Archive for the ‘PANDAS etc.’ Category

Is Big Pharma Knocking Off Functional Medicine Doctors?

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

I awoke one morning recently, to this shocking Facebook post: 77th Holistic Doctor Shot Dead In Her AZ Home With Her Entire Family.

Considering the violent circumstances surrounding this daunting list of clinicians’ deaths, including Drs. Jeffrey Bradstreet, John HicksRose Polge, etc., I wondered, “Are they coming after me, as well?”

Why I’m really not worried
A small, boutique practice, such as The Child Development Center, should hardly appear on any corporate radar screen. We have taken care of thousands of patients, while pharmaceutical companies can reach multiple millions utilizing propaganda and government access.

Planetary drug stores continue to fund and create new potentially harmful products. This grouping of functional physicians may just represent collateral damage.

Large drug companies possess the power to spread cancer in our collective being, death is but one eventuality. Considering Pharma’s great scientific strides, and enormous profits, someone ought to slip a ‘Fund for Diabetes Prevention Program’ message into the corporate suggestion box (paid for with some of the dough that insulin generates), rather than knock off a few holistic practitioners.

Any conspiracy talk is best minimized because the conversation usually devolves into a controversy regarding the childhood vaccination schedule. The Wakefield effect. More heat, less light.

The story, presented in a somewhat sensational manner, has appeared in more alt-thinking venues, such as ascensionwithearth.com, thescienceofeating.com, and healthnutnews.com. So, the message may simply be ‘preaching to the choir’, or considered ‘kooky’ and overly dramatic.

The local news station reported, “Police: AZ father kills wife, toddler, baby, himself in weekend murder-suicide…
Investigators believe the cause was financial issues. A co-worker… called police Friday after finding all four shot to death in a room.

Conclusion
I sincerely hope that these deaths are not part of some conspiracy. If it’s true, multinational drug companies are only shooting themselves in the foot, getting negative publicity that isn’t worth the effort. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are already entrapping us in a variety of ways.

So, I’m not getting a gun, or hiring a bodyguard. We’ve all got more substantial stuff to worry about, like getting kids with speech apraxia to talk.

Fundraising for Autism Research

Monday, October 23rd, 2017

(Too) many years ago, our Regional Intensive Care Unit had the honor of hosting Audrey Hepburn. At that time, we were knee-deep in cocaine exposed babies, and the entourage stopped at the incubator of a 1 pound infant who was barely visible among the wires and tubes.

I asked the famous actress, 1992 recipient of The Presidential Medal of Freedom, and tireless worker for UNICEF, if she minded that the costs of this single child’s care were expected to exceed $1 million. “Wouldn’t you be able to feed an entire village somewhere?” Her surprising answer was, “There’s enough money for both, if we care to spend it that way.”

Fast forward to a recent NYC fundraiser for Columbia Presbyterian’s Transplant Initiative. I complained to my beautiful and patient wife, Jackie, that autism doesn’t receive the same kind of attention as other medical condtions. Frankly, I was jealous. There is enough money for both, if we choose to spend it that way.

There are presently ~117,000 people requiring an organ transplant of some type. There are over 5 million people with autism. In the past several years, I have attended, and been struck by, similar begrudging feelings at benefits for the Michael J Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Disease. Sure, it’s important to give people a ‘second chance’ at life. But, have the children who are most affected with ASD, and their families, had any real first opportunity at normalcy?

Look, I’m not trying to compare apples to oranges, but it seems that ASD should be appropriately considered as THE childhood epidemic of OUR time. A great deal more is needed by way of funding for useful investigations. I am honored to serve as a Board Member in our local Autism Society of America – Broward County, but research and medical issues are for other institutions.

Increased collaboration among national organizations, including Autism Speaks, Generation Rescue, Talk About Curing Autism Now, Autism Research Institute, The National Autism Association, and local CARD groups, can only strengthen awareness and support.

Autism is stuck in a century-old paradigm of psychological causation. Lately, parents are offered a genetic etiology that leaves them with little hope. Disparate theories and alternate interventions require evidence-based research. That includes adequate vaccine studies – among other ubiquitous toxins – to identify those infants at possible increased risk for untoward consequences.

