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HEALING YOUNG BRAINS
DRUG-FREE TREATMENT FOR CHILDHOOD DISORDERSâ?"INCLUDING AUTISM, ADHD, DEPRESSION, AND ANXIETY
By ROBERT W. HILL, EDUARDO CASTRO
Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc.Copyright © 2009 Robert W. Hill, PhD, and Eduardo Castro, MD
All rights reserved.
Shawna doesn't keep up with the debate about vaccinations causing autism. She doesn't know whether the vaccinations her children. Sean and Sierra, got had mercury in them. She isn't certain what they mean by a gluten-free diet; what would it matter anyway? She is just so tired. She hasn't slept more than two hours in a row in a year. since Sierra was fifteen months old. She just wishes she could wake up from this nightmare.
It was hard with Sean. but she managed. His pediatrician told her he had Asperger's, a form of autism. Her smart beautiful boy is just so detached. He is like a little professor. a grouchy one. She wishes he would look at her and smile just once. She wishes he would talk to her about anything but Mars. How could an eight-year-old know so much about a planet? Why isn't he doing better in school? She wishes he had friends.
Those first fifteen months with Sierra were heaven. She was so affectionate. so loving. just a delightful chatterbox. Now. it is just over four months since Sierra has said a single word. She just moans. and rocks. and rubs her forehead with her palms. At night, she wakes up every few hours screaming. and is inconsolable. She almost never eats anything but dry puffed rice and peanut butter on a spoon. She won't let her mother hold her. If Shawna tries. Sierra digs her fingers into her and screams.
Autism: It is one of those words that strikes fear in the hearts of parents. It was a rare diagnosis years ago, and now is a seeming epidemic. Medical researchers say no, not an outbreak, just better at diagnosing. This is typical of controversies that surround autism. The whole topic is filled with controversy, disagreement, and debate.
We begin this book with autism because it is so prevalent, so devastating, and, to parents who have not yet been guided to the very real treatment options for autism. so terrifying and hopeless. If there is hope with autism, there is hope for anything. We state with conviction: There is more than hope.
In this chapter, we discuss major topics: what autism is, what it is not, how neurofeedback can play a central role in its treatment, and other terrific treatment options.
Autism is a developmental disorder that can disrupt communication, relationships, behavior, and physiology. It strikes seemingly normal infants and toddlers, usually by age three. It causes lifelong struggles that range from mild to severe. The effects on the lives of the children stricken and on their families range from difficult and sad to catastrophic and heartbreaking.
Conventional medicine considers autism a psychosocial disorder, and one that has a strong genetic component. It is not thought to be curable, so approved treatments include drugs and various therapies designed to improve functioning, such as speech therapy and/or behavior modification.
The diagnosis is based on the criteria in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM-IV), published by the American Psychiatric Association. The criteria include various combinations of impairments in social interaction, communication, and behavior. Autism is considered one of five disorders listed under Pervasive Developmental Disorders (PDD). Because of similarities of symptoms in the five PDDs, this group is called the Autistic Spectrum Disorders. When we discuss autism, we include associated disorders such as Asperger's and Rett's.
The DSM-IV criteria for autism are a bit like a restaurant menu where you take two items from column A, one from column B, and one from column C. as follows:
A. A total of six, or more items from 1, 2, and 3 with at least two from 1, and one each from 2 and 3:
1. Qualitative impairment in social interaction, as manifested by at least two of the following:
A. Marked impairment in the use of multiple nonverbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expression, body postures, and gestures to regulate social interaction
B. Failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level
C. A lack of spontaneous seeking to share enjoyment, interests, or achievements with other people (e.g., by a lack of showing, bringing, or pointing out objects of interest)
D. Lack of social or emotional reciprocity
2. Qualitative impairments in communication as manifested by at least one of the following:
A. Delay in, or total lack of, the development of spoken language
B. In individuals with adequate speech, marked impairment in the ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
C. Stereotyped and repetitive use of language or idiosyncratic language
D. Lack of varied, spontaneous make-believe play or social imitative play appropriate to developmental level
3. Restricted repetitive and stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities, as manifested by at least one of the following:
A. Encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus
B. Apparently inflexible adherence to specific, nonfunctional routines or rituals
C. Stereotyped and repetitive motor manners (e.g., hand or finger flapping or twisting, or complex whole-body movements)
D. Persistent preoccupation with parts of objects
B. Delays or abnormal functioning in at least one of the following areas, with onset prior to age three years:
1. Social interaction,
2. Language as used in social communication, or
3. Symbolic or imaginative play.
Conventional medicine focuses on the genetic component in autism, and this is documented in twin studies. Medicine also uses sophisticated brain scans to study autism, and has found several common abnormalities that are present in a significant number of children with autism.
