Posts Tagged ‘Attention deficit’

10 Successful Strategies for Children with ADHD

Saturday, February 21st, 2015

Winter holidays are over. Things are back to normal at home (yeah, right, normal). School is ramping up and children with developmental concerns become even more challenged.

There is a constant stream of parents, these days, seeking relief because they are told that their child has Attention Deficit – Hyperactivity Disorder. They ask, “How do we get through the rest of this year,” and “What should we do about the next semester?”

Every child should have an appropriate workup leading to a clear, accurate diagnosis. ADHD can be a part of autism, thyroid disorder, gastro-intestinal problems, allergies, asthma, vitamin deficiency, etc. By properly diagnosing and managing a primary condition, many of the behavioral concerns may abate.

Make sure that inappropriate conduct is not due to something the child is receiving by way of medications for another condition, e.g., steroids or ‘cough and cold’ preparations.

Before becoming too aggressive with pharmaceuticals, consider the age of the child. A three- or four-year-old has time to mature and achieve self-control, while there are more academic demands on a eight-year-old.

Evaluate the difficult behaviors to better decide which intervention(s) will have the optimal chance for success with the least side effects. Occupational therapy is great if there are major sensory issues, neurofeedback might be helpful for focus, and behavioral intervention (ABA) might be more appropriate for disruption issues. Even if a parent still has to resort to medical intervention, lower doses and less frequent changes may be a result of this strategy.

Consider that inattention and poor focus could be due to mixed, missing and/or crossed signals in the CNS. With such a situation, non-preferred activities are much more difficult and therefore resisted even more than in typical peers. Until improved methods for overcoming learning disabilities are discovered, more patience and practice is required – and less criticism.

adhd bullett4dFor children who take stimulant medications, those who are able to tolerate drug ‘vacations’ will suffer less of the consequences of decreased appetite, sleep and linear growth. Sometimes, it is only for summer vacation, and other children are able to experience drug-free weekends.

Children who do not appear to be listening, are often simply listening without looking. That is not acceptable in a large, general education classroom. Nevertheless, medications that supposedly help focus and distractibility, might not do that, either. Anti-anxiety medications, starting with Intuniv, and sometimes even escalating to Prozac, are often suggested. If possible, the best improvement should come when the reason for gaze difficulty is understood.

Once parents make the decision to give medication a try, expect the most successful outcome when there is a clear understanding about positive and negative effects. It takes time to get the most desired results, and that knowledge can help the family withstand rocky periods. An ability to contact the responsible practitioner leads to increased compliance.

Be careful (and appreciative) when a treatment plan is working. Attempting to fine-tune a lingering shortcoming can lead to disastrous results. External stresses, from an ear infection to visiting relatives can disturb the calm. The child who maintains a healthy diet and necessary supplements is better prepared to weather the storm.

Inconsistency is the most consistent parental frustration. While it is in our nature to admonish the negative behaviors, remember to reward the good, as well.

To Vaccinate or Not to Vaccinate?

Saturday, February 7th, 2015

The measles outbreak that started in Disneyland has generated a fair amount of activity at The Child Development Center lately.

Many of our patients are either un- or under- vaccinated, according to the Vaccine Gods, so an increase in a preventable childhood disease in the U.S. is a very important healthcare issue.

In response to the media stories, and with the intention of addressing parents’ concerns, The Center emailed our patients.

The advice that was offered:
a. If the child has never had a vaccination, it is best to “bite the bullet” and go ahead with an MMR. We’re in the middle of an outbreak and it’s a very small world.

b. If the child has been previously vaccinated for MMR, you could get  “measles-mumps-rubella titers”. This is a blood test to determine if the child is still immune to the diseases, so it may be OK to hold off for now.

There were a variety of interesting responses.
Parent: “Thanks, Dr. Udell, for the heads up.”
Dr. U: You’re welcome. I’m just a messenger. Parents are the ones who have to make the final decision.

Parent: “What if the child has antibodies to eggs (allergy)?”
Dr. U: That is a big problem. I would look over the most recent laboratory tests and, depending on the child’s present state of health, and other findings, possibly still have to recommend. For what it’s worth, two of the products are actually grown on chick embryo, and almost all of our yolk-and/or-white-positive patients are negative to chicken. The German measles strain is grown on lung tissue derived from human fetus. We don’t test for that.