Acknowledgement of the successes that doctors, such as myself, are experiencing every day, needs to be appropriately studied and documented. It seems that more funding might be directed toward our work, were it not for all of the controversies surrounding an autism label. Unity among the various interested parties to support ‘N of One‘ treatments may help us attain that goal. That way, more toddlers would have access to earlier medical interventions, as well as conventional therapy.

Columbia’s Transplant organization’s motto is “We don’t just practice medicine. We change it.” Practitioners who are at the forefront of effective autism diagnosis and treatment feel that way, as well.

When Mom and Dad Disagree About Autism Intervention

Sunday, October 15th, 2017

Undoubtedly, the most stressful challenge that any family might face is illness in their child. Even in cases where treatment is established, e.g. acute leukemia, there are bound to be differences of opinion about which doctor, or hospital will do the best job.

When it comes to ASD however, even the diagnosis can remain in doubt. One parent, or a sibling, may have experienced “the same” symptoms, such as late speech or inattentiveness. So, the ‘watchful waiting’ advice from the pediatrician appears most prudent. A neurologist who observed your toddler for 70 seconds may have declared a normal – or dire – outcome. Who to believe? Then, there is the conventional medical community that continues to debate the condition and the ability of earlier recognition to alter the course.

Differences about the diagnosis
 Take an online questionnaire, such as the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist or Modified Autism Checklist for Toddlers. Although ‘experts’ may deem such surveying as ineffective, it is certainly a start. And, parents shouldn’t bother quibbling over whether Junior should get a “1” or “2” for any single answer. Observing suspicious tendencies may help convince a spouse, or doctor, that there could be real reason for concern.

 Listen to the advice of grandma or grandpa. They have raised other children, even if it was a different century. Try not to listen to advisors who have no responsibility for their opinions.

 If a therapist is already involved, ask what signs and symptoms they view as worrisome. It’s not their labels that you seek, but another professional opinion regarding suspect behavior.

 Don’t be afraid to ask the child’s teacher, or the school personnel, what they think might be different about your child. Academic staff are frequently the first to postulate a problem.

 Take videos of unusual behaviors. One parent may simply not have gotten to spend enough time to have observed a ‘stim’, or recognize activity as repetitive.

 Have the child evaluated by a trained professional. Then, insist on a precise diagnosis. Children with sensory processing, executive functioning disorder, and speech apraxia have autism.

Discrepancies about the next steps
So much inertia must be overcome to establish that first step, simply embracing traditional treatments can offer parents glimpses of improved development. OT (occupational therapy), PT (physical therapy), S&L (speech and language therapy), and ABA (behavioral therapies), must be given the time to reveal results.

At the very least, however, ask your pediatrician to make sure to perform some basic laboratory testing. Even if there is disagreement, how could it hurt to obtain a complete blood count, evaluation of nutritional status (calcium, magnesium, vitamin D, iron), and thyroid screening?

Opposition about biomedical interventions
Although the pull of the Internet is great, children are best served by contacting a physician who is involved in The Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs. Unfortunately, there are too few to adequately staff the burgeoning number of affected children, but, we practice state-of-the-art, evidence-based medical intervention.

By continuing our education within such a medical fellowship, and achieving a thorough knowledge of the science that appears in peer-reviewed journals, doctors have developed protocols that have been proven safe and effective. Although the costs are rarely adequately covered by medical insurance, the investment will last a lifetime. Literally.

Conclusion
Denial and delay are not in your child’s best interests. Doctors who are satisfied with the status quo will achieve that end. Modern thinking is that earlier intervention results in improved outcomes.

At The Child Development Center, our experienced and knowledgeable Practice Manager, Karen, has observed that families who seem to have the most success, “May not be on the same page, but are at least in the same book!”

The Real Cause of Autism

Sunday, October 8th, 2017

Recently, these 3 headlines appeared on my iRadar Screens:

Genetics a Cause of Autism in Most Cases: Study
 Korean-American Professor Couple Identify Major Cause of Autism
 Could multivitamin use in pregnancy protect children from autism?

