Austism and Other Mental Health Disorders

by Guest Writer

It’s no secret that autism has been on the rise in recent years. In fact, in an article on Yahoo News from April 4th, it was reported that Autism Spectrum disorders increased 23% between 2006 and 2008 to effect 1 in 88 children. It also seems like other conditions like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) are much more common than they ever were. While, I’m of the belief that one of the reasons we are seeing more of these conditions is that the definitions of these conditions has broadened, there’s obviously a problem that we need to figure out the reasons for.

Autism Spectrum

According to the NIH, “Autism is a developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills.” The information the NIH offers about autism is very helpful at assisting people in understanding the disorder. While the causes of autism are unknown, it’s been noted that there seems to be genetic factor involved in autism. Other suspected, but unproven possible causes of autism include: diet, digestive tract changes, mercury poisoning and vaccine sensitivity. The American Academy of Pediatrics and The Institute of Medicine (IOM) agree that no vaccine or component of any vaccine is responsible for autism. However, if parents choose not to vaccinate their children solely because they do not want to expose their children to mercury, it’s important to note that all vaccines are available as a single-dose non-mercury containing vaccine.

As you may remember, actress Jenny McCarthy’s son was diagnosed with autism several years ago, and she has been extremely outspoken about trying anything and everything to make her son better. While searching the internet to learn everything she could about autism, Jenny came across an organization called Generation Rescue. She is now the president of the organization, which really seems like a blessing to families who have received an autism diagnosis. While looking through this website, it appears to be an amazing resource. The action plan section offers a number of possible solutions to try which include, biomedical treatment, Gluten-Free and Casein-Free diets, vitamins, probiotics, digestive enzymes and more. The site can even help you find doctors who are experienced with autism, as well as “Rescue Angels” who are other parents whose children have seen major improvements in their own autistic condition. The site offers hope and options. Families affected by autism can even apply for a grant which will help them get started on the road to moving past autism.

Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

Every so often my husband and I will become concerned about our son because of his quirks that seem like OCD to us. I will spend hours scouring the internet to determine whether my son’s obsession (and fear) regarding something he heard about in school is a normal fear (based on everything I read, he is “normal” in that regard). OCD is defined as a pattern of obsessive thinking and rituals that takes up more than an hour each day, causes distress, or interferes with daily activities. According to, the most common obsessions include:  “fear of dirt or germs, fear of contamination, a need for symmetry, order, and precision, religious obsessions, preoccupation with body waste, lucky and unlucky numbers, sexual or aggressive thoughts, fear of illness or harm coming to oneself or relatives, preoccupation with household items, and intrusive sounds or words.” Reading these common obsessions has made me feel better about my son and that many of his seeming obsessions are normal, since they are fleeting in nature. With a four-year-old, I sometimes think the seeming-obsession is more about attention, but at the same time, I will keep watch just in case. The most common compulsions among kids and teens according to are:  “grooming rituals, such as hand washing, showering, and teeth brushing, repeating rituals, such as going in and out of doorways, needing to move through spaces in a special way, or rereading, erasing, and rewriting, checking rituals, such as making sure that an appliance is off or a door is locked, and repeatedly checking homework, rituals to undo contact with a “contaminated” person or object, touching rituals, rituals to prevent harming ones self or others, ordering or arranging objects, counting rituals, hoarding and collecting things of no apparent value(think toenail clippings), and cleaning rituals related to the house or other items.”

Treating OCD in children can often be done successfully with behavioral therapy. Talk therapy alone is generally not a good idea because it can actually feed into the obsession and compulsion and actually exacerbate the disorder. Instead, cognitive-behavioral therapy teaches kids to first change their behavior thereby helping them change their thoughts and feelings. How it works is kids are exposed to something that triggers their response, and then the compulsive behavior is blocked. Positive results have been seen using this kind of therapy as long as it is done consistently. Some common natural remedies used for treating OCD include Hypericum perforatum (St. John’s Wort), Passiflora incarnate, Scuttelaria laterifolia (Scullcap) and Valerian. Always let your healthcare professional know if you are using any of these herbs and always double-check yourself that there are no known interactions between these types of treatments and anything else your child may be taking.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

According to the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIMH), ADHD is one of the most common childhood disorders. The symptoms of ADHD include “staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behavior, and hyperactivity (over-activity).” This is one of those disorders where I (not a medical professional, just a mom) feel there may be too many (unqualified) people diagnosing the condition. The teacher of one of my friend’s children told her that her son had ADHD because he couldn’t sit still and pay attention in class. My friend took her son to the doctor, who uncovered the real culprit—a television in the youngster’s bedroom that he was watching in the middle of the night (without his parent’s knowledge). Once the television was removed from his room, the “ADHD behavior” disappeared. The teacher asked my friend what medication her son was on, and my friend told her he didn’t have ADHD and was not on medication. So, my first piece of advice is: do not let just anyone diagnose your child and make sure you take into account any and all factors in your child’s environment.

Once your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, you may want to explore non-pharmacologic therapies. Following are some therapies worth giving a try according to

Caffeine- Caffeine’s stimulant properties may be beneficial to kids with ADHD when given in high doses, although most practitioners will recommend using caffeine in conjunction with other herbs.

Ginkgo- Ginkgo is often used as a “brain booster.” It increases blood flow to the brain, and improves brain glucose metabolism.

Brahmi- Brahmi is an ayurvedic herb that has long been used as a cognitive enhancer and has been shown to stimulate improved learning and cognitive function.

Siberian Ginseng- Ginseng is believed to help with stress reactions by minimized stress-caused reductions in memory retrieval.

Gotu Kola- Gotu Kola is used to reduce adrenal corticosterone blood levels during stress.

The most important thing I can say when dealing with your child’s health–mental or otherwise is to always stick with your gut. If you feel something is not right, then you’re probably correct. While you may feel relieved when a doctor tells you your child is healthy, and “normal,” don’t forget what brought you to your questions in the first place. Be persistent and get second and third opinions if necessary. Early intervention is one of the best things you can do for you children, no matter what the diagnosis. And, as a parent, you are your child’s number one advocate. Early intervention could mean a world of difference throughout your child’s entire lifetime.

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