It’s a word we seem to be hearing more and more of with each passing year. I remember when I was in high school we had one classmate on the spectrum, but now it seems like there is a handful of kids in each class that are diagnosed with or at least show the symptoms of Autism.
Two questions I hear all the time from the mamas I work with are:
1) Why does it seem like so many more kids and adults are getting diagnosed with Autism?
2) How does a child with autism differ from kids that are neurotypical.
There is a lot of new information coming out about Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and it’s hard to keep it all straight.
- Is ADHD now part of the Autism Spectrum?
- If I have a few sensory issues, does that mean I could be diagnosed with Autism?
- Why are some kids with Autism verbal while others aren’t?
- Do vaccines really cause Autism?
- Can a gluten-free diet really improve Autism symptoms?
- Can Autism really improve in any significant way?
It can get really confusing and people are wondering whether or not you should get your child tested for Autism or already showing the symptoms of ASD. We want to help clear the air.
Check out our short quiz to find out if your child has Autism Spectrum Disorder
Find out how likely your child may or may not be diagnosed with ASD. Then come back to finish this article where you will learn what to do next.
What is Autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of signs and symptoms that affect how a person communicates (verbal/nonverbal), responds to others socially, and behaves.
What causes Autism?
In 2013, a group of researchers examined the cerebella of autistic children and found that they had abnormalities in the cerebellum. These abnormalities are believed to be caused by disruptions in the brain’s ability to “map” parts of its own body.
Symptoms of Autism commonly include:
- Difficulty making eye contact
- Developmental delays (late to crawl, late to speak, funky crawling patterns)
- Struggling to connect with others, specifically people their own age
- Difficulty understanding sarcasm, jokes, and the “big picture”
- Preference for routines
- Sensory issues (seeking or avoidant) like stimming, swinging, disliking the way certain cloth feels, texture problems with food, preferring to wear headphones because things are too noisy
But there are a lot of not-so-common Autism symptoms we see in our clients regularly too:
- Struggling to fall asleep or stay asleep
- Poor posture
- Gets overstimulated with screen time
- Easily startled/jumpy
- Food sensitivities
- Seeks deep pressure
- Gets dark circles under their eyes
- Can’t ride a bike
- Holds pen/pencil oddly
And so many more.
So if your child is displaying a few of those symptoms, be sure to check out that quiz I mentioned earlier for the full list.
But anyway, let’s get into those big two questions
1) Why are more and more people being diagnosed with Autism?
There’s a lot to unpack here. One part of the answer is that more people are getting tested! The conversation around neurodivergence, acceptance, and a better understanding of what ASD looks like in people, particularly women and girls, is becoming more mainstream. People are dedicating Instagram and TikTok accounts to discussing their ASD symptoms and life and really opening up the conversation to help everyone understand a little better.
But more people getting tested only accounts for a small fraction of the data regarding new ASD diagnoses. The reality is, more and more kids are being born with neurodevelopmental disorders. In fact in 2016 ASD prevalence was 1 in 64. The most recent data is showing us that it’s now closer to 1 in 44. The numbers increase each year without fail.
So what accounts for all these new diagnoses of ASD?
The short answer: environment.
To put it as simply as possible, our environment gives our DNA signals regarding which genes to turn on, and which to turn off. And 85% of our DNA is directly correlated to neurodevelopment! So if our environment is “off” and signaling the wrong things to our DNA, it doesn’t take too many of those genes to switch off before our brain function is heavily impacted. And that’s all ASD really is – a difference in brain function.
So what kinds of environmental factors can negatively affect our DNA and, therefore, brain function? ANYTHING negative.
- Too much screen time
- Missed motor milestone
- Too much sugar
- Inflammatory food
- Complications with pregnancy
- Poor nutrition
- Not enough exercise
- Not enough sleep
- Immune system issues
Negative external environmental factors create what are called methyl markers to appear on the proteins that surround our genes which stops our genes from being transcribed the right way. They’re literal black spots that appear on the proteins surrounding our DNA that get in the way of the copies being made properly.
