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Autism Awareness Month: Food and Patience

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Bracelet given to me by Sally Sykes. Source: Joyce Manalo

Not one gene is found to cause autism, until now. The mystery now has 18 more clues. Autism Speaks’ MSSNG program March 2017 study identified 18 new autism-linked genes. This is a huge milestone for the community because personalized treatment can be implemented based on this information. However, the prevalence still remains.

I’m no autism expert, but given that there’s a higher rate of kids being born with this disease, not only is it time to be more aware of early signs and take symptoms seriously, it is time to take action. Reading about it, sharing what you know and donating are all great ways to participate.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) the children born with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) rose to 1 out of 64 in 2016 from 1 out of 125 kids in 2004. That’s roughly a 50% increase in the last twelve years. Autism is a combination of developmental disabilities that can be detected in children under 3 years old as noted by Dawn Privett, RD, LD, CLT in Today’s Dietitian.

Some examples of development challenges include the inability to communicate and interact. Spectrum is associated with this disease because there is a wide range of behavior that can differ from one child to another. It is very complex, hence the Puzzle Piece symbol.



The CDC has put together “Learn the Sign. Act Early” campaign. You can go on their website and get checklists on symptoms by age. Please note that the sources provided are not screening tools. Feel free to use them as a guideline and set up an appointment with a pediatrician and talk about the signs. This page even has a cheat sheet on “How to Talk with the Doctor.” Oftentimes we need to advocate for ourselves even more so at the physician’s office.

Being a health coach, I know eating whole food can be leveraged to boost brain development and function. I wondered about the link to our diet and this disease. Here are a few takeaways that is based on research:

“They also found inadequate nutrition to be more common among children with autism than in those unaffected by the disorder. In particular, they found an overall low intake of calcium and protein. Calcium is crucial for building strong bones. Adequate protein is important for growth, mental development and health.”
“Nutrition and Autism”, Autism Speaks, March 2013

“No specific environmental toxin has been identified as the cause of autism, but research to determine which chemicals may be culpable is under way. It’s been proven that a fetus is vulnerable to environmental chemicals during development. Examples of chemicals that, in the past, have been shown to harm fetal development include organophosphate insecticides (eg, chlorpyrifos), mercury exposure, and heavy metals (eg, lead).”
“Autism Spectrum Disorder — Research Suggests Good Nutrition May Manage Symptoms”, Today’s Dietitian, January 2013

“During pregnancy, specialists should take special heed of metabolic disorders, which can increase the risk of ASD in children. One of the dietitian's tasks are to properly assess the nutritional status of mothers before and during pregnancy, thereby allowing changes in nutrition to be made wherever necessary in order that metabolic indicators be improved. Thus an important part of autism therapy is the improving patient's nutritional status to prevent the onset of gastrointestinal symptoms.”
“How nutritional status, diet and dietary supplements can affect autism. A review.” Kawicka A1, Regulska-Ilow B. National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), 2013

Even though the research leads us to nutritional therapy from the onset, this is easier said than done. Sally Sykes, mother of Andy shares this important insight:

“We tried the gluten and casein free diet when Andy was around 8 years old, he simply will refuse to eat when foods he prefers are removed. He has been tested for allergies and has shown sensitivity to milk and wheat. We do not limit these foods. It has been a huge fight for years. He drinks a lot of milk; one of his only sources of protein. For now, we are resigned to making him happy and allowing him to consume what he asks for. Would a better diet to help his behavior, maybe, but for now, limiting foods only causes more aggressive behaviors due to being told no. All in all, his diet is horrible, he takes vitamins and many of my friends have adult sons over 30 that tend to eat very similar and limited like Andy.”

It will take some creativity and a lot of patience to make this happen, especially if the diner is very attuned to noticing how the food looks. Sometimes, peace is better than introductions to new food. As caregivers know, they can be very particular. Fortunately, we live in the age of food innovation. So maybe once in awhile, try to sneak in gluten-free pasta or waffles if they love starchy foods. Jenny McCarthy’s organization, Generation Rescue published quick nutrition ideas to provide alternative foods.

While researchers are clocking the hours to isolate these genes, what we can do is support the community. Please make any size donation to the Autism Speaks for the “MSSNG” project. Let’s solve this puzzle!

What do you know about autism? Please comment below.

Joyce Manalo, Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, believes that living a happy and healthy life is a choice. She primarily works with advertising, healthcare and law professionals who feel the need to take better care of themselves so they can crush it at work and at home. Click here to schedule a free health history session.













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