Researchers have learned SO much in the past 10 years about risk factors for autism and other developmental delays that I included the word “prevention” in the title, and devoted a chapter to this subject in Outsmarting Autism. I was thus thrilled when a friend introduced me to a mother who runs a parent support group for families with members on the spectrum. She thought the group a good match as a host for me on my year-long book tour.
What a surprise when I received the following response: “Thank you so much for reaching out to me. To me, autism is not something that needs to be healed or prevented. I truly believe with all my heart that it is just as much a part of my boy as him having brown hair and hazel eyes, and I want folks to accept my boy and his neurology the way it is. I respect the fact that you have dedicated your life to what you believe in. But as you can see, I may not be the best person to help you reach your readers. Respectfully yours,”
At least she was civil; the next “push back” was not. The Executive Director of an autism support group cancelled an already scheduled and promoted book signing and talk, because I use the word “prevention” in the title. She accused me of attempting to eliminate individuals with autism. Those who have followed my 40-plus-year career of counseling families of children with disabilities know that my goal is neither annihilation nor elimination, but rather rehabilitation.
Clearly, as British homeopath Alan Freestone points out, there are two very divided camps on autism: Those who believe we can only increase autism awareness, but not function, and those whose goal is healing. I belong to the second contingent. Parents know that their children with autism are medically sick, not just quirky. Any parent whose autistic child has chronic diarrhea, sleep issues or unremitting epilepsy wants more than awareness. Haven’t the awareness folks read the desperate Facebook posts from moms who have been up every two hours bathing a child covered in feces or are sitting a vigil at a hospital where doctors are trying to stop a young boy from constant grand mal seizures? Maybe not. Well, I believe in prevention. My beliefs in prevention are not the same as believing in the Easter Bunny, Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy. They are based in science and I will continue to educate couples who are interested. I do not need the naysayers in my ear. And here is what I tell them:
A year before conception, couples should start thinking about cleaning up their environments, changing their lifestyles, and getting rid of their body burdens. A full year out? Yes, because that’s how long it takes to replace the bad stuff, to learn about the good stuff, and for the body to detoxify safely. The steps I recommend not only improve fertility, discourage complications of pregnancy, miscarriage, and problems during delivery, but also improve the chances of having a healthy baby. Run Laboratory Tests I love tests. For over 30 years I administered diagnostic tests to help parents understand and make informed decisions about their children’s education, health and functioning. Tests only give you information; what makes information powerful is your freedom to decide what to do with it. Here are some tests to consider BEFORE becoming pregnant. None are routine; in most cases, you must discuss them with your doctor. If your doctor refuses to order them, you can also work with Life Extension Foundation, a membership organization. This is a wonderful Florida-based company sells both lab tests and high quality supplements. You have the blood work done at a local lab and one of their doctors interprets the results. They make money by selling supplements, but their prices are good, and a bonus is a periodic magazine of research that is worth the price of membership.
- Identify toxic elements – The earlier in gestation toxic exposures occur, the more detrimental they can be to development. Every woman should know what toxins her body is holding before she gets pregnant, and detox appropriately, to assure that her baby isn’t exposed in those early weeks before a positive pregnancy test.
Doctor’s Data Lab offers a hair analysis of over 30 potentially toxic elements, including lead, mercury, arsenic, aluminum, copper, antimony and cadmium to which we are all exposed. According to Phillipe Granjean MD, internationally recognized environmental health expert, and author of the extraordinary book Only One Chance: How Environmental Pollution Impairs Brain Development- and How to Protect the Brains of the Next Generation, this inexpensive test is very predictive of the toxic load a pregnant woman dumps into her unborn baby. Shouldn’t EVERY woman have this test?
- Screen thyroid function – Low levels of T4 or marginally elevated levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) can affect the unborn baby. Environmental toxins are endocrine disrupters. Insufficient levels or even a mild drop of thyroid hormone in the mother at critical stages of brain development can affect cognitive function in the fetus. Have complete thyroid testing done. Once you know your levels, take natural measures, such as adding iodine to normalize thyroid function.
- Measure vitamin D levels – Every day we are learning about the importance of Vitamin D in health. In 2009 researchers concluded that vitamin D deficiencies in pregnant women should be considered a risk factor for neuro-developmental disorders such as autism. Vitamin D regulates thousands of genes in the human genome. The importance of prenatal, neonatal, and postnatal vitamin D supplementation cannot be underestimated. Vitamin D during gestation and early infancy is essential for normal brain functioning.
