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Autism: Causes and Management

Updated on September 15, 2014
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An experienced integrative healthcare professional & Member of the International Alliance of Holistic Therapists

In general, autism is caused by abnormalities in brain development, neurochemistry and genetic factors [1]. Autism occurs in children of all levels of intelligence from the gifted to those who have mental retardation [1]. In general, majority (around 75%) of individuals with autism are also identified as having mental retardation [1].

There are similar behavioural patterns in three main areas namely [1]:

  • Abnormal language development and use
  • Poor social skills or deficits and excessiveness (for example an exploded reaction is observed from the boy when a mother tells her son to stop playing with a certain toy)
  • Insistence on sameness (or likes routine and predictability and don’t like change or surprises)

Autism [1]:

  • typically appears during the first three years of life
  • is four times more prevalent in Male versus Female children
  • It is highly likely that there is a neurological origin to Autism
  • No known racial, ethnic or social boundaries
  • Prevalence is 2 to 6 per 1000 individuals (about ½ to 1.5 million people affected)
  • Not related to family income or lifestyle
  • Impacts normal development of brain in areas of social interaction and communication skills
  • Difficult to communicate with others and relate to the outside world
  • Sometimes, aggressive and/or self-injurious behaviour may be present
  • May show repeated body movements (e.g. rocking or hand flapping)
  • Unusual responses to people
  • Attachment to objects
  • Resistance to change in routine
  • Sensory sensitivities

Factors that drive Autism/Etiology

  • Genetic Influences are likely the most important risk factor but this risk can be managed by environmental, nutrition and lifestyle (e.g in other genetic disorders like obesity and diabetes) : Parents who have a child who has Autism Spectrum disorder have a 2 to 8% chance of having a second child who is also affected (but nature of component is unknown as it is not caused by a single gene)
  • Autism is considered an autoimmune disease and seems to have important risk factor in utero as indicated by a highly increased frequency of congenital malformations
  • Neurotransmitters; Higher levels of Serotonin in children with ASD, some studies have found Higher levels of Opioids in children with ASD
  • No one cause has been identified
  • Cause is likely multifactorial (physiology and environment always interacting)
  • Poor nutritional status and/or lifestyle may be linked to Autism
  • Association between autism and short intervals between pregnancies (e.g few months to less than one year)
  • Low Folic Acid and Low Vitamin D status may be linked to autism
  • Brain cells may migrate to the wrong place in the brain that could affect communication skills
  • Scientists have found impairments of the amygdale in autistic children. The amygdala helps regulate social and emotional behaviour
  • Ongoing inflammatory response may be linked to a disturbance in behaviour in ASD

Diagnosis Criteria: A child must have at least SIX of the characteristics in the 3 areas (and note minimums in each area). Also, in one of the areas, onset must be before the age of three years old [1]

(A) SOCIAL INTERACTION (must meet 2 of the following):

  • Marked impairment in multiple non-verbal behaviours (e.g. eye contact, facial expressions)
  • Failure to develop peer relationships for age
  • Lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interest or achievement with others
  • Lack of social or emotional reciprocity

(B) COMMUNICATION (must meet 1 of the following):

  • Delayed or total lack of the development of spoken language (not accompanied by an attempt to compensate through alternative modes of communication)
  • Marked impairment in ability to initiate or sustain conversations with others
  • Stereotyped and repetitive use of language
  • Lack of varied and spontaneous make believe play or social initiative play appropriate to developmental level


  • Preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal in intensity or focus
  • Inflexible adherence to specific, non-functional routines or rituals
  • Stereotyped and repetitive motor mannerisms (e.g. hand flapping or rocking)
  • Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects


  • Any activity requiring vigorous activity and will improve their fitness levels (flexibility, cardiovascular endurance, strength, muscular endurance)
  • Walking or Hiking
  • Bike Riding
  • Swimming

Activities requiring use of their senses: Autistic children like deep pressure that helps relax (use of weighted backpacks/vest can help provide this deep pressure)

Factors that help manage Autism [1]

  • Vitamin D3 supplementation
  • Folinic Acid
  • Multivitamins
  • Fish Oil
  • Anti-inflammatory herbs/nutrients
  • Decrease Mercury
  • Vigorous Exercise

  • Effective teaching strategies :
  • Use teaching stations
  • Change activities regularly
  • Eliminate distractions
  • Keep directions short and age-appropriate
  • Use sensory stimulation to increase attention span
  • Use smooth transitions
  • Instruct in an environment where noise, smells, lights will not interfere with learning (i.e. teach in less stimulating environment)
  • Establish predictable routines within lessons
  • Create highly structured, organized and predictable environment
  • Warm up, Activity, Closure
  • Using visual aids during activities
  • Use vigorous aerobic exercises to keep student on task
  • Use a consistent behaviour modification program
  • Provide lots of practice time/repetitions
  • Show enthusiasm when teaching
  • Positive behaviour management strategies (reward system for good behaviour)


1) AUTISM Seminar Notes 2014


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