So, based on all of that, you’re probably feeling a little worry and guilt, right? “I should have done sensitivity testing.” “I should have worked on their developmental milestones more.” “I should have made sure they were eating only whole, organic foods.” “I’m a terrible mother!”
And I need you to hear this. This has very *very* little to do with you and the environment you created for your child. You’re (very likely) a wonderful parent that did and is doing as well as you possibly could and can for them. Stay with me here, because this is crucial.
Those methyl markers can be passed down through multiple generations. The things that your great grandparents ate, drank, smoked, stressed out about, the great depression, war, all of it. It’s all piling up on each generation’s genetic code, getting more and more intense with each generation.
I hear so often “I have anxiety” or “my husband has lots of ADHD symptoms” and I think we gave our kiddo our ~stuff~. And that’s totally true, although Autism is NOT a genetic issue. It’s an epigenetic issue. It’s hereditary, not genetic. Those methyl markers that affected your neurodevelopment are now affecting your child and it’s not your fault.
That being said, there are some environmental factors that ARE within your control as a parent that could easily help them get their neurodevelopment back on track.
- Reduce screen time (screen time directly stimulates the parts of the brain that are already overactive in Autism)
- Check for food sensitivities. Often kids with neurodevelopmental disorders are sensitive to gluten, dairy, and processed sugar. They have leaky gut and those proteins get out into their bloodstream and wreak havoc on their brain.
- Focus on gross (big) motor movement rather than fine motor (jumping jacks instead of lego and that kind of thing)
- Work on primitive reflex integration and functional stimulation that will get to the root of the brain function issues causing their ASD symptoms (How do I do that?)
Truly, the conversation around epigenetics and those methyl markers kind of handles both questions: Why are more and more people getting diagnosed with ASD and what really causes ASD.
But for those of you that want to get down into the real differences between an ASD brain and a neurotypical brain, keep reading! And if you haven’t yet, be sure to at least bookmark that ASD quiz we have for you!
So what’s really the root of ASD? What’s the real difference between a kiddo with ASD and a child that’s considered neurotypical? We touched on it earlier so you might already know where I’m going with this – it’s brain function.
Think about everything you know about ASD. Every single piece of it: the social skills, eye contact, sensory stuff, sleep…all of it originates in the brain! With no brain, there are no social skills or eye movements or processing. The primary difference between neurotypical and ASD kiddos is always brain function.
So what’s going on in the brain of a child with Autism?
Again, there’s a lot here. Because of those methyl markers that disrupted proper neurodevelopment, some parts of the brain are functioning at or even above what’s age-appropriate, and some parts of the brain are functioning at a much, much younger age.
One thing our mamas hear all the time from teachers, friends, and family is “He’s so intelligent! He’s beyond grade level academically but socially, he prefers to hang out with younger kids. He seems a few years behind socially and emotionally.”
And that’s EXACTLY what’s happening. For people with ASD, the parts of their brain responsible for intelligence, impulse, and strong emotions are often much, much stronger and more developed than the parts of the brain responsible for emotional regulation, empathy, social skills, and big-picture thinking.
Think about what would happen if the “social, emotional, behavioral” part of their brain was working at the same level as their “intelligent” part of their brain! There wouldn’t be a whole lot of ASD symptoms left, would there?
And without the symptoms of ASD….do they really still…?..you get my drift..
So can we see drastic, life-changing improvement with ASD kiddos?
Heck yes we can. We’ve seen nonverbal kids start talking, anti-social kids start caring about their peers, increased learning capabilities, anxiety reduction, sensory stuff go away, and all kinds of amazing things. It happens every day.
If you’re interested, you can even schedule a free consult with one of our directors to learn more about how YOU can join the thousands of families that are reversing methyl markers, changing brain function, and helping their ASD kiddos in a brand new way.
And if you haven’t yet, check out that ASD symptoms quiz
We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. What kinds of things have you done to help your ASD kiddo? What’s worked? What hasn’t? What kind of progress have you made so far?