What does the homeschooling day look like for a family who has a child with Asperger’s- like symptoms? Let’s follow a day in the life of Steve.
- Mom finds that she cannot change the “routine” for the day or Steve tends to become very upset. The need to have things the same is a very strong drive for him. New settings and noises in particular, bother him.
- Helping him learn a “balanced” curriculum also takes much effort from mom because Steve tends to have very narrowed interests, wanting only to learn about World War II planes, or studying only spiders in the animal kingdom. He is very fact oriented, memorizing an amazing array of information about a subject that he is interested in. In fact, he often only talks about one subject to others, even if they are not interested in it.
- While the other siblings enjoy youth group at church, or the social interactions with other homeschoolers, Steve very often is aloof, not participating in the interactions, appearing to be a loner. When he does interact, his behavior frequently is inappropriate, because he has difficulty reading social cues, and nonverbal signs that people give to one another. Sometimes his behavior can be loud and aggressive with others. At times it looks like he is detached from the feelings of others. He seems to exhibit little ability to form friendships.
- When teaching him, mom finds that he easily seems to go into his own world, being fascinated by thoughts that have nothing to do with the task at hand. In fact, he can entertain himself for a long time with nothing more than a simple piece of string.
Over fifty years ago Hans Asperger, a Viennese pediatrician, identified a consistent pattern of behaviors that occurred predominantly in boys. In the 1990’s the prevailing view was that Asperger’s Syndrome was a variant of autism and a Pervasive Developmental Disorder (meaning that it affects the development of a wide range of abilities). It is now considered a subgroup in the autism spectrum, occasionally being called “high functioning autism”. Even though autism and Asperger’s are spoken of in the same sentence, they frequently are very different in their manifestations.
In their book, two Boston pediatricians, Perri Klass and Eileen Costello are using another term to describe the hundreds of thousands of kids who are “outside the common patterns”. This term is “Quirky Kids” which describes these children as having high IQs who can’t read facial expressions, who prefer vacuum cleaners to toys, who hate the feel of sand or wind, who have no idea how to make friends, and who may suffer daily over things that come easy to others. The need for labels often remains, because without a label, certain services (such as speech if needed) would not be publicly funded. However, the main goal is to meet the needs of these children, not to label them.
Why Homeschooling is best
Many parents find that the very best educational setting for these wonderful children is at home. Since these children are often gifted learners, at home they are free to explore the topics of interest to them, without needing to do the mundane chores that are needed in the more formal school setting. Also, since peer relationships aren’t their strength, they are not distracted from their learning by the constant need to interact with their peers. Their siblings and parents can be their friends. They learn appropriate social interaction in the home setting. And since many of these children suffer with “SI” symptoms, it is better for them to be educated in a setting free from the unsettling atmosphere of a crowded school room, with its accompanying noises, movement, and demands.
The one thing that all of these children have in common is that they easily experience sensory overload. Whether the label is Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Sensory Processing Problems, these children would be what Lendon B. Smith, MD describes as “goosey, touchy kids”, meaning that everything bothers them. Their sensory system shouts “red alert”, when something as insignificant as a label on a shirt, a lump in the yogurt, a loud noise, a sock with a seam, stiffer jeans, foods touching on the plate, a change in routine, or an unexpected touch occurs. They are not comfortable in their own skin. Anxiety rules much of their day. (Asperger’s Syndrome, Tony Attwood)
Dr. Sydney Walker, III, says, “Children act how they feel”. In other words, he, and many others like him, believes that there is a physical, biological basis to the behavior of these children. Dr. Leo Galland and Dr. William Crook heartily agree. They, and many parents, report many behavioral changes that occur when parents take care of the physical/nutritional needs of their children. When the physicians at Johns Hopkins University studied the brain scans of children with Asperger’s and Autism behaviors, the one thing they found was that all of these children suffered from inflammation of the brain. The most common cause of inflammation in children, according to Dr. Philpott, is from the histamine created when an allergic condition exists. He calls these allergies, “cerebral allergies” because they most predominantly affect the child’s nervous system.
