Hope For The Weary

Discover the large network of support for families who battle autism.
By Cara Lucas

Just imagine.

You are pregnant and expecting your first child. For nine months, the anticipation builds, compounded by baby showers, gifts, excited relatives, and congratulatory friends.

The day finally arrives and you welcome your baby into a new world—a huge, unknown place where he or she totally depends on you for everything. Slowly, you introduce your infant to life and cross your fingers that he or she will pick up tasks quickly. Maybe it’s as easy as mastering breast-feeding or as complicated as teaching your young one sign language; whatever the task, you yearn to see your child grow and flourish.

But what happens when they don’t respond to your gentle guidance? Instead of picking up on seemingly simple tasks or responding to your loving touch, your baby blankly stares at you. He or she won’t eat, won’t talk, or won’t play with other children.

You question yourself immediately. Where did you go wrong? What did you miss? Could you have done something differently?

You might not have to try too hard to envision this situation. Autism can affect any family, any child, anytime.

It is rampant in the US today, affecting one out of every 88 children between the ages of three and 17. Although there is currently no cure for autism, there are ways to make significant progress in the lives of those families affected by it. It may take some adjusting along with trial and error, but there is hope for your child.

Signs + Symptoms

The CDC defines Autism Spectrum Disorders as a group of developmental disabilities that can cause significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges. People with ASDs tend to handle information in their brain differently than other people.

ASDs are "spectrum disorders," which means ASDs affect each person in different ways, and can range from very mild to severe. Although there are unique symptoms for each child, there are also consistent and shared characteristics, such as problems with social interaction. There are also differences in when the symptoms start, how severe they are, and the exact nature of the symptoms.

For example, because each case is unique, some children show signs of autism in early infancy and others may hit their benchmarks normally and suddenly become withdrawn or aggressive. Some may even lose skills that they had previously developed.

No matter where your loved one is in their fight against autism, there is room for improvement and healing, thanks to the many helpful and encouraging outlets that exists in the autism community.

Treatment + Support

The Autism Hope Alliance, which started in 2009, is the first non-profit organization to emerge from the natural food industry. The goal of the alliance is to provide information for families affected by autism. Hopefully, these families can use the resources that AHA provides to develop their own body of knowledge about autism and find unique ways to support their own loved one.

Tom Bohager started AHA after visiting The Autism Treatment Center of America, where he observed autistic children and their families participating in The Son-Rise Program. This program works diligently to foster communication and social skills between parents and children using an education model that has resulted in many miraculous-type transformations in the lives of participating families.

The emotional experience for Bohager (who had previously started an enzyme-based supplement company called Enzymedica, which inevitably helped countless children on the autism spectrum with digestive and other dietary issues) motivated him and his management team to do more.

“That sealed the deal for me,” says Bohager. “I came back with a commitment to support that program with 100 scholarships. “

Unfortunately the five-day Son-Rise program costs are not cheap, and after factoring in travel costs, it can be a pricey event. But, Bohager committed to sponsor 100 families at $2200 a family, totaling $220,000 in scholarship money.

“I was able to do that by starting the AHA in hopes that I could get other manufacturers in the natural foods industry to support the cause, as well,” explains Bohager.

And they certainly did. Not only does the AHA have a scholarship program, but they also offer financial aid to assist with biomedical treatment (nutritional support) as well as doctor visits and testing. So far, thanks to generous donations, the AHA has been able to donate more than $125,000 to more than 50 families to attend autism treatment education at the Autism Treatment Center of America. They are also currently sponsoring a clinical trial by the University of Bridgeport to determine the effect of enzymes used in conjunction with homeopathy on children with autism.

The AHA provides numerous sources on their website that link to outside support resources for those who seek advice in terms of diet and supplementation, as well as how to comfort and encourage a loved one with autism.

Love + Encouragement

A child is not born with confidence, no matter if they are completely healthy or not. Confidence can stem from many outlets, with it most ideally being instilled at a young age by the parents. Encouragement and support showered on the child as he or she learns to roll over or take first steps stays with them for life and fosters the ideal environment for a child to grow emotionally, mentally, and physically.

Children who suffer from autism often also struggle with self-acceptance. They interpret their differences by the constant attention and correction they receive, and may even take awkward social interactions as criticisms. Frequent visits to doctors’ offices or participating in different diagnostic testing can make them feel like a specimen who is constantly under the microscope. It is up to the family, specifically the parents, to make sure they understand they are valued the way they are, and to build up their self-esteem.