Parent: “Can’t you break up the shots?
Dr. U: No, the company that used to produce separates stopped years ago.

Parent: “My child was severely damaged by that shot. I’m surprised that you made this recommendation.”
Dr. U: It’s situational ethics, in a medical setting. I sympathize with your plight. Not only is there conflicting research; cases, such as yours, are completely ignored. Nevertheless, measles carries a 1/1000 chance of encephalitis (brain infection). 

Discussion:
After listening to so many complaints of proximate injury to an inoculation, it seemed that the best advice was to hold off vaccinating until the child improved, and/or the cause(s) of inflammation was discovered. There was little evidence of a rise in disease, so I felt less concern for the ‘herd’ than the family sitting in my office. The plan was to vaccinate a healthier child in 1-2 years, utilizing a judicious make-up protocol, if the parents agreed.

Each family will address this news differently, and act on their decision based upon what they consider as their child’s best interest. Questions and concerns persist. An epidemiologist just published a York Times editorial suggesting that there would be increased compliance if it were more difficult to obtain an exemption.

The line between the ‘good of the many’ and the ‘good of the one’ has shifted. Once the seal is broken, so to speak, and fewer than ~90% of the susceptible population is protected, there can be no accurate prediction of whether/where/when/how severe another outbreak will occur. The choice returns to the ‘good of the one’, so prevention is paramount.

The reality is that, if the AMA, AAP, FDA and CDC would express less dogma, become more sympathetic to those who claim injury, make fewer errors, and perform prospective studies to demonstrate efficacy and universal safety, parents wouldn’t be forced to make such a crucial decision on their own.

Ten Noteworthy Observations about People with Asperger’s

Monday, February 2nd, 2015

reitman1Recently, I had the honor and pleasure of being interviewed by Dr. Hackie Reitman, an orthopedic surgeon, ex-prize fighter, and now author and producer. My role was to provide additional clinical information about his newest endeavor to address the difficult challenges met by people with Asperger’s syndrome.

The eclectic doctor has written and produced a soon-to-be-released movie entitled The Square Root of 2. Plus, he is in the process of publishing his enlightening book, “Aspertools: The Practical Guide to Understanding and Embracing Asperger’s, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and Neurodiversity,” to assist patients, families, and the public in understanding what it is like to live with Asperger’s, and helpful strategies for success.

Notwithstanding the official demise of the oft-used moniker describing a like-group of individuals, this compilation covers some frequent questions and observations:

10. As with autism, which is due to a variety of causes with varying presentations, there isn’t one kind of Asperger’s syndrome.

9. The appearance of any lack of cognition or empathy often does not reflect the affected individual’s reality. They experience emotions, like the rest of us, but do not necessarily exhibit them in a typical manner. Sometimes their frustration can boil over into extreme anger.

8. People ‘on the Spectrum’, who are able to communicate and aren’t aggressive, are considered ‘high functioning’. When Dr. Asperger described the first cases, however, earlier cognition and language differentiated his patients from ‘regular’ ASD.

7. Everyone who doesn’t get a joke doesn’t have Asperger’s, and many Asperger’s patients have a sense of humor.

6. Eye contact can be fairly difficult in Asperger’s. Patients often complain, “Do you want me to talk-listen to you, or look at you?”

5. Sensory issues are a major problem, and difficult for the neuro-typical individual to appreciate. Fluorescent bulbs are a distraction, certain sounds can be like chalk-on-a-blackboard, perfume may be nauseating, taste can be very picky, and just the thought of touch may become frightening.

4. Individuals can learn from a trusted friend, family member, or teacher.  However, many educational environments produce a distracting cacophony of sensory issues. Knowing that a highly social situation will be very anxiety producing makes the sufferer easily distractible and leads to poor focus. It’s not necessarily ADHD.

3. A narrow range of interests and repetitive behaviors are not always obsessive-compulsive behaviors, they are part of the condition. That is why the usual psycho-schizo-antianxiety medications are often ineffective in Asperger’s patients.

2. This is not a diagnosis ‘du jour’. People who experience this condition know it, and are usually relieved when they find out the reason(s) for their differences.