Let’s look at some of the most common biological causes and treatments of Asperger’s-like behaviors that parents and knowledgeable health professionals have found, as they look for ways to help their child feel more comfortable in their own skin. We are looking for the reasons why the child’s nervous system is in sensory overload all the time.
- Yeast Overgrowth
In the bowel, bacterial and yeast/fungus, reside. When this “rain forest” is not imbalanced, the neurotransmitters that are manufactured in the bowel remain undisturbed. When the good bacteria are reduced via antibiotics or steroids (in utero or as an infant), the yeast/fungus overgrows, causing a release of toxins into the bloodstream. These yeast toxins cause many behavioral upsets, including spaciness, mood swings, aggression, hyperactivity, inappropriate behavior, depression, and in general an upset nervous system. It also tends to be the cause of food allergies. Thousands of parents report very positive changes in their child’s behavior and learning when they take natural steps to re-balance their child’s gut ecology. (Crook, Galland, McBride, Craft)
As a demonstration of the powerful effect on the nervous system of this yeast/fungus overgrowth in the body, you can read about the story of famous quarterback Roger Staubach’s wife, who suffered for 20 years with such a deep depression that she was hospitalized many times. When she was treated by Dr. Orion Truss (The Missing Diagnosis), her lifelong battle with depression ended. The story is recounted in Dr. Trowbridge’s book, The Yeast Syndrome.
Many of these struggling children have limited their diet to just a few foods, and almost all of them carbohydrates. We call them “carbovores”. Pasta, bread, milk, macaroni and cheese, pizza, French-fries, and chicken nuggets tend to make up their diet to a great extent. Before you can change the diet, you will need to reduce the craving. The craving is caused, generally, by a yeast overgrowth. It is important to do a three-month program of acidophilus and a natural anti-fungal. The fourth week into the program, your child should be ready for a reduction of sugar and carbs in his diet. If you don’t keep boxed cereals, fruit rollups, granola bars, juices (even natural), graham crackers, etc. in the cupboard, the child will start eating fruit and vegetables more often if you keep offering it to him.
- Neurotransmitter imbalance
Serotonin is called the “feel good neurotransmitter”, because it reduces anxious feelings and calms the nervous system. It is the main neurotransmitter that is re-circulated by the anti-depressants and medications such as Ritalin. The body naturally makes a supply of this for the nervous system, in the bowel. In fact, Dr. Gershon’s research in his book, The Second Brain, found that over 95% of this important neurotransmitter is made in the bowel. Yeast overgrowth keeps it from being manufactured well, as does a diet high in sugars. The main food for this neurotransmitter is the Essential Fatty Acids (fish oil, evening primrose oil, vitamin E), and tryptophan that can be found in a natural product called 5HTP. If your child is not taking any medication, you may want to look into the use of 5HTP to supply this missing neurotransmitter. Dr. Atkins talks about the use of this product in his book The Vital Nutrient Solution, and Dr. Michael Murray does in his book, 5HTP.
Please read my article, “Essential Fatty Acids and the Brain”
- Food Allergies
Inflammation is a common result of the histamine release that takes place because of food allergies. Dr. Lendon Smith says that children tend to crave what they are allergic to. Many of these children tend to crave dairy and wheat. For them, this can be a large source of the inflammation that the Johns Hopkins study reported. These children all tend to have food allergies (even if they don’t seem to test for them), and as a result, many parents have seen dramatic changes when they not only reduce sugar and simple carbohydrates, but when they begin an allergy elimination diet. They start by first eliminating dairy items (not even one teaspoonful!). In a few weeks they may also eliminate gluten products. The reports from parents are very encouraging when these “offending foods” are eliminated from a child’s diet. (To read more parent testimonials, go to www.gfcfdiet.com, www.scdiet.com and www.blockcenter.com, and read Dr. Mary Ann Block’s success with elimination diets.)