Yet, the research was entitled:

The Heritability of Autism Spectrum Disorder
Mum’s bacteria linked to baby’s behavior
Antenatal nutritional supplementation and autism spectrum disorders in the Stockholm youth cohort: population based cohort study

And, the papers covered the following data:

The examiners mathematically re-analyzed decades-old Swedish registry information that strengthened the association with genetic factors. About the findings the lead author has admitted, “our results do not give any information about specific genes or other direct causes. It only informs us that genes are important…. our study cannot shed any light” on the reason for higher rates.

This was published in Nature, entitled, Maternal gut bacteria promote neurodevelopmental abnormalities in mouse offspring. “The couple found that certain bacteria in the mother’s digestive tract can lead to having an autistic child. Furthermore, they found the exact brain location linked to autistic behaviors, which can be used to find a cure for autism.” Mice are not men.

Using a similar Swedish cohort as the first study, authors reviewed supplementation with multivitamins, iron and folate. They concluded that, “Maternal multivitamin supplementation during pregnancy may be inversely associated with ASD with intellectual disability in offspring.”

Discussion
All of the information first appeared in reputable journals. The stories took a turn through leading health and science magazines, and finally popular media announced theories as if they were dogma. Often, autism research is subject to the ‘telephone game’, resulting in overstated and oversimplified claims masquerading as explanations for complicated medical concepts.

Nevertheless, these investigations represent clues, directions to be pursued, possible new treatments and even prevention. It’s so confusing because they document only baby steps in this scientific puzzle.

Conclusion 
Rather than view these studies as disparate, an alternative perspective could be something like:
If autism is the result of a susceptible individual (genetic study) affected by an environmental stress (mouse study), then utilizing a metabolic intervention (third study) might make sense.

Early Experience with Helminth Therapy in Autism Treatment

Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

Gastrointestinal issues are one of the most common co-morbidities in patients who experience signs and symptoms of ASD. Treatments have included prebiotics, probiotics, antioxidants, cathartics, detoxifying agents, antibiotics, antifungals, human fecal materials, and others. Singly, and in combination, they have resulted in sometimes limited success and frequent relapses.

Furthermore, patients with ASD suffer a variety of allergic and autoimmune conditions, including rheumatoid arthritis, food sensitivities, asthma, and eczema.

Filling that therapeutic void is the coming world of helminths. It is a unique form of gastrointestinal/allergy treatment, now being popularized by a highly respected pediatrician, Dr. Sidney Baker. At The Child Development Center and other Developmental Clinics, treatment with HDC is becoming an additional strategy for patients with autism.

What is helminth therapy?
According to the NCBI, it is “The treatment of immune system diseases by deliberate infestation with helminths. This therapy is partly based on the HYGIENE HYPOTHESIS which states that the absence of parasites increases immune dysregulation because of the lack of stimulation of REGULATORY T-CELLS.”

As researched and reported early in this century in Science, “The induction of a robust anti-inflammatory regulatory network by persistent immune challenge offers a unifying explanation for the observed inverse association of many infections with allergic disorders.”

As unappealing as it may seem, the rat tapeworm, Hymenolepis diminuta cysticerci (HDC), is considered a mutualist, providing benefit to the host without causing longterm harm. Out-of-the-box thinking by a few functional medicine doctors has taken the following course:

Chronic illness is an expression of autoimmunity
Gut problems and allergy in autism are a form of chronic illness and autoimmunity
HDC interferes with autoimmunity
Provide HDC for chronic illness, including autism

The Protocol
In our practice, an email is sent with the parent order form, directions explaining how to administer and store the HDC upon arrival, as well as some background information. I send a request and a summary of the medical history. After reading all of the information provided, the parents contact Dr. Baker, and the product is sent to the home.

How to take the product?
Patients take them by swallowing the supplied liquid (the organisms are barely visible), or adding it to another drink. The Primobiotics dose is 1-60 HDCs, given every 1-4 weeks. The usual plan is to start with a dose of five HDCs – fewer in young children. It may take up to 6 weeks to see positive indicators and six months to fully determine that it hasn’t helped. When found helpful, the length of treatment has yet to be determined.

