Living with Autism: Positive Consequences of a Healthy Lifestyle

What a Healthy Lifestyle Can Do to Autism

As it is Autism awareness month, I want to write about my 18-year-old brother who has Autism.

But what is Autism?

What Is AutismA few years ago, Autism was virtually unheard of but now we hear a lot about it on the news and more and more people are finding they may know of someone with the condition. Autism Spectrum disorder is complex and, in the U.K., currently affects 1 in 100 people and known to affect 5 males to 1 female. Autism literally means "aloneness" or living in one's own world and is defined as having a triad of impairments: social interaction, communication and imagination, together with a repetitive stereotyped pattern of activities. Many affected have little or no speech but those with high functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome, typically have speech but have many social and behavioural problems.

Autism in My Family

Autism in My FamilyMy brother Cameron, could be described as having a classic form of Autism. As a baby he reached all his milestones ahead, or on time, in his development. He did start to have speech but only ever had about 12 words, which he finally lost. He became increasingly withdrawn and would spend much of his time sitting amongst his toys, gathered up around him, not making contact or communicating with us. He would not respond if you called his name and would tantrum and scream if anything was asked of him. He was diagnosed at 2 years and 10 months old. We were not given any information on what to do or what would happen next, we were left to manage.
Living with a family member that has Autism, or any disability for that matter, can prove very challenging. Over the years, I have learnt a lot about it and so to respond to the disorder in the best way possible in order to create equally happy and stable lives for us all.

Autism, GI Disorders and Diet

Autism DietIt is commonly found that people with Autism suffer with gastrointestinal disorders that can account for the behaviours seen in autistic children. It has been found for some time that they can be treated by following diets free of gluten, dairy and sugar. Treating intestinal bacterial overgrowth and an enrichment of nutritional supplements. Families who embark on this course of action find an improvement in their child's behaviours, improving their health and finding ways to make improved contact with their child. Some children make greater improvement than others, but if followed consistently over a long period of time, there will be some improvement. The child will feel healthier and hopefully happier.

Autism, GI Disorders and DietAfter his diagnosis, we spent the next two months learning about biomedical intervention, and with help from an Autism medical practitioner, we discovered:

Dairy and Gluten intolerance
Bowel issues: severe bowel impaction
Toxicity: heavy metals found (aluminium, mercury)
Non-absorbance of vitamins
Inability to detox naturally

Around this time, his behaviour was extremely withdrawn. He would sit and spin the wheels on his bumper truck toy or hold up a car and play with it back and forth along the ground. He wouldn’t show any interest in playing with us at all and if you called his name he would either not respond or throw himself on the floor and scream. It was virtually impossible to engage with him in any way whatsoever.

We had learnt that every single Autistic person that has been tested for gluten intolerance has one. Furthermore, that Autistics aren’t able to detoxify naturally through their bodies as the rest of us do. Therefore, we needed to implement a strict health regime to resolve these internal imbalances.

Course of action:
Introduction GF/DF diet,
Laxatives and correct diet to remove impaction
Vitamin supplements
Detoxification


Autism you are what you eat“You are what you eat” was a major takeaway from what we were learning around this time. We introduced a healthy, clean, wholesome diet consisting of lean meats, fruit, and vegetables. We could expect to see major improvements in Cameron’s behaviour, attitude, and our ability to connect with him. Cameron's eating habits were typical of children with Autism, all he wanted was wheat and dairy, it was difficult to feed him anything else. Removing dairy was not easy. We stopped giving him his milk and the sweet yoghurts that he loved. It took three days to remove that from his system, he screamed constantly day and night, but we persevered.

The outcome was very noticeable, he had improved. It was as if a fog had lifted and he was more present than he had been. However, he was still very much withdrawn, and it would take a long time before we could communicate and find the Cameron that we know now.

AutismThe gluten removal was a much lengthier process as it can stay in your system for up to 18 months. This made the most difference physically. Cameron was skinny, but his stomach was extended and looked abnormal. We were now realising this was due to the gastrointestinal disorder that he had. We were able to visit a naturopathic doctor. With testing we discovered he had a leaky gut. The intestinal tract had become holy in parts due to the gluten intolerance. An x-ray taken by a radiologist affirmed that he had a completely impacted bowel, which meant chronic constipation. 

Cameron resisted all new foods and it took many months to establish a healthy diet that he follows today.

Family Affair

Autism vs. Asperger's SyndromeUp to this day, I take my hat off to my Mum who has devoted so much of her time and energy to learn in depth, everything surrounding and relating to Autism. I’m blessed to have an open minded, and willing family to consider a whole range of potential solutions to ensure the best possible outcome for my brother.

Throughout the alimentary detox, we also learnt about alternative, homeopathic medicine. The idea of optimising well-being through gentle but powerful remedies was very alluring, and above all, natural and kind to the body.

I listed “non-absorbance of vitamins” earlier, autistics have difficulty in breaking down some larger nutrients as a result of weak metabolic efficiency, some equally struggle to absorb the smaller but vital micronutrients as well. Many studies have been carried out observing the nutritional status of autistic vs neuro typical children, of which the findings are always similar; insufficient vitamin and mineral levels.

To this day, I’ve found natural medicine to be very effective in solving a whole range of problems. I’ve experienced it myself, and as well as Cameron, we all follow nourishing, healthy, and whole diets. Experiencing and reaping the healing powers of herbal medicine myself has been an uplifting realisation for me. 