1. As with other ‘Spectrum’ patients, there are often additional somatic issues involving the gut, allergies, and nutritional deficiencies. A thorough medical workup with appropriate medical intervention is frequently quite helpful in relieving some core signs and symptoms.

Dr. Reitman, who is the father of an Aspie, is helping to design a better understanding and treatment of this mysterious condition. It’s comforting to know that, like Dan Marino, Ernie Els, and Jim Kelly, the autism community has another true champion on our side.

Autism, Inoculations, and Fantasyland

Sunday, January 25th, 2015

Recent news about the increase in measles that has sprung up in California, has brought about the usual media finger-pointing, claiming that the cause is unvaccinated children whose parents unnecessarily worry about the risk of autism.

As documented in my previous posts on this topic, this physician believes in the value of those twentieth century miracles. Nonetheless, a lingering question remains, “Are all of the vaccinations safe and effective for all young children?”

The Three Main Reasons for the Measles ‘Outbreak’

Lack of Knowledge

We really don’t know the reason(s) for the newest episode. The increase may have little to do with lack of compliance by anti-vaccination zealots. Many of the infected individuals were Disney workers who had probably already been vaccinated, and were no longer immune. Plus, the venue is an international attraction, with visitors from all over.

The Wakefield Effect – Any time there is any story involving vaccines and ASD, the controversial and now-infamous British study that implicated measles virus as a possible cause, seems to mar all perception and reason. Media pundits are quick to avail themselves of that ill-fated research.

Conventional medicine is still debating whether increases are merely due to changes in diagnostic criteria. Every week a new association pops up; including maternal weight, paternal age, environment and toxins, stress, and circumcision. If compliance is the issue, certainly such confusion shakes one’s faith in the ‘science’.

Polarization

The experts would have a great deal more validity and success, if they could add more understanding and kindness to their approach. Those who question the status quo are considered kooky, ignorant and ill-informed. That creates more polarization, with fewer parents possibly choosing to vaccinate.

Pro-vaccination declarations are rarely equivocal, and conclusions no longer contain the statement, “The topic deserves further study.” Anti-vaccination supporters suffer a similar shortcoming, and conspiracy theories are a scientific distraction. There doesn’t seem to be any compromise position.

Issues, such as the recent CDC whistle-blower case, or reports of safety violations have not been adequately addressed.

There still aren’t any definitive, prospective, randomized, controlled, double-blind crossover studies with long-term outcomes evaluating various vaccine schedules to document safety. Holistic medicine is frequently chastised by the establishment for such an omission in alternative protocols.

Lack of Confidence & Trust

A great deal of money is handed to drug manufacturers to manage these vaccination programs. Concerns abound about whether large multi-national companies always have our best interests in mind.

The Flu vaccine fiascos that permeate each winter do not engender a great deal of confidence about how our medical establishment handles the inoculation issue.

The government continues to send out inaccurate and conflicting messages regarding our public health. Antibiotics in our food are proven unsafe, but the practice continues. There were 2 cases of ebola and Congress appointed a ‘czar’, but they couldn’t confirm a Surgeon General.

Public trust in the FDA and CDC has been eroded by frequent lapses in judgement and execution.

Conclusion:
The vast majority of the scientific literature is quite insistent that there is no relationship between the present vaccine schedule and ASD. To all of the experts, ‘true’ scientists, and colleagues – I get it!

That fact remains that there are too many parents who have noted developmental regression proximate to a childhood vaccination. They deserve better answers.

Autism, ADHD and Circumcision

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

New information has been forthcoming from a Danish database lately, specifically involving autism. This study represents data involving more than 1/3 million children, entered from 1994 to 2003 .

As might be expected, an eye-catching array of media headlines followed the paper entitled, “Ritual circumcision and risk of autism spectrum disorder in 0- to 9-year-old boys: national cohort study in Denmark”.

The Results:
In both the older and younger groups of circumcised boys, there was an increased relationship to ASD. Some adjustments (birthweight, APGAR score, etc.) were accounted for, while other known, possible associations were not (pain relief, living near pollution, diet, e.g.).

Additionally, circumcised boys in non-Muslim families were also more likely to have an ADHD diagnosis.

