LACK OF ATTENTION TO
PHYSICAL PROBLEMS IN AUTISM
Written by Stephen M. Edelson, Ph.D.
Center for the Study of Autism, Salem, Oregon
I am often surprised and upset when I hear that
a rather serious physical problem of an autistic child is dismissed
as ‘just another symptom of the disorder,’ when the problem should
be addressed directly. A commonly reported problem is insensitivity
to pain. Many, not all, autistic children lack perception to pain.
They may fall and then bruise or cut themselves quite seriously,
but they exhibit little or no reaction to the injury. I sometimes
hear of an autistic child who will place his/her hand on a hot stove,
suffer a severe burn, and show no reaction.
When this type of problem is discussed with a
pediatrician or another health care provider, in many cases, very
little is done to determine what may be happening. The remark commonly
given is: “Autistic individuals tend to have a high threshold for
pain.” HOWEVER, if this child did not have autism
and exhibited insensitivity to normal levels of pain, then this
problem would likely be treated as serious; and there would be much
concern about treating the problem.
Insensitivity to pain may be due to elevated levels
of endorphins, endogenous opiate-like substances, in the body. One
possible source of these endorphins may be from eating food items
or casein. If the person has a ‘leaky
gut’ (i.e., small holes in the intestinal tract), these proteins
may slip through the holes and cause a chemical reaction. The chemical
configuration of gluten and casein is similar to endorphins.
Another problem often seen in autistic individuals
is chronic diarrhea. Again, many autistic children suffer from this
problem. Chronic diarrhea is very uncomfortable, and the child may
not be absorbing all of the nutrients from his/her foods. This can
affect brain development and, consequently, cognitive processing
and behavior. Again, many health care providers simply state that
chronic diarrhea is common in autism; and this problem should not
be of any concern. [This problem may be due to some type of intestinal
tract problem, such as ‘leaky gut,’ yeast overgrowth, low levels
of secretin, some type of infection, presence of a virus and/or
toxins, such as metals.]
It is quite obvious from the research literature
that many autistic individuals have physical health problems. Some
physicians are aware of these problems, but many are not. In fact,
it is usually the parents who, through their perseverance, learn
the best ways to treat their children’s physical problems. Defeat
Autism Now! (DAN!), a coalition of clinicians and researchers sponsored
by the Autism Research Institute in San Diego, developed a report
on understanding and treating many physical symptoms associated
with autism. The report is entitled: ‘Biomedical Assessment Options
for Children with Autism and Related Problems.’ A copy of the protocol
can be purchased from the Autism Research Institute for $25 (address:
4182 Adams Ave., San Diego, CA 92116).
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