In brief, the conventional medical understanding of autism is:
Autism is a psychosocial disorder, largely determined by genetics.
Autism has been generally present in the population for some time, though it is now better recognized, largely due to changes in the diagnostic criteria.
Treatment should focus on reducing the severity of symptoms and troublesome behaviors.
Sierra's pediatrician reassured Shawna that she had not done anything wrong. that she unfortunately carried the genes that cause autism. and that was why both of her children were on the autistic spectrum. He also told her not to worry about the vaccinations; it was just a coincidence. for this is the age range that the children with the gene begin deteriorating. He prescribed the antipsychotic drug Haldol for Sierra to reduce her outbursts. and the tranquilizer Klonopin to help her sleep. Her sleep did not change. but her muscles became very tight and painful and she started back-arching. Her pediatrician eventually changed the Haldol to Risperdal, which she appeared to tolerate better. It reduced her outbursts somewhat, but now she spent more time lying on her side with a blank stare. Her face looked as empty and hopeless as Shawna felt.
An Old Disorder or a New Epidemic?
Has autism been around a long time in steady numbers or have its numbers exploded? The answer is important because it will determine our approach to treatment. If conventional medicine is right and the increased number of children in the autistic spectrum is due to better diagnosing, there should be high fives all around for getting good, real good, at identifying so many of those children who had been missed. And attention will continue to focus on genetic research, brain imaging, and the development of new drugs.
If the answer is that the autism we see today is a new and frightening outbreak, it is a very different matter because it will direct our full attention to identifying the recent changes that are causing it. This answer will indicate that the genetic component is a built-in vulnerability and not a life sentence, and also that the abnormal brain imaging is documenting disease processes. not evidence of defectively designed brains.
For more than thirty years, we have worked in the field that diagnoses and treats autism. We find it hard to understand how we could have missed seeing so many children whose lives and whose families' lives were so colossally disrupted by the bewildering array of symptoms and behaviors that we routinely see in today's autistic children. And it is not just the numbers that are different. The autistic child of yesteryear, that sad, rare case we saw every few years, bears little resemblance to today's child. We are seeing not just more in numbers, but also a more severe form.
Young Brains under Assault—Autism Is a Biological Disorder
We also disagree with the conventional medical assertion that autism is a psychosocial disorder primarily determined by genetics. It simply does not fit the clinical experience of those who do not accept the conventional view. Informed parents and clinicians who have attacked autism as a medical illness tell a very different story. Parents who have worked tirelessly to optimize their children's nutrition and systematically eliminate potentially harmful substances tell about the important progress their children have made. In clinics that treat these children with methods such as neurofeedback and detoxification, the progress is often remarkable. It is clear that the. severe psychological problems are the result of treatable physiological disruptions. In some cases, there is complete cure.
The DSM-IV criteria are useful in organizing our thinking about diagnosing autism, but they do not cover the physiological disturbances commonly seen that reveal autism to be a medical disorder. These may be deficits in speech and sensory, motor, cognitive, and autonomic nervous system functioning. As a physician, I cannot explain how a psychosocial disorder could produce, for instance, deficits such as abnormal reflexes, poor visual skills, and poor coordination.
We believe it is clear that autism is the result of injury due to toxicity. The brain, when subjected to repeated insults, can experience destabilization of its fine-tuning and sophisticated regulatory mechanisms. Young brains are even more vulnerable since their regulatory mechanisms are in a state of development. Genetics certainly plays a role in determining vulnerability to toxic insults, but playing a role is very different from cause and effect.
The idea that toxicity is the major factor in autism matches the clinical experience well. Toxic conditions damage brains, but toxins can be removed and behaviors changed. Virtually any rational efforts at supporting the brain, gastrointestinal tract, and liver with nutrition and/or detoxifying treatments almost always result in unambiguous clinical improvements in a significant number of children. With the addition of neurofeedback, even greater improvements are realized. We see these same improvements in most of the children who have a stronger genetic vulnerability. The degree of improvement varies. Some have a noticeable decrease in the severity of symptoms or behaviors. Others show new and more appropriate behavior and begin to use words again, sleep at night, and/or show affection. Some are cured.