Other Research:
A 2013 study looked at the increasing incidence of ASD since acetaminophen (Tylenol) has been routinely used for pain relief during circumcision. The authors suggested “… the need for formal study of the role of paracetamol in autism.” In other words, they looked at the problem from the other direction; and when pain relief was provided, autism increased.

Discussion:
The Danish investigation contains a most glaring conclusion that makes the data-in-question eminently quotable, “We confirmed our hypothesis that boys who undergo ritual circumcision may run a greater risk of developing ASD.” I wrote to ask the principle author, Dr. Morten Frisch, about this.

The doctor took the time to respond to a number of questions about the information. He seemed to be somewhat sensitive that such controversy has surrounded these (admittedly) two highly emotional topics, and he is taking plenty of outside criticism. Furthermore, Dr. Frisch has assumed an “I’m-just-the-messenger” attitude about the conclusion.

For me, a major sticking point is a design anomaly which brings the entire report into question. Specifically, children who hadn’t been circumcised but were autistic were considered as not autistic until they got the operation, for the purposes of the data analysis.

For example, a seven-year-old who already had autism didn’t get classified that way, until he was circumcised at 7, (which is clinically impossible).
My question, “If a study shows that I am an architect, not a doctor, isn’t the study flawed?”
Dr. Frisch’s response, “No, in your example the methods would not be ’flawed’, but ‘imprecise’.” Either word – it’s inaccurate. The product only represents a mathematical reality.

Conclusion:
Male circumcision and autism are both very controversial issues. Supporters for various points-of-view will use self-selected segment(s) of the data to fit their particular pro or con argument.

The practice of male foreskin removal is decided according to family, friends, folklore, culture, customs, and cosmetics. The present medical evidence is far from conclusive.

Regarding the cause and prevention of autism, the more significant medical information is that vigorous scrutiny and intervention in a young infant’s nutritional and developmental status is the most successful means to fend off possible delays.

As for the present study? “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.” (Mark Twain)

Ten Ways Pediatric Neurologists Can Help Autistic Patients

Monday, December 8th, 2014

With all due respect to the intelligence of physicians who take specialized training in child neurology, it appears that there is often some disconnect between their knowledge about autism and the approach to the families and patients affected by this modern epidemic.

10•Making the diagnosis and giving some tickets for therapies is not enough. Questions such as, “How did my child get this? How many get better? What other things can we do? Are there any tests? Where can I go for more information?” are sure to follow the diagnostic impression. At least, provide useful answers for those interrogatories.

9•The child neurologist has the opportunity to assess the risk of anesthesia versus the poor yield of an MRI. Likewise, assisting in the consideration of a short-term EEG, when there is no indication of seizure activity. Those technologies are not a diagnostic workup.

8•There is more than one kind of autism. There should be careful exploration about specific difficulties with the skin, gastrointestinal system, or frequent infections.

7•Neurologists are in a position to provide valuable assistance regarding various alternative treatments’ risks and expense. An off-hand dismissal about therapies to address other co-morbid conditions does not enhance that specialist’s stature in the eyes of the parents.

6•It might be helpful to suggest simple, possibly helpful treatments, such as dietary restrictions. What is there to lose? For the physician who is truly concerned about key deficiencies, this would be a good opportunity to check the child’s nutritional status with some blood work.

5•Doctors who continue to repeat, “You are doing a great job,” at each visit, with little documentation of change, are less likely to experience further visits.

4•In addition to the usual Fragile X-boy-test and Rett’s-girl-test, the neurologist can order a ‘chromosomal microarray’. Copy number variation affects up to 15% of ASD patients. Insurance companies pay for this. Although the results may not be valuable today, that knowledge may be quite important as our understanding about autism evolves.

3•A screening laboratory evaluation for anemia, kidney, thyroid, and liver status may yield a great deal of information. Even if the busy doctor cannot act upon abnormalities, they can be conveyed to the pediatrician.

2•Expressions such as, “I’m willing to say developmental delay,” or “We have to wait to give you a diagnosis,” are for the previous century. In young toddlers, communication is in its most formative stage. “Let’s err on the side of caution, and make sure that you get S&L, OT, ABA, right away.”