What are the costs?
The costs (directly from the company) are $100 for 1–10, and an additional $25 for each additional 10. The maximum charge is $175 for 40 HDC. Above that there is no additional increase in charge. Shipping is usually $35-65 but for Western US and Canada, it may be $80-100.

What are the downsides?
Constipation should be taken care of before initiating the use of HDCs. There may be some digestive upset with mild abdominal discomfort and some changes in bowel movements. Hyperactivity or insomnia lasting for a day or two are experienced by less than half of recipients.

If, after the first dose there are no positive or negative effects, the dose is increased as the optimal dose is established. Some individuals may show indications that a dose is ‘too much’ – with a more robust digestive discomfort or hyperactivity/insomnia than is usually felt as part of the initial response, in which case the dose is reduced to the minimal number.

What if a worm doesn’t pass?
According to Dr. Baker, a worm ‘sticking’ is a rare and benign event that can be treated with a dose or two of appropriate medicine.

Discussion
Note that HDC is not an autism ‘cure’. Rather, it can be useful as a treatment for the myriad of co-morbid conditions that can cause signs and symptoms related to ASD. Perhaps that is why Dr. Baker reports a ~50% success rate, after recommending this therapy to nearly all of his chronically ill patients. “What’s the alternative?” he would ask.

Though he eschews fearlessness about his willingness to offer advice, Dr. Baker has assumed a significant amount of responsibility in this endeavor; from cultivating the critters, to teaching others how to breed them, to sending out his own ‘farm-fresh little dudes’. He has personally answered emails, and he even called one of our parents who had concerns.

Interested practitioners are working together to educate and gather experience, in order to optimize this intervention. Specific probiotics are indicated, as well as evaluating progress, and even examining  unusual stools that document the gut ‘reset’. For many, the question will be, “What to discontinue first?”

Conclusion
Doctors who have assumed the challenge of treating patients with autism must remain open to all treatments, and recognize that it is the PATIENT who we are treating, not a specific disease. Some interventions, like GcMAF, were helpful, but are no longer available. Others, like antifungals and antioxidants, have taken time, and we’ve gotten pretty good.

Our patients have been satisfied with the service. Within a couple of months, two of five children have already shown positive responses, with improved behavior and communication. Treatment appears to be a safe, effective and reasonably priced way to assist patients with significant GI and / or allergic challenges.

Published recently in the New York Times:
Too Clean for Our Children’s Good?

For those who wish to read more and utilize another HDC source, here is BiomeRestoration.com

Recognizing The Signs of Autism Recovery

Sunday, August 20th, 2017

As the autism epidemic has grown, so too, has the knowledge of professionals who shepherd treatment, and our recognition of success. It is helpful to offer predictive signs that reflect steady improvement. Due to the variations in autism presentation, there is no authoritative information about how long recovery takes.

However, it can be quite useful and encouraging for a parent to know that it is great news when a child who, after 9 months of treatment, is finally repeating words. It is just as important to understand that the lack of questions, or comprehension, is not pertinent at such a stage.

Patience is key – all affected families have already learned that virtue. But proper acknowledgement that the chid IS getting better should reassure families, hopefully adding a touch more perseverance to their storehouse of solutions.

The journey begins as the ‘fog’ lifts. Wandering should become exploration. New diagnoses do not suddenly ensue, they rise to the top of parental concerns.

It’s not apraxia AND autism. The lack of verbal communication ought to define that phase of autism. Speech arises as sounds, often verbal tics or ‘stims’, teeth-grinding, or screeching, progresses to occasional single words, more consistency, then more dependable expression.

At first, merely hearing the speech therapist say that your child is trying is a very positive sign. There is a pattern. Speak to yourself. Speak to toys. Speak to family. Sometimes, it make sense. Juice. Want juice. I want juice. Observe other children. Speak to safe children – older, younger, more docile. Sometimes, inappropriate.

