Autism Speaks: A worldwide epidemic with few answers for parents



May 1, 2012
By Tracey L. Chavous, CHHC
Healthy and Wellness Writer
Healthy Living

Some of the most current research shared through the Autism Speaks organization declares autism as a national emergency.  Studies further revealed that 1 in 88 children is diagnosed as sufferers of this troubling disorder in the United States. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and autism are both general terms for a group of multifaceted disorders of brain development. They are characterized in various degrees by difficulties in social interaction, verbal and nonverbal communication and repetitive behaviors. These behaviors are said to manifest in the very early stages of brain development, often between the ages of 2 and 3 years old. Studies haveindicated that autism affects more boys than girls at a rate of about 1 in 54 boys compared to 1 in 252 girls.

Parents throughout the nation are now sharing their experiences of discovering autism in their children.  Increasingly, researchers are looking at the role of the immune system in autism.  Dr. Tracy I. Freeman, a practitioner at National Integrative Health Associates in Washington, D.C., tells her own common story of how autism affected her son.  Dr. Freeman had just completed andgraduated from medical school and became pregnant shortly thereafter.  Her son, who is now 7 years old, began showing signs of delays in his development around 18 months of age.  For instance, he was speaking about 35 words, but not combining words.  In addition, he was repeating specific body movements repetitively.

When a relative (who also had a child diagnosed with autism) asked her about his language development, a light bulb went off.  She had her son immediately evaluated at Kennedy Krieger Institute.  Despite having a medical degree in internal medicine, her son’s diagnosis prompted her to continue her education in holistic medicine with a particular emphasis on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Thus, the doors flung open to a litany of services and approaches to fostering therapy and recovery from both conventional and holistic doctors.

Through an in-depth study of medical information — as well as having a child who was coping with a plethora of immunological issues — Dr. Freeman determined that Autism Spectrum Disorders embodies a complex cocktail of gastrointestinal, immune, and neurological systems triggered by  toxicities in and outside of the body. Some research shows that there is less of a risk for autism if the mother took prenatal vitamins with folic acid in the months leading up to conception as well as after.  Dr. Freeman explained that mothers release about 75 percent of their body’s toxins into their unborn babies.  Therefore, understanding your personal history is important to pinpoint particular instances.  For example, due to her RH negative blood type and her husband’s RH positive blood type, Dr. Freeman received a Rhogam shot (which contained mercury at the time).  It increased her risk of having a child with Autism by 40%.  This is an additional reason why in her practice, she works closely with women on preconception preparation long before the child is conceived or born.

Dr. Freeman indicated that once the diagnosis is made, a mindset of “attacking” this disease is imperative, as there is no time to waste.  Seeking a developmental pediatrician is important in order to gain an awareness of where your child should be in terms of development.  Then begin aggressively addressing the diet, particularly due to autism’s biomedical component with toxins roaming the body internally as well as externally. The diagnosis is a crucial component.  In the Washington, D.C. metro area, Kennedy Krieger Institute and Children’s Hospital are useful institutions, but have lengthy wait lists for assessments and services.

Kennedy Krieger Institute is an internationally recognized institution dedicated to improving the lives of individuals with developmental disorders of the brain, spinal cord, and musculoskeletal system.  Dr. Freeman contends that supplementing with strong vitamins, minerals, and probiotics is where the root of imbalance begins.  The earlier the disease is caught, the better the possibilities of the outcomes for success.  She adds that vaccines continue to be a topic of controversy, based on research done by some highly regarded doctors such as Dr. Bernadine Healy.  Healy is the former Director of the National Institute of Health, who openly stated to government and public health officials that research on autism should not be dismissed until they study the actual population that became ill in the beginning of the epidemic.

These pioneering spirits empowered Dr. Freeman to further her studies as well as study her child. Based on the research found on the Defeat Autism Now website, she put her son on a milk free diet and noticed that her son stopped flapping his hands in 3 days.  She then moved to a gluten free diet where she noticed his first formed stool within 2 days. This followed by other natural cleansing protocol have helped to bring her son closer to recovery. As a working mother, Dr. Freeman finds it challenging to maintain a life/work balance, but works diligently to meet the needs of her children, her husband, and herself.  She has live-in family support, and a nanny for each child after school, due to the various needs of the children.  She also makes weekly visits to their church, which has child care for children with special needs. When she has time, Dr. Freeman attends and speaks at various conferences about integrative health and medicine as well as autism.

Signs and Symptoms

According to the Defeat Autism Now website, research indicates the following symptoms are the most commonly found characteristics of Autism:

The child is unable to coo by 12 months.
The child also does not point or gesture by 12 months.
The child does not say single words by 16 months.
The child does not say 2 or more words by 24 months.
The child has lost some of his/her social skills or language abilities.

Other Characteristics include:
No fear of danger
Over or under sensitivity to pain
May avoid eye contact with you
May prefer to be by him/herself
Has difficulty expressing what they want or need – may then try to use gestures
May echo words or phrases
May have inappropriate attachments to objects
May spin his/herself or objects
Prolonged repetitive play
May insist on things/routines always being the same
May exhibit inappropriate laughing (laughing when not appropriate to the situation)
May display tantrums for no apparent reason
May avoid cuddling
May exhibit self injurious behavior when upset, i.e. biting selves or banging heads
An overall difficulty interacting with others

Autism is complex and can be an isolating experience for families who want health and happiness for their children.  Support is vast and support groups, workshops, services and programs are widely available throughout the country.

Resources for Parents and Caregivers:

Kennedy Krieger Institute

Autism Research Institute

Autism NOW                            

Autism seminars                    

National Institute of Health

Dr. Tracy I. Freeman received her medical degree from Howard University and her Masters Degree in Public Health from The Johns Hopkins University. She is board certified in Internal Medicine and has completed the Defeat Autism Now’s (DAN!) physician training and continued her medical education at the University of Arizona’s Program of Integrative Medicine.  She is a practitioner at National Integrative Health Associates, 5225 Wisconsin Avenue, NW Suite 402, Washington, D.C. 20015 202-237-7000


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