1•There are studies to show that patients can recover. Knowledge about that research and successful outcomes provides real hope for bewildered parents.

‘Tis the Season to be Yeasty

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

seasongreat“Why does the yeast keep coming back? When will we be able to stop worrying about that?” Those are oft-repeated concerns from many parents of patients with ASD, who have noted remarkable improvements when their offspring no longer suffer from fungus.

At certain times of the year, more ASD patients seem to appear who display signs and symptoms of gut yeast. This list explains some underlying causes for this phenomenon. It can be sung to the tune of the Christmas Song or Dreidel Dreidel Dreidel.

Families travel. It is unlikely that they will come upon a road sign advertising “GF/CF/SF/SCD Fried Chicken”.

Likewise, running out of magic medications or significant supplements may lead to an increased chance of a yeast outbreak.

There are relatives who do not believe that food affects behaviors. Some try to sneak forbidden substances, just to prove that ‘The Diet’ is unnecessary. By the following day, there are often many new believers.

Traditional seasonal foods are usually not part of a restricted diet. In an effort to make the situation more ‘normal’, unfamiliar foods are provided that may lead to constipation or diarrhea.

Refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup are ubiquitous in processed foods. Yummy desserts can yield yucky, yeast-disturbed sleep.

Changes in weather often accompany a higher risk of viral and bacterial illness. Fevers and ‘colds’ frequently lead to antibiotic overuse that may result in yeast overgrowth.

“You’ve got to let them be kids,” said one parent who relented about the key lime pie. Another one lamented, “I paid for that ice cream cone – for a week!”

School personnel get relaxed about the diet in susceptible kids. Daily celebrations make the forbidden fruit even more appealing.

Junior has lots of new stuff (toys, packages, etc.) to put into his mouth. This provides an opportunity for a multitude of strange flora to explore your child.

Environmental alterations take place; such as a Christmas tree, ornaments pulled from the top shelves, and warm clothing exhumed from rarely-visited closets. This provides plenty of moldy allergens to over-tax the immune system.

Schools, homes, churches, etc. turn on the heating system for the first time; expelling blasts of spores. This may occur in climates as diverse as warm, wet Florida, or the chilly nights in dry Arizona.

With autism, the extra social and academic challenges at this time of year are overwhelming. This can lead to anxiety, poor(er) eating, aggression and sleep disturbance – giving the appearance of ‘yeasty behaviors’, even if that is not the cause. Family problems can produce a similar picture.

What to do about it:
Parents should not despair about this situation. 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 vinegar, garlic, olive leaf, etc., to the extent that products are palatable and well tolerated.

Under the supervision of an experienced physician, a course of a prescription anti-fungal may be just what the doctor ordered as a holiday ‘chaser’ for ASD patients affected with yeast.

Fish Oil for Autism and ADHD

Sunday, November 16th, 2014

It seems that the less that is scientifically certain about a nutritional supplement, the more Internet pages are devoted to convincing surfers about its value to your health.

On the other hand, certain food additives hang on because they appear to have merit. Fish oil, for example, has been a mainstay. In addition to health benefits for heart disease, depression and dementia, improvements have been documented in behavior, ADHD, communication and cognitive function – many of the core symptoms of ASD.

The Basics: (for our purposes)
The brain is rich in fats. They are membrane-stabilizing, anti-oxidizing, electricity-enhancing, chemical-carrying, and account for most of the weight of our CNS.

A healthy metabolism requires dietary polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). One designation (Omega 3-6-9) describes the organic composition. Another important classification describes the size of the molecule (α lipoid acid-> EPA-> DHA).

There is evidence of differences in the PUFAs of people with ASD. The inference is that function can be normalized with dietary intervention by re-establishing typical levels and ratios.

Dietary sources:
Various mixtures derived from the ocean (cod, salmon, krill) and/or plants (flax, corn, nuts) are available. Claims about better stability, quality, purity, ingredients, absorption and disease-specific value are variously offered.

Particularly as regards a condition as multifactorial and enigmatic as ASD, this situation has resulted in a myriad of possible correct, useless, or even harmful choices.