In fact, histamine is such a factor in the behavior such as a child’s “melt-downs”, that Dr. Block recommends the use of Alka Seltzer Gold (no medicine, just sodium and potassium), to help a child calm down from a tantrum, or when feeling particularly anxious. A histamine reaction floods acid into the system, and Alka Seltzer Gold neutralizes that acid, causing a calming of the body. Recently, a mother of a ten-year old boy emailed me and thanked me for the suggestion of Alka Seltzer Gold for her son. She said that she carries it in her purse now, and when a melt down or anxiety begins to occur (because they can’t keep their diet perfect…no body can), she goes “plop, plop, fizz, fizz”, and finds what a relief it is…for his nervous system. She can now go out in public without fear that she will have to come right back home again if behavior deteriorates.
Many parents find that by adding a targeted enzyme to each of the child’s meals, that the child can tolerate a much wider range of foods without behavioral reactions. The particular enzymes that are getting the widest approval range are Peptizyde and Prime Zyme, two enzymes by Houston Nutraceuticals. Parents have named the result of giving these important enzymes as the “Happy Child Effect.” Because the child is absorbing so much more of what he is eating, his nervous system is so much less reactive, resulting in a calmer, happier child. To read more about parents’ reports, go to www.enzymestuff.com. This helps children who just have Sensory Processing issues, also.
- Metal accumulation
There has been much speculation as to why there appears to be no children with autism or Asperger’s syndrome among the Amish population (www.mercola.com). It is a well-known fact that the Amish people do not vaccinate their children. Could there be a connection? In the 1990’s the number of vaccinations that a child received nearly tripled. We know that those vaccines contained the preservative, thimerosal, which is nearly 50% mercury, which, of course, is very harmful to the brain and nervous system of children. However, not all children who receive vaccinations are afflicted with autism or Asperger’s. Therefore, there likely is another factor. That factor could be the integrity of the child’s immune system when he is born. If it is shaky, then the multiple exposures to that amount of mercury could be very harmful. What is known is that the majority of children who display Asperger’s behaviors are found to have more heavy metals (mercury, cadmium, aluminum) in their bodies (shown in blood tests) than those who do not have those behaviors. Many parents are concerned about this, and have many questions. There is not just one answer. Each parent needs to do their own research and consult with their health care professional before deciding which path they should take concerning vaccinations.
Some more helpful websites are: www.recoveryvideos.com, and www.tacanow.com. To find an ‘integrative’ doctor in your area, you can go to www.acamnet.com. If you are in the Chicago area, you can visit the clinic found in www.hriptc.org
Another school of thought concerning the accumulation of heavy metals in the child is that there is possibly a deficiency of that trace, but important mineral, iodine. When iodine is present in sufficient quantities in the body, then it naturally detoxifies heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and aluminum. Possibly that could be the reason why one child in the family has the same exposure to metals, but detoxifies them with adequate iodine, and does not exhibit any behavioral symptoms consistent with Asperger’s syndrome, like his brother does. For many years iodine in foods has been used to settle down the nervous system of a child. In the mainland of Japan, their children get about 13 milligrams of iodine from the seaweed that they eat daily. In the U.S., we really only get it from iodized salt (about 150 mcg.) unless much seafood and seaweed is consumed. To learn more about this important nutrient for natural detoxification of the body, and general health, go to. www.drbrownstein.com, www.iodine4health.com, and begin to educate yourself about the potential good effects of using this natural mineral.
God has shown us many ways to help our children who have Asperger’s like behaviors to feel more comfortable. The implementation of these changes is not as difficult as it seems. If you choose to make a change to diet or supplementation, first check with your health care professional. Make only one change at a time, so you will know what is helping. As you do your own research, you will find there are many ways to make your child more comfortable in his own skin, resulting in behaviors that are so much improved.