The same arrangement can emerge with shorter, then longer, sentences. During this phase, parents may fear that the child doesn’t doesn’t comprehend, or is lazy. “He can do it if he wants to!” I think of it as paving newer, progressively wider, neural roadways. The quantum leaps in the appearance of knowledge, such as letters or numbers, are a result of the newfound ability to perform expressive language.

Repetition of words or phrases (echolalia, scripting) seems to be part of the fabric of the acquisition of this ‘skill’. If a child is supposed to say 1000 terms, e.g., and only has 300, they may say the same thing 3 times just to make up the difference, or repeat the last words that were spoken. (Neurotypical adults often do this, as well.)

Socialization will rarely ensue if these milestones, in some form, haven’t appeared.

Children who have repetitive behaviors and restricted interests do not develop obsessive-compulsive disorder. Yes, a youngster may appear to have OCD, but it’s the same problem they exhibited at 2 years of age. And, no pediatrician called it OCD back then. Furthermore, adult drugs for this ‘condition’ are dangerous and rarely perform as expected.

Sensory processing issues that involve hearing, vision, etc., do not develop into SPD. They may become highlighted at various points in the child’s recovery process as the cause of distraction or aggression. Stimming is frequently a symptom. Occupational therapy and other appropriate neural interventions can be quite helpful.

Likewise, lack of attention and focus, overactivity, and distractibility aren’t really a newly acquired ADHD diagnosis. This represents the remnants of an earlier autism. Signs and symptoms are only as subject to pharmacologic remedy as the resulting, appropriate anxiety.

Proper recognition of the challenging behaviors is key.
Does anyone know of a drug that would enable a 5 year-old to perform in a 2nd grade classroom?

Immaturity, tantrums, and difficult transitioning do not warrant a separate condition. Oppositional Defiance Disorder is a description. Behavioral interventions have proven value.

Conclusion
Some might be confused by my use of the word ‘recovery’. It depends on the definition. Subject to the age at the initiation of therapies (and a million other factors), The Child Development Center generally aims for a 3-to-6 year window, in order for a ‘typical’ patient to enter the general educational environment. There may be plenty of leftover challenging behaviors, as occurs in many of the other students in this century.

My point-of-view is that, 10 years after a crippling auto accident, the appearance of normalcy doesn’t erase the prior event. Five years following, however, the patient may experience muscle weakness and/or ‘pins and needles’. Such is the state-of-being for many of the children experiencing recovery in Autism Spectrum Disorder.

Back to Back to School Issues for Autism and ADHD

Friday, August 11th, 2017

Forget pencils and notebooks. Here is my take on the most important items that children who exhibit signs and symptoms of ASD and ADHD really need to make it through the coming season:

10. A weighted vest, and other such functional products. Neural systems are on overload, so any/all sensory reducing strategies need to be dusted off and utilized. My son, a former Special Ed teacher, reports that one of his favorites was Chewelry.

9. A special request for an IEP meeting to review everything agreed upon in the last IEP, and how the child has progressed. This can be especially important for the children who are losing the diagnosis. Being placed with role models is preferable to being the ‘one’.

8. A written, visible schedule. The previous school year’s busy agenda needs a re-boot. With non-preferred activities about to consume more time, acceptance and self-control become paramount, so clear expectations are a good start.

7. Sleep. Likewise, the body’s internal rhythms have gone on a summer vacation. Warm epsom salt baths are great to pave the way at bedtime. Chamomile is fine, and more difficult problems may be ameliorated with the administration of melatonin. Essential oils on the soles of the feet can be quite effective without the use of medication.

6. Supplements and medications. Children with ADHD are often given drug ‘vacations’ during the break. Appropriate dosing and timing may have changed as the summer progressed, so try getting things started a week or so early.

5. Healthy food. Unfortunately, schools do not often assist in this endeavor. If junior has been slipping off the diet, or eating too much junk, get back to basics.

4. An app to disable the iPhone. Really. The time spent on iPads, computers and video games needs to become severely limited.

3. Playtime. It is very difficult to transition from a season of freedom to one of academic drudgery and endless therapy sessions. Going to the park, ballgames, and other outdoor athletic activities is a basic part of being any kid. Even though physical activity is not as preferable as that smartphone, try to make it happen.