Side effects:
WebMD lists a variety of adverse reactions, the most pertinent to the ASD population being:
G-I symptoms including burping, discomfort and loose stools
•Bleeding, including nosebleeds
PUFAs affect the immune system
•Heavy metal contamination
•Allergy to the source
•Exaggerating mental disorders
•Lowers blood pressure (many patients take bp lowering meds for sleep and anxiety).

Scientific papers reporting various dosages and formulations have demonstrated cautious safety, even in research that does not support assertions of improvement.

Results:
There is more than one study that refutes any positive effects, particularly in ADHD and ASD. There are few reports of gains in speech and language. Even the evidence offered by a popular vitamin company lacks specific supporting documentation.

Many children with ASD are on restricted diets or they are finicky eaters who could use the extra nutrition, anyway. Furthermore, there is a growing body of anecdotal reports and stories of improvement from various omega products.

There is theoretical and documented evidence that supports the proposition that this relatively safe and inexpensive nutritional supplement improves CNS functioning.

Conclusions:
Since we have limited ability to produce them, PUFAs are a dietary requirement. They are Essential Fatty Acids in various combinations, with confusing nomenclature. That situation often leads to marketing opportunities.

Little is certain regarding how this group of supplements affects patients with ASD. Users mostly rely on producer advertising for information and assurances about the “best” product.

In order to assess whether “it’s working,” caretakers should pay particular attention to gains in the most documented behavioral components, such as ADHD and aggression. Being aware of safe dosing and negative effects is valuable, as well.

Perhaps not producing as noticeable an improvement as other biomedical interventions, a high-quality oil that the child can tolerate (taste, smell), at the label-recommended dose, is a reasonable nutritional supplement for ASD.

The War on Autism

Sunday, November 2nd, 2014

In the 1980’s, President Ronald Reagan declared a ‘War on Drugs‘. The Global War on Terrorism was pronounced after 09/11/01. Early in this century, Bush 2 joined the war on HIV/Aids. This week, Obama named an Ebola Czar.

For some time now, the U.S. has only had an acting Surgeon General (Rear Admiral Boris Lushniak), because the nominee, Dr. Vivek Murthy, had the temerity to say that, “Guns are a health care issue.”

Is it any wonder that ASD has taken a backseat to other matters in our healthcare system?

More than forty years ago, Surgeon General C. Everett Koop challenged the tobacco industry juggernaut that assaulted the population of 20th century earth. He raised numerous warnings (including the dangers of second-hand smoke), and even changed the paradigms for advertising and labeling the product. In spite of some unpopular conservative views, especially regarding abortion, Dr. K was still considered America’s Doctor.

What does ‘declaring war’ mean?
It implies urgency. Somehow, more resources appear; including funding, infrastructure, media, etc. Priorities change. For ASD, a medical condition, personnel and materials would become focused on research to elucidate etiology, test treatments and evaluate prevention.

The ‘enemy’ is put on notice that the entire weight of the U.S. government is behind an effort to solve the problem. It worked when we landed a man on the moon, figured out the HIV epidemic, and Bin Laden. Autism is trickier because, like terrorism, it’s difficult to identify the opposition.

A ‘Czar’ is usually named. The Big Kahuna avoids Senate confirmation. Hopes are raised. There would be a commander to unify the disparate autism organizations.

How would the appointment of an Autism Czar help?
There would be instant recognition, finally, that there is an epidemic. Apparently, “ASD now affecting 1/42 males,” does not sound dire enough.

A true understanding of the costs should enlighten the prudent potentate about the enormous savings produced by early diagnosis and effective intervention.

There would be a respected leader to delegate resources to the areas of most need. This individual also has ultimate responsibility for education, caring for older patients, and the most affected.

More medical specialists would get involved in the search for answers. Gastroenterologists, dermatologists, immunologists, child neurologists, and pediatricians would find increased incentives to join the autism battle.

Research leading to effective medications would speed up. The major complaint by drug manufacturers is that it costs >$ 1B to develop any new drug. Perhaps, as in other crusades, the ASD maven could cut through the red tape to get things moving.

Vaccination research would take a new direction. Increased resources should include the formulation of controlled, prospective, randomized, double-blind studies about the various components of the present childhood immunization schedule, dose and timing. This would go a long way to clearing up the many lingering concerns in this area.