Insufficient vitamin D is a universal problem. You want your number to be over 30, even though 25 is considered “normal.” 40 is even better! If your level is low, start taking supplements at 2000-5000 units of D3 per day, preferably in more absorbable liposomal drops available from Biotics. Recheck in 3 months. High doses are sometimes necessary for a short time to elevate levels. To learn more about vitamin D, check out the Vitamin D Council.
- Run an ELISA IgG test for food sensitivities – Your doctor can order this from a local lab. Look for gluten, casein, soy, egg, garlic, and other intolerances. Rotate mildly problematic foods and eliminate those with moderate to severe reactions.
- Know your genetic profile – Go to 23andME and do a quick gene screening to pinpoint possible difficulties with detoxification. Work with a health-care professional to identify supplements that can remediate glitches called single-nucleotide polymorphisms or SNPs .
- Run antibody titers – Find out which diseases you are already immune to by running blood titers. Make sure that you are not a hepatitis carrier. Put that in writing to prevent your baby from getting the Hep B shot at birth.
- Remove any mercury-containing amalgams – Even one or two “silver” fillings off-gas into the mouth with brushing, chewing and drinking hot liquids. Mother’s mercury load crosses the placenta, landing in the liver and kidneys of the fetus. Infants’ levels correlate with the number of amalgams in the mother. Later, mercury shows up in the breast milk, which may provide better absorption of mercury in the nursing infant. Be certain to have amalgams removed safely by a biological dentist.
- Detoxify the body – Mothers dump a good part of their body burden into their unborn babies. Consider a homeopathic detox program that clears out chemicals, metals, parasites, bacteria, viruses and radiation. The lower your toxic load, the lower the baby’s.
- Check for retained reflexes- The Spinal Galant and Asymmetric Tonic Neck Reflex (ATNR) assist the baby in maneuvering through the birth canal. Mothers who retain either of both of these reflexes may have difficulty giving birth naturally. The baby may not “drop,” be breech, or require a Cesarean section. Simple reflex integration activities for a month prior to birth can help the birth be smoother.
While Pregnant increase input in several areas:
- Food – The old saying that goes, “Eating for two,” is correct. Make nutrient rich, not high caloric choices. Say “yes” to 75-100 grams of protein, organic fruits, vegetables, beans, lentils, asparagus, spinach, nuts and free-range, antibiotic-free animals. Say “no” to sugar and its substitutes, wheat, dairy and hydrogenated fats. Say “once-in-a-while” to small, cold water fish and soy products. Take the time to sit down and eat slowly, chewing well.
- Supplements – While the right, good quality foods can provide much needed nutrition, eating adequate amounts of some nutrients is simply impossible. Contraceptives and other medications can deplete minerals. Calcium, mercury-free fish oils, iron, folate and B vitamins are essential for growing babies. Work with a health care professional to determine the right amount for you.
- Drinks – At least eight cups of good quality water. No alcohol, sodas (especially diet), caffeinated tea or coffee.
- Relaxation & Sleep – Learn meditation. Take a yoga class for expectant mothers. Practice daily, breathing deeply. Oxygenation of cells enhances their function. Releasing stress allows the body to put its energy into growing a healthy baby. Turn in before 10:00 pm and sleep at least nine hours.
- Exercise – Stretch to increase flexibility. Walk or attend a class two or three times a week.
How many sonograms do you need? It is really exciting to see a baby in utero, know whether it is a boy or girl, and then call it by name. But, no one knows the long-term effect of sonograms on the unborn baby. A sonogram is sound…sound as loud as a plane’s engines revving up in a baby’s ears. One study showed, the more sonograms, the more likely the baby is to have ear infections. Another showed that babies later diagnosed with autism had endured three or more sonograms. Consider limiting them unless medically necessary, and not do them just out of curiosity.
TAKE HOME POINTS
Know the risk factors for autism. Limit exposures to toxins, while maximizing nutrition and health during preconception and pregnancy. Understand how your lifestyle choices support a baby’s health! Every child deserves to be healthy, have the opportunities to develop language, have friends and learn! Autism is preventable! Let’s start now!