant he or she needs, we see dramatic improvements in their symptoms. They start relaxing in a matter of minutes. Interacting at a personal level with plants helps the child destress and integrate their senses. It gives them a feeling that there is some energy that is by their side, watching over them. It helps them connect to the universe. It is extremely difficult for them to do this with another human being.”
Mrs. Kavitha outlines the therapies that parents opt for today above others, because they seem to be medically established: “A lot of the parents go for speech therapy. Even if they have speech as a function, it may not be used like everyone else uses speech. It’s a neural problem, autistic children can’t come up with speech as easily as a neurotypical person. There’s a lot of self-talk that goes on. Their brain is wired differently, some parts of the brain are not developed well enough, so if intervention starts early enough, it could help, as neuroplasticity helps another part of the brain take over that function.
“Occupational therapy is another. This deals with sensory issues – Sensory Integration – to normalise all five senses, along with balance, proprioception, vestibular balance, etc. This is the building block, if this gets normalised, other things can be done on top of this. Also, gross motor and fine motor functions are worked on.
“The third is education – academics. Reading, writing, etc. A lot of children need to be made ready even for that. They know what needs to be done, but they need to be helped to do it.
“At Sampoorna, we focus on music. Many autistic children are amazing musicians. They can simply listen to a piece of music and play it back exactly. Music goes a long way in helping these kids bring back some functional communication skills.
“Movement, Theatre, Art therapy and other therapies are still picking, not many parents opt for it immediately, because they aren’t integrated into medical practice as yet.”
So, let me give you the gist of what we’re talking about: autistic children have problems in their digestion, which causes problems in their brains, immune system and skin. When they start eating a more natural diet, getting connected to plant, get exposed to water and mud, are surrounded by people who understand them, develop a sense of connectedness, are taught to communicate effectively, and are encouraged to do what they love, they recover, and are able to lead normal lives in the society.
Do you see what I mean now, about the cause of autism being rooted in a disconnection from nature? A simple reconnection to nature solves most of the problem. Not just for the children, but for every one of us.
The sooner the better. By the time autistic children turn twelve, their symptoms must be reduced at least to half of what they were, says Dr. Sugan. “This is important as, once they enter adolescence, helping them becomes increasingly difficult, as the normal complications of adolescence become magnified in their minds. An attractive sight or smell could be enough to trigger an attack of aggression, if children are not taught to channel this energy before their hormones kick in during adolescence.”, he says.
April 2nd is Autism Awareness Day. On this day, I hope this has helped you understand autism a little better, and how you can help.
If you have an autistic child, or know somebody who does, please share this with them. Conventional treatment for autism currently covers only a fraction of what could help him or her. Naturopathy and Yoga for autism could help your child a lot. For example, the GFCF (Gluten-free, casein-free) diet is just one step towards a Naturopathic diet, which advocates a diet rich in fruits and cooked vegetables, avoidance of anything processed, including sugar, oils (especially refined oils), as well as wheat and milk in any form.
Natural Diet, Naturopathic Therapies, Yoga, Horticulture Therapy and Music Therapy form the foundation on which speech therapy and occupational therapy can firmly be built on.
If you are a healthcare provider working with autistic children and wish to give them a wider and more holistic healing, we’d love to share our experience and knowledge with you, and even collaborate with you to provide these services. Do get in touch with us right away.
Dr. Achyuthan Eswar
Naturopathy, Yoga and Acupuncture Physician