2. Soap. Stress cleanliness and get the child into the habit of washing their hands. To the extent that the school will cooperate, tissue dispensers, hand sanitizers and bathroom etiquette could provide some barrier to the onslaught of cooties.

1. A big dose of time and patience. As students fit into the new school year, so do teachers, administrators and other professionals need time to understand each child’s strengths and weaknesses.

VACCINATIONS?
For parents who are confused about administering childhood vaccinations, consider drawing blood ‘titers’. For those who have already had some inoculations, this is a measurement of how immune the child ALREADY IS to measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, etc. Your doctor can order levels of IgG directed against those diseases. High levels will not be accepted by the Public Health Department, so families will still need a ‘personal’ exemption. However, the already-immune child can be proven safe – as well as protecting their classmates.

Everyone remembers that first day back at school; anxiety, fear, excitation, and dread. The assault on the senses, social stresses and academic expectations are an even more tremendous hurdle for students with challenges in those very areas.

Most of all, parents’ love and understanding gets us all through those first inglorious days and weeks.

Return of the Yeast Issue

Sunday, August 6th, 2017

It has become a ‘given’ lately, in the ASD-alternative-medicine world, that successful treatment protocols often involve antifungal medications. So, when the Child Development Center offers our advice, too often we assume that parents have a thorough knowledge of this common complication in patients with autism.

What is the evidence for this form of medical intervention for ASD?
TheAutismDoctor.com has presented a variety of stories about how overgrowth of yeast can interfere with typical development:

In a two part series, A Yeast Story, 6 years ago, The Autism Yeast Connection highlighted the mechanism by which the critters take over the intestinal flora. The symptoms appear to start with increased ‘fog’ (not attending), then progress to include increase in ‘stimming’, sensory processing disorders, silly behaviors, regression in speech, disturbed sleep, increased ‘OCDs’, and reduced gastrointestinal health.

In the second part of that piece, I offered my view that, the major cause of fungal overgrowth appears to be more of a poorly digested food problem than simple sugars (not to be confused with the observation that too much sugar heightens hyperactive behaviors). However, the overuse and ubiquitous use of antibiotics must be an overwhelming contributor to this phenomenon.

Get Your Child Off the Couch and Out of the House pointed out how constipation leads to slowing down the entire body ecosystem, making outdoor play a chore. Less activity can further deteriorate the situation. Warm, wet, dark, stationary places (a non-motile gut) make an excellent home for yeast, which robs nutrition, alters the immune system, and creates toxic byproducts. In addition to probiotics, healthier foods, and anti fungal preparations, adequate muscle activity will push the food along.

Poor motility in the smooth muscles in the gut that could lead to reflux, or constipation, and possible yeast overgrowth, was discussed in A Brief Discussion of Mitochondrial Function and Autism.

I have written about complicated treatments, such as Stem Cell infusions, Fecal Transplants or Hyperbaric Oxygen chambers, where patients can still benefit from the recognition and treatment of recurring signs and symptoms of yeast – the extreme therapy notwithstanding.

Even standard protocols, such as B12 ‘shots’ can go awry when fungus has overtaken the gastrointestinal tract, as discussed in When Methyl B12 Doesn’t Work for Autism.

Earlier this year, in The Challenge of Challenging Behaviors, I warned that disruptive, aggressive, or self-injurious behaviors first needed to be evaluated from a GI point of view, lest the patient end up on multiple anti-psychotic medications that merely mask the underlying problem.

‘Die-Off’ in Autism Treatment detailed the journey that ensues when pharmaceutical medications are administered to deter the fungus. Complications can be addressed with the judicious use of activated charcoal. Furthermore, the use of nystatin and saccharomyces boulardii may be considered, or needed, if liver function is not optimal. Plus, natural antifungals, probiotics, and probiotics can be of value for prevention.

The Chronicity of Autism, presented documentation of one family’s journey to a successful outcome, by paying very close attention to GI health, and treating yeast when the symptoms suggested.

