Autism Awareness — What have we learned in the last 25 years?

By Dr. Amy Davis, MD

In honor of Autism awareness month, I would like to share what I have learned in the last 25 years treating Autism Spectrum Disorders and raising a son with severe Autism.

Autism has risen dramatically over the last 25 years. In the 1980’s the rate was 1 in 2500 children. In the 1990’s the rates began to rise dramatically. When my son was born in 1996 the rate was 1 in 125. In December 2021 the CDC released an updated prevalence of 1 in 44. It varies from state to state but Missouri was 1 in 60 children. It’s hard for me to feel good about that.

I find these statistics incredibly disturbing. The supports for children and families, as they age out of school, are woefully inadequate. The greatest hope is prevention of Autism in the first place. The second is to have effective treatments.

Some people argue that the rise is due to better identification and diagnosis of Autism. While I think that is partially true, common sense tells me there has been very real increases since everyone seems to know someone with Autism. That was just not true in the past.

The factors that predispose children to developing Autism are multiple. One of the most important factors is a weakened immune system. Often children have had repeated infections requiring multiple courses of antibiotics. Frequent illness, especially with viral infections, can tax the immune system. Parents often state their children are “sick all of the time”. They may have developmental delays or be failing to thrive. Often children experience gut issues like bloating, reflux, easy vomiting, abnormal stools or constipation. The children often show signs of sympathetic nervous system stress that leads to poor sleep, decreased sleep requirements, hyperactivity, and hypersensitivity to noise (but not their own). Diet influences the immune system greatly so children that eat poorly and are allowed to consume a lot of sugar are more at risk. They often come from families that have histories of Autism, autoimmune diseases, allergies, dementia, mental health problems or very sensitive individuals. It is common to see food intolerances, eczema and asthma.

A healthy immune system is probably the single most important factor in determining a child who will develop normally, be able to fight off infections and to mount a normal immune response to childhood vaccines.

It appears there is a genetic predisposition or inherited weakness that is paired with environmental triggers that create Autism. Each child is unique in their genes and environmental influence. Their treatment should reflect this. In my experience I have found that there are multiple underlying medical concerns that must be addressed if a child has the potential to recover. The earlier this happens the better the results. Covering up the symptoms with prescription medications alone ignores the underlying and treatable issues which then persist and interfere with recovery.

Functional medicine is a perfect match for working with Autism by treating the underlying factors that are interfering with the healing process. Underlying most chronic diseases including Autism is Inflammation, abnormal immune response and oxidative stress. The key to success it to figure out what creates these three things.

Typical core issues include:

  • Gene SNP’s that impact normal biochemical cell function. E.g. Folate processing, methylation, transsulfation, urea cycle, liver detoxification
  • Poor digestion leading to lack of available nutrients for biochemical pathway function
  • Nutrient deficiencies – vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, B-vitamins, minerals, omegas
  • Small bowel overgrowth “SIBO” and “leaky gut”
  • Food Sensitivities and intolerances
  • Environmental Allergies especially to molds
  • Weakened immune system which leads to persistent pathogens – viral, bacterial and fungal
  • Impaired ability to detoxify effectively leading to increased toxic burden
  • Autonomic dysregulation which creates an irritable nervous system that stays in “fight or flight” mode

Treating and recovering Autistic children should begin as early as possible to give the child the best possible chance. The longer the symptoms persist, the more difficult it is to be successful. Children with Autism can fully recover and go on to live meaningful lives. I have treated many Autistic children who no longer have a diagnosis and no longer require special schooling or therapeutic services. They are just like other kids with the ability to graduate high school, attend college, have jobs, move away from home and have meaningful relationships.

We are continuing to accept new patients and would be happy to assist in your healing journey.

Dr. Amy Davis M.D.
Crossing Back to Health
485 Wildwood Parkway Suite 2
Ballwin, MO 63011
636 778-9158