Staying positive goes far in boosting self-confidence in autistic children—especially when ASD kids can be particularly gifted in the art of copying others. Simple and positive affirmations like “You are great!” or “You are so smart!” catch on quickly and begin to sink into their minds over time.

Let peers in on the details of ASD so they can be better equipped with dealing with your child. When everyone involved better understands how a person with autism acts or what they need, it can create a more understanding, empathetic environment and really foster successful interactions. Experts also recommend explaining ASD to the child who has it, when he or she is able to understand. Ultimately, when people know more about autism, it creates more empathetic relationships that lead to acceptance of the child as he or she is. This may also cut down on unnecessary bullying, as well.

Diet + Supplementation

Determining the right diet for your child is another aspect of a well-rounded support plan for those suffering with autism, and can often correct or curb behavioral issues quickly.

Bohager explains that many patients have digestive or intestinal problems and, once a medical professional addresses these basic concerns, families can begin to take a more in-depth look at what the individual child needs to start the road to recovery.

Many Defeat Autism Now! (DAN!) doctors suggest starting with a detox. This is a great way to cleanse a child’s body of heavy metals and other environmental toxins s/he may have absorbed. Think of it as “starting from scratch.”

Switching to a gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet may also help cognitive functioning in people with autism. “I’ve talked to hundreds of families, most of which have used restrictive diets very, very successfully,” says Bohager. “It is clearly the number one support for these children and has the most dramatic effect… The benefits are remarkable.”

Although scientific studies have found no correlation, anecdotal evidence says 60 percent of parents saw improvement in their child when they switched to a GFCF diet. Doctors can test individuals for gluten and casein sensitivities and intolerances, but they may not be able to give definitive answers.

Casein and gluten are transformed in our bodies into casomorphin and gliadorphin (respectively). They work on our body’s opiate receptors, and essentially act as a narcotic; this can contribute to abnormal bowel function. Many patients who switch to a GFCF diet experience fewer recurrent infections, improved sleeping patterns, improved digestion, and generally seem to be more comfortable in the skin they’re in.

Purchasing organic produce and other food products is another way to provide a clean diet for those with autism. It can also minimize the amount of toxins that may aggravate autistic behaviors. Think of each bite of an organic vegetable as a way to naturally obtain God-given vitamins and minerals rather than those that are grown commercially. There is more nutritional value and you are minimizing the body’s exposure to pesticide/toxins.

Depending on the specific needs of each individual, different supplements may help to curb autistic behaviors, boost mood, and bolster nutrition. At a minimum, taking a multivitamin that is easily digestible (usually a chewable, liquid, powder, or capsule) can help to provide the building blocks to support brain health and proper development. To treat the metabolic issues that accompany, and perhaps underlie ASD, you’ll need a host of vitamins and minerals, including magnesium, zinc, B vitamins, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin A. Showing particular promise is a so-called quintet of metabolic enhancers, including trimethyl-glycine, folinic acid, glutathione, allithiamine, and methyl B-12.

Ultimately, the right diet can curb many side effects that stand in the way of bridging a connection with an ASD child. Once you can make a true connection and develop an empathetic (not sympathetic!) relationship, you can begin to build up their trust and help boost self-confidence—all factors that help contribute to a better understanding of ASD and a hopeful road to recovery.

For a comprehensive list of autism-related resources, please visit autismhopealliance.org.

Additional ASD Resources

Autism360 provides a new way of listening to the voices of affected individuals, via an analytical system that uses individual input to produce an itemized, structured, and private record of your or your child's medical narrative. Autism360.org

Autism Research Institute is the hub of a worldwide network of parents and professionals concerned with autism to conduct and foster scientific research. It's also designed to improve the methods of diagnosing, treating, and preventing autism. Autism.com

Autism Speaks is dedicated to funding global biomedical research into the causes, prevention, treatments, and cure for autism. The goal is to raise public awareness about autism and its effects on individuals, families, and society; and to bring hope to all who deal with the hardships of this disorder. AutismSpeaks.org

Center for Autism and Integrative Health is a consultative practice which integrates the care of children and adults with neurodevelopmental delays, including Autism Spectrum Disorder and other chronic illnesses. IHeaLthNow.org

Generation Rescue is an international movement of scientists, physicians, and parent-volunteers researching the causes and treatments for autism and helping more than 20,000 children begin biomedical treatment. GenerationRescue.org

HollyRod Foundation is dedicated to providing compassionate care to those living with Autism and Parkinson’s disease. HollyRod.org

Kartzinel Wellness Center practices what has been termed as Translational Medicine, which defined, is the ability to translate diverse scientific findings into therapeutic protocols for patients. Kartzinel.com