My 2014 holiday salute to the condition concluded with, “Yeast in the G-I system is one of the few causes of the signs and symptoms of autism that CAN be successfully treated with safe and effective supplements, diet and medication. This is a great time to provide natural anti-fungals, such as apple cider vinegar, garlic oil, olive leaf, etc., to the extent that products are palatable and well tolerated.”

Our experience with antifungal treatment was documented in Anti-fungal Treatment for Autism? The conclusion was that medications can have serious side effects and drug interactions. Present practitioners should follow a written, rigorous protocol and document progress. Appropriate followup laboratory testing should be performed. Other sources of inflammation should be explored and addressed, as well. Under a physician’s care, with the parents’ full understanding and consent, within 2 or 3 short courses, a simple, oral, antifungal medication was well-tolerated, and effective in reducing many symptoms that are generally assumed to be ‘autistic’.

Conclusion
This list is provided to document our experience with thousands of patients. There is solid scientific and clinical evidence for those who are new to the diagnosis, or parents who wish to explore the possibilities that yeast may be affecting your child’s development,

The hyperlinks (and hyperlinks to hyperlinks) should help convince even the most skeptical of professionals that this is a safe, effective treatment for signs and symptoms associated with ASD.

Rerun: Autism Apraxia and the Oboe

Sunday, July 16th, 2017

Shortly after starting speech therapy, it is not uncommon for our parents to be informed by the professional that their child has speech apraxia. Here’s the thing, the child does not have autism AND an inability to produce words. In the vast majority of cases, it’s part of that child’s presentation of autism, not a separate diagnosis.

This story is my analogy for how this mysterious condition can be best understood:

I can’t play the oboe. I probably never will. But, if I wanted to, it would probably take, like, 6 months just to be able to produce a single note. Then, maybe after 1 year – if I practiced every day – I might be able to play Three Blind Mice. Poorly.

My brain did not come preprogrammed with instructions about the correct embouchure to play a double-reed instrument (or any wind instrument, for that matter). So, I would have to practice that movement of my lips. My lungs were never used to delivering short blasts to fine-tune output. I would have to practice that, also. Then, I would have to figure out some way to combine a number of physical feats at the same time in order to deliver that first squeak.

It wouldn’t matter how many times my teacher told me to play a song. It wouldn’t matter if she raised her voice and implored me to do a better job. Perhaps a different teacher would get me more motivated? I might get frustrated with my lack of ability and stop trying for a while. I could start making horrible sounds just to make something come out, and then the teacher would say that I’m not trying or I’m doing it wrong. Instructors would become very disappointed if I started to bang on surfaces with the oboe – just to make any sound come out.

That is exactly how it must feel for children with ASD who cannot speak. When a neuro-typical infant starts to babble and imitate words, it is because they already have human speech hard-wired into their cerebral cortex. Toddlers don’t think about, or really even practice speaking. It just comes.

Think how much more work it takes for a young child to let the caretaker know that they want juice, if they cannot speak. Infants simply cry and the parent offers a variety of choices until they hit on the correct one. Later, certain cries indicate a desire for food, not a toy. Without speech, a toddler pulls the adult to the refrigerator or opens it himself in order to communicate his wishes.

The child is not simply being lazy. It would be much easier to do it the way the typically-developing sibling does… “JUICE” or “Juice, please” or “Mommy, I want juice!” The parent who says “I know he can speak ’cause he does it when he wants to,” is missing the point. That is what makes the child normal – we all do what we can when we want to, to the extent that our abilities allow. The ASD child speaks when he absolutely must, and then only when every circuit is working correctly.

Likewise, for language to increase, pathways need to be laid down so that the activity can take place as part of a much more complex social environment and therefore more often and (hopefully) appropriately. Then, the electricity has to flow so that the circuit is completed and results in the correct sequence of events. It takes practice, desire, and an ideal set of circumstances. Many times, parents report that their child said some complex combination of words and ask, “Where did he/she learn that?” Well, they are apraxic, not deaf.

By getting a patient in the best physical condition, the routes can be laid down. By supplying enough cellular energy, the circuits fire. By supplying S&L, OT and ABA, the child gets to practice. Parent’s love and encouragement supplies the desire to try. That takes a great deal of work by all parties involved.