It was easy to decide how to proceed with Sierra; we did what she would allow. She wouldn't let us touch her head. so neurofeedback was initially out of the question. Shawna reported that Sierra had experienced several ear infections treated with antibiotics. The infections started at seven months of age. so Dr. Castro prescribed antifungal medication. Shawna was able to disguise the antifungal powder in peanut butter. and administered suppositories to her When Sierra would allow it. she rubbed essential fatly acids. thiamine tetrahydrofurfuryl disulfide (TTFD), and glutathione into her skin. and she added Epsom salts to her bath. Changes were slow at first, and occurred primarily in eating. She started accepting different foods. and Shawna began to work the nutritional supplements we had discussed into Sierra's diet. Her screaming fits decreased over the first month, then disappeared in the fifth week of treatment. Then she abruptly began saying words. sleeping five to seven hours at a time, and playing with toys, though she still went stiff if Shawna tried to cuddle her.
Certain toxins are implicated in autism, including microbial toxins, metals, synthetic chemicals, and electromagnetic fields. These have been around for some time, so why has the number of children with autism erupted in the past decade? There is credible evidence that we live in an increasingly toxic world— atmosphere, oceans, rivers, soils, and food supply. We are straining the limits of tolerability. Recent serious efforts to clean up our planet are just getting under way but are lagging at this point.
As many have said, children with autism are the canaries in the coal mine, the unmistakable signal that for those who are most vulnerable, the environment is becoming unsafe. Other conditions on the rise are sounding the same alarm. How else can we explain the rise of so many degenerative and immune-compromised diseases in numbers that were not seen a few decades ago? There is the frightening rise in Alzheimer's, the legions with chronic fatigue, sick building syndrome, and previously unheard of chronic pain syndromes like fibromyalgia. In addition, there is an alarming rise in the number of cases of ultra intolerances such as multiple chemical sensitivities, marked allergic hypersensitivities, and easily triggered severe asthma. All fit the toxicity model.
In many ways, autism is the condition that most epitomizes a dysregulation disorder. Varying toxic loads affect different regulatory mechanisms in the brain differently. Children with autism may share any of a number of symptoms. but there is no disorder in the DSM-IV that has such an array of differences. Even in identical twins with autism, it is not unusual for them to have different behaviors and neurological deficits. Both have toxic burdens. but the toxic substances may differ and their tissue uptake in the brain may differ.
Children in the autistic spectrum are more likely to have certain other dysregulation disorders, such as seizures. Seizure is the first disorder that the developer of neurofeedback. Dr. Barry Sterman, treated. He started treating the brain's regulatory centers with neurofeedback more than forty years ago, and his work has been replicated over and over with the same high level of success.
Risk factors for a child developing autism include problems surrounding labor and delivery, such as a breech position or a preterm delivery. These problems also increase the risk of other dysregulation disorders, including ADHD and learning disability.
The disruptions present in the brains of autistic children are in the regulatory centers. Neuropsychologist Rob Coben has studied the brainwave activity of autistic children extensively. Dr. Coben's research findings reveal that the brains of children with autism have areas that have too much electrical connectivity and other areas that are too loosely connected. Too much leads to decreased resilience and reduced ability to reorganize itself, and too little decreases the communication necessary to organize by reducing the numbers and intricacies of the interfaces.
What is important about Dr. Coben's work is that it does not only identify how the brains of autistic children differ from other children's, it also helps us form strategies for how to improve their brains.
After treatment, some of our patients have told us that the experience of their condition was one of bewildering. unbearable overstimulation. In many children, this is no doubt what produces the avoidance of touch. unresponsiveness, "irrational" fears or inability to exhibit fear, or the need for sameness and marked difficulty with any changes. In such a state of overwhelming and intolerable stimulation, the behaviors these children exhibit make perfect sense.
Some children are able to focus intensively on a single thing to help reduce stimulation. This likely is a reason some children will spin or rock for long periods of time. Parents and clinicians call this type of repetitive behavior stimming, for self-stimulation, but the repetitive behaviors may be more for overall stimulation reduction.
This ability to focus to the exclusion of all else may be productive and can result in remarkable degrees of knowledge or skills in the area or subject of focus. It appears that when parts of the brain are not functioning, other areas are more likely to develop beyond usual limits. Children with such skills may be highly artistic or musically or mathematically gifted, or have prodigious memories in a specific subject, such as trains, seashells, or, like Sean, Mars. They tend to do or think about little else aside from their subject of interest. When these children are treated, the artistic, musical, and mathematically skilled continue to develop their talents while becoming increasingly well rounded in their lives. In the children with a singular interest, the encyclopedic knowledge tends to fade as they develop other interests and make friends.
Excerpted from HEALING YOUNG BRAINS by ROBERT W. HILL, EDUARDO CASTRO. Copyright © 2009 Robert W. Hill, PhD, and Eduardo Castro, MD. Excerpted by permission of Hampton Roads Publishing Company, Inc..
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