Unification would provide a national infrastructure for tackling the situation. The evaluation of genetic, environmental, bacteriological, nutritional, and other important disciplines by the Boss and Joint Chiefs of Autism Medicine may be the best way to gain ground on the enemy.

The Czar would be responsible for making a difference in the autism epidemic.

There is no ‘War on Autism’.
But patients, families and practitioners – those who live and fight in the trenches – could certainly benefit from some reinforcements.

Sleep and Autism

Sunday, October 26th, 2014

Persistent, altered sleep is a common finding among young children who have signs and symptoms consistent with a diagnosis of ASD. This is a key difference from neuro-typical peers.

And, like any person, changes in quantity and quality can result in further downstream behaviors; such as, inattention, poor focus, and easy distractibility. The situation can further deteriorate into tantrums, a ‘short fuse’, aggression and injurious actions (against self and/or others).

Sleepchart

Data from Ruffwarg, et.al. Science 1966

What is disturbed sleep?
Not only do young children sleep much longer, more time is spent dreaming, which is an important physiological necessity and developmental component. Since there is practically no muscle movement during REM periods, toddlers should be sleeping “like a log.” Many affected youngsters do not exhibit such activity.

Latency is prolonged. The time that it takes to fall into a slumber should be <~1/2 hour, even accounting for a great deal of individuality. Nighttime awakening is frequent in infancy, but the child should quickly drop off again. Because this process takes time, naps include less REM sleep.

For ASD affected individuals, problems can persist even into later years.

What causes disturbed sleep?
Sleep apnea is a possibility, especially for some premies, or when allergic asthma or rhinitis are frequent occurrences. More often, signs and symptoms represent GERD (reflux), of varying degrees and varied causes. Really bad heartburn, and no way to tell anyone.

Diarrhea, constipation and bowel inflammation may cause sleep alterations, as well. Since G-I conditions exist so frequently in ASD patients, this is a significant area for positive intervention and change.

Other medical issues include frequent ear infections causing fever and pain, seizures, altered melatonin metabolism, other metabolic disturbances, methyl B12 ‘shots’, and even the stimulant medications that many physicians prescribe.

A ‘workup’ is in order for any child who displays altered sleep, not a pill.

What interventions are useful?
A quiet environment at a regimented time helps everyone achieve faster, more sound sleep.

Sensory therapies can result in significant amelioration of sleep issues. Warm epsom salt baths, reading, and brushing are further examples of effective interventions, in selected patients.

After a suitable evaluation, youngsters who suffer GERD and other G-I discomfort may get a great deal of relief by proper positioning, appropriate feeding (time and volume), and occasional mild antacids. Medications that decrease acid production, such as Prilosec or Zantac, should be avoided, because of alterations in normal gut flora.

If food allergies are identified, avoidance of offending agents can calm the gut and help sleep to take hold. Unusual bacteria or fungal overgrowth should be addressed with strong probiotics, and anti-fungals when indicated.

Melatonin is a popular, safe and useful supplement. After a thorough patient evaluation, a doctor should suggest dosing. Providing this valuable antioxidant at exactly the same time each evening is central to producing predictable results. When the maximum dose is not effective in maintaining sleep, adding the natural amino acid, 5-hydroxy-tryptophan, may help.

With varying doses and results, supplements such as Valerian root, chamomile, passion flower, and kava have been recommended. GABA, an over-the-counter supplement, is a neurotransmitter that can either work quite well to assist sleep, or add to excitation in certain patients.

The most basic allopathic medication is Benadryl, an antihistamine that produces sleepiness. There are blood pressure lowering medications such as Clonidine®, Intuniv® and propranolol. These should be used short-term and the ordering physician should be alert to the cause(s) of the disturbance. Only rarely should strong CNS medications such as Depakote® be utilized. Sleeping pills that were meant for adults are just that – meant for adults.

Conclusions:
Unnatural quality and quantity of nocturnal activity often accompanies an autism diagnosis.

With such a plethora of downstream negative behaviors, interventions that reverse this situation are paramount to producing an effective autism treatment protocol.

Consulting with a knowledgeable, experienced clinician will yield the most valuable results.

Perhaps the most important improvement when affected children start to get an adequate night’s sleep is the positive effect on the whole family’s next day.

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Brian D. Udell MD
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