Thousands of children have been cured of autism—shedding their diagnosis and returning to mainstream classrooms—with a variety of natural therapies. This post is meant to empower parents by suggesting first steps you can take at home while seeking professional help (which will provide the heavy lifting). Most kids who recover have benefited from multiple modalities—not all modalities work for all children and the same technique which fails to provide any progress for a child at one point can be very helpful several years later. (My source for this is Dr. Martha Herbert, autism expert at Harvard Medical School and author of The Autism Revoluton.)
So here are things you can do, such simple and inexpensive things, based on my own practice, my colleagues, reports from parents, and the books listed at the end:
Epsom salt baths: If your child can tolerate baths, add a cup of epsom salts (magnesium sulfate). The body absorbs magnesium which has a calming effect and helps your child sleep, while sulphur supports detoxification (a major theme in helping these kids). Try this nightly.
Essential fatty acids: These nutrients are hard to get from the typical American diet and essential for many aspects of our health; they can even reduce aggression and support a healthy immune system. DHA, one of the essential fatty acids, is a major component of brain cells. Look for fish oil capsules high in DHA (they must say “molecularly distilled” which means they do not contain mercury).
Gluten-free diet (well, not so simple, and more expensive than white bread, but it can make a huge difference). Leaky gut is a major issue for many of these kids; the gaps in the “tight junction” of the lining of the intestine allow large molecules to get through which can cause allergies or immune reactions. Zonulin, a substance in gluten, is a cause of leaky gut, and it’s been recently discovered that zonulin also affects the blood-brain barrier, causing brain fog and letting toxins into the brain.
Casein (milk)-free and soy-free diets: These further restrictions also help a lot of kids. Lots of recipes, cost-cutting ideas and advice on picky eaters here.
Eliminate sugar (read labels for high fructose corn syrup): If you do nothing else, eliminate all forms of refined sugar because it feeds candida and these kids usually have a problem with “gut dysbiosis”—in other words harmful bacteria in their intestines overwhelming the beneficial bacteria.
Probiotics: Autistic children may need their beneficial bacteria constantly replenished with probiotics, which you can buy at a health food store, and with naturally fermented foods like coconut-milk-based yogurt and kefir. (The specific form of saturated fat in coconut is actually very beneficial for the brain and nervous system.) You can put the coconut products into smoothies for them. They are available at health food stores, or make your own (fresher and less expensive; many recipes online).
Make green smoothies with a Vita-Mix or other high-power blender. You’ll want to give them the best possible nutrition, yet they may limit their diet to the “white foods." They may have sensory issues that make them extremely sensitive to how food feels in their mouth. Pureeing foods into a smoothie can help, and with a high-power blender you can sneak some kale or spinach in with the fruit and coconut milk or almond milk without affecting the taste. The whole family will love these healthy instant meals.
Green your home: Autistic children are like the canaries in the goldmine of our toxic world. One of the multifaceted causes of autism is the toxic load, which you will need to detoxify in your child, but in the meantime you don’t want to add to it. Go through your house and replace all your commercial cleaning products, pesticides, air fresheners—anything chemical-based—with a natural alternative. You can buy these natural substitutes at health food stores, and yes, they are more expensive, but you can also make your own inexpensively with lemon juice, baking soda and other common substances. Learn how here, and learn more about toxic chemicals in common household products from Environmental Working Group.
Avoid Roundup in particular: glyphosates like Roundup have been found to be potent neurotoxins. You can view an interview with Dr. Stephanie Sinott of MIT explaining the connection between glyphosates and autism here and learn more on her MIT webpage.
Read, read, read: I would start with Thinking Mom’s Revolution, with a chapter by each of the 24 parents in this online community. You’ll laugh and you’ll cry as you learn about their unique journeys to recover their kids from autism, and along the way you’ll learn a lot about what works. Then, read Dr. Herbert’s The Autism Revolution if you’re interested in the science behind what works. (I am fortunate to share an office with Dr. Herbert and to hear about the latest research.) If you would like a preview of the wide variety of professional modalities, see Patricia Lemer’s Envisioning a Bright Future. Finally, Dr. Tinus Smits’ Autism Beyond Despair: this Dutch doctor had 300 cured cases, or well-on-the-way-to-cure, at his untimely death. (I had the privilege of working closely with Dr. Smits on editing this book in the year before his passing.) His book includes an appendix with many more suggestions for the supplements and lifestyle changes he found most helpful in working with autistic children.
Join TACA: “Talk About Curing Autism” (tacanow.org) freely shares excellent information about the many things you can do to help your child, and it has local chapters.
Join Epidemic Answers: This website provides webinars with cutting-edge information about home-based and professional approaches that work: www.epidemicanswers.org/
Enjoy how your child is special: One thing I hear over and over again from parents of autistic children is how special their children are and how much they brighten their parents’ lives, at the same time as challenging them to grow and become strong in ways the parents never could have imagined.
Unproven? You may hear the objection that these natural home remedies are unproven. That’s true, for several reasons. First, from the time that parents report success with a treatment to the time that research confirms it can take many years, precious time that you cannot afford to waste. Plus there may never be research funds for a simple home remedy. Most importantly, parents rarely do one thing at a time; they are trying many things at once, which makes it hard to tell what works.
Dr. Herbert suggests evaluating possible therapies for your child based on whether they are safe, whether they make sense, and how much they cost compared to the likelihood of good results. She uses epsom salts as an example of a therapy worth trying: it’s simple, it’s safe, and it makes sense that magnesium and sulphur would be helpful for autistic kids. Dr. Herbert explains the limitations of the “gold standard” randomized controlled trial in her book: not only are parents unwilling to try just one thing at a time, it’s not the way the body works and it’s not the way nature works. An autistic child is a whole, made of many complex parts, and we need to support the whole child.
Please note: I no longer work with autistic children in my practice because I am now focusing on writing and speaking. Consult www.tacanow.org or www.epidemicanswers.org for a list of holistic professionals specializing in autism.