I will never play the oboe, but, thankfully, the majority of ASD patients eventually speak (in practice, the number is even higher because of the younger age of diagnosis and appropriate interventions). Of course, that is just one part of their complex story. The goal is not to play solo, but to be part of a symphony.

Screen Addiction Disorder?

Sunday, July 9th, 2017

Health professionals have coined a number of new-century terms in order to describe signs and symptoms that were previously unspecified. These have included, Sensory processing, Visual processing, Auditory processing, Executive functioning, Social anxiety, Oppositional Defiance, and Attention deficit – Hyperactivity disorders.

How About Screen Addiction Disorder?
It’s SAD.

Everyone, it seems, is glued to their gadget. We seek instant gratification about the latest Facebook post, email updates while at dinner, or even read and write texts while driving. These, and many more self-absorbed behaviors are magnified in autism.

The Child Development Center has treated a stream of youngsters who come in, balancing as many as 3 screens at the same time, in order to maintain self-control. In patients with ASD, repetitive behaviors and restricted interests are part of the fabric of their developmental disabilities. Why provide them with a tool that preys on their most serious weaknesses?

The two most common answers are 1) “It makes them happy,” and 2) “They are incredible with technology.”
1)  Kids don’t know what’s good for them, and 2) The software is great with the user, not the other way ’round. Even the youngest toddler can navigate a You Tube video or play Angry Birds.

Discussion 
Two recent NY Times op-ed stories got this discourse started. They were, First, Relax and Let Your Kids Indulge in TV, and Why Some Men Don’t Work: Video Games Have Gotten Really Good. Surely there is irony in these two stories appearing the same day?

The former opinion was written by an Australian mental health doctor and mother, who waxed nostalgic about the ‘good old days’, sitting around the TV with the fam. She wrote, “I find myself passing on to my children the addiction, at a time when this topic has become a focus of parental guilt and judgment.”

Wrong century, wrong technology.
“Family Ties” ≠ “Mortal Combat!” And, Phil Donahue ≠ Twitter.

The latter story was based on a publication in The National Bureau of Economic Research entitled, Leisure Luxuries and the Labor Supply of Young Men. The authors concluded that, “… innovations to gaming/recreational computing since 2004 explain on the order of half the increase in leisure for younger men, and predict a decline in market hours of 1.5 to 3.0 percent…”

The Times article quoted, “Adam Alter, a professor of marketing and psychology at New York University who studies digital addiction, highlighted the fact that, unlike TV shows or concerts, today’s video games don’t end.”

“Most forms of entertainment have some form of a stopping cue — signals that remind you that a certain act or episode is ending, like a commercial or a timer. Many video games don’t have them… They’re built to be endless or have long-range goals that we don’t like to abandon.” If this phenomenon is true for able-bodied young men, then this ought to be a cautionary tale for those who are even more susceptible.

I warned about this addiction previously. Repetitive viewing of videos and games does not promote imagination or socialization, which are core skills especially lacking in autism. Modern children spend little enough time outdoors, so a burning desire to get back to the iPad leaves athletic skills and exercise sorely neglected. Sound sleep suffers, as well.

Conclusion
If your child is neurotypical, the condition is problematic. The usual approaches to achieve balance can be successful (as long as the family isn’t experiencing the same syndrome). The author of the ‘TV is good’ piece claims to have found that ability to get her kids on nature walks and back home to watch informative documentaries.

Parents of children with ASD know this digital dilemma well. Reasoning, bribery, even physical punishment is fruitless. It takes hours of ABA to extinguish this seemingly obsessive-compulsive behavior.

This advice is offered to alert new parents, who may simply wish to entertain, or offer an early academic background. If the concern is that your child may suffer a ‘digital gap’, there will plenty of new iStuff coming out all of the time. It’s best to wait until there is a level of discipline and restraint.

We see evidence of Screen Addiction Disorder in all kinds of individuals, but it’s worse in patients with autism. It’s SAD. Treatment is difficult, prevention is the best strategy.

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