Biomedical Integration and Autism

Integrative Medicine and AutismAs we embarked on a biomedical intervention, we had to find a suitable education for him. We researched therapies to find one that we found suitable for him and for us to introduce. We found ABA or Applied Behaviour Analysis. An educational therapy that was developed by Ivar Lovaas in the 1960s. It is popular in the United States and in the U.K. and is recommended to begin in the home environment and progress to be used in school. Before embarking on ABA, in our research we learned about Auditory Integration Therapy (sound sensitivity correction). This included 30 sessions of sound recognition, over 15 days. The treatment consists of modulated and filtered sounds played through headphones. The aim is to help with behaviour and noise sensitivity. The outcome can help speech and language development and learning.

Cam had no behavioural skills at this point, it was difficult to engage with him and have him sit for long periods. Needless to say, it was a stressful time and although we persisted to the end of all 30 sessions, it was difficult to tell if this had major impact. What we did not notice however, was he hummed songs more in tune. Music recognition perhaps? Nevertheless, it is something that could be addressed again, and I’m sure he would enjoy it more today.
 

The Power of Behaviour Therapy

Detoxism and Autism CilantroAt age 3 years old, Cameron began Applied Behaviour Analysis. With the help of an ABA/Lovaas Consultant and a team of volunteers, we began a home programme which lasted 7 years. The positive result of this was tremendous. Cameron learned to communicate and learn. He has naturally good visual skills which were taken of advantage of during the learning process.
We began very basically just by sitting at the table for a prolonged period of time. He learned through demonstration, matching, and picture recognition. His first skill was copying - putting a brick in a cup. This took months of hard work and patience before any progression were made.

Social behaviour was also addressed as part of his learning. Speech and language, numbers and letter recognition progressed to simple words recognition, matching words to pictures, reading, simple numeracy, gross and fine motor skills and play.

At age 11, Cameron started school for special needs. His home therapy programme made it easier for him to follow the school syllabus. The curriculum was similar to what he learned at home, it was basic with slow progression. As he was at school, he engaged in peer social skills and more practical every day skills. He also learned to swim, which we had tried ourselves for a long time without success.

Autism Detoxism
It has been a long road for Cameron, he developed seizures at age 15 and we are still trying to find solutions to help him and find their root cause. He still has little language, but he is communicative and present with us in our lives. He is happy and healthy!

He still has therapy and with his good nutrition we are hopeful we can keep making a difference to his life. He is having some time off school for now while we deal with medical intervention for seizures.

Cameron attends two occupational therapy sessions two half days per week and we hope to increase to four half days as soon as the funding comes through. He is also attending a Brain Clinic. We hope to identify the parts of the brain that are not working properly. If this is successful, the results will be used in his occupational sessions.

There is always hope! (if you can find it).

 

What the mind can conceive, the mind can achieve!

Autism brother sister love
Some children whose families follow the same road as we have been on have made great strides and many children have recovered and are leading relatively normal lives. But Autism spectrum is complex and there is no one size fits all definition. We can do our best to make these children healthy and importantly, happy. Cam loves music, drawing and painting, jigsaw puzzles, swimming, gymnastics, cycling and going for long, very fast walks! He is still much of a solitary figure, but we and others can communicate easily with him. He enjoys going to restaurants and being around others.

I’m optimistic that we can keep making a difference to his life with the help of the therapy and good nutrition. Above all, the most effective aid on this journey has been the belief and faith in making progress.
 
Written by Tori Macdonald

Tori Macdonald Autism BloggerMy name is Tori and I’m a 21-year-old, third culture kid. Born in the Netherlands to Scottish parents and raised in Belgium.
I’m currently studying at Newcastle University but have spent this year in Bordeaux, France on an Erasmus study exchange.
I'm very lucky to have grown up surrounded by many people from many places, and even though life as an expatriate means your friends move away often, it's a blessing to meet new people all the time. Along with living with a sibling who has special needs, these experiences have made me very open minded, accepting, and compassionate.

My biggest passions in life are, travel, drum and bass music, spirituality & yoga. I have a fascination for the mind, body, and soul connection. I’ve read many books about mindfulness and reaching potential through balancing energy levels and self-care. I’ve been inspired to start a blog to share my knowledge in the hope of awakening the world to our infinite possibility. Ultimately, I aim to inspire and motivate people to make positive changes in their lives by leading a healthy mental and physical lifestyle!

Visit Tori's website Satori Shifts and follow her on Instagram.

I dream of growing my blog in ways that it could take me around the world motivating people to pursue their wildest dreams and attract positive circumstances into their lives. I want to learn more about the cultures of the world and experience all the beauty that our planet has to offer! Contact Tori over email at: torimacdonald@hotmail.com 

Autism Resources:

• For more informed and detailed information on biomedical intervention in autism visit - www.autism.com
• ABA Therapy - http://www.appliedbehavioralstrategies.com/basics-of-aba.html

References:
US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health. (2015)
Nutritional and metabolic status of children with autism vs. neuro typical children, and the association with autism severity.
From: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3135510/

Autism Awareness




1 Response

Ewan Kelly
Ewan Kelly

August 27, 2018

ABA is something at best to be approached critically – personally I think any ‘therapy’ that tries to remove the traits of what make autistic people different to neurotypical people is something to be approached with caution. In our family we embrace what makes people with autism different rather than attempt to change their behaviour to suit the non autistic world.

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