By Terri Mykland
As you may know, children with autism often take quite a lot of nutritional supplements. This is partly because so many of their body systems aren't functioning well on their own, and in addition, their digestive systems often cannot absorb nutrients easily.
The goal of supplementation in autism is to get required nutrients into the body in a functional form, so that the nutrients can help the body to start working better, and eventually do a better job of functioning on its own, with less help.
Another important goal is to support gut function, and give the gut the raw materials it needs to absorb and utilize nutrients better. Since autistic kids are very sensitive, one more supplementation challenge is that we must work very gently, so as not to create new problems that weren’t there before.
Supplementation for autism can seem complicated when you first start looking into it, but it’s not so bad, if you take it one piece at a time.
Advice to parents just starting out to use supplements for their child on the autistic spectrum:
- • You CAN do this! It just takes some planning, education and most of all, patience.
- • There are a few basic types of supplements we need to give these kids, as a foundation for their health, and for every other treatment we may add.
- • After you've started these basics, you can start reading and learning about all the other kinds, and along the way, you will learn enough to make good decisions about which ones are worth pursuing for your particular child.
Here's how I like to think of the basic foundation supplements for autism:
- 1. Vitamins and minerals
- 2. Fatty acids (i.e. fish oil)
- 3. Probiotics
- 4. Digestive Enzymes
That's really it. There are a hundred different variations within each of these, but that's the basic list. The first and probably the most important rule is to change only one new thing at a time.
Let’s say it again:
CHANGE ONLY ONE NEW THING AT A TIME
So this means, if you add a new supplement, don't change ANYTHING else for a few days. If you start a new supplement, keep everything else the child is taking exactly the same as before. Only ONE change at a time. This might sound simplistic, but you'd be surprised how tempting it can be to change several things in the same few days, and then you have no idea what's up when the child starts climbing the walls!
For targeted vitamins/minerals, such as BrainChild's, you'll want to give a good while for your child to get used to and settle into a good dosage of them. This shouldn't be rushed. For these, I'd plan on it taking a month, possibly longer. You may have to try more than one formula before you find just the right "fit". I know that sounds like a long time, and it could go faster, but I wouldn't plan on it. Getting good vitamins and minerals well started can pay off for you in big ways, over time.
You'll want to start at a low dosage and watch your child carefully, increasing when you think he's ready to, and being ready to back off the dosage or change to a different formula if he's not.
When using the Brainchild Spectrum Support Formulas, it seems to work best generally if people start with minerals only, let the child get a little bit settled on those, then add vitamins, low and slow, being prepared to just stay at a low dose if necessary. It takes longer than just plunging in at a higher dose, with both vitamins and minerals at once, but it's usually the smoothest way to introduce them – best odds of success, easiest on the child, and on you.
If the first product you try doesn't seem quite the right fit for your child, try a different one. Maybe a different formula, or a lower dose, If he's still not tolerating it, use your knowledge of your child to try to figure out what might be keeping his body from being able to use these nutrients. You may want to talk to an expert or get a little testing done that might help figure out what might help. For example, putting some digestive and liver support into place might help if the child can’t tolerate vitamins and minerals when you first try them.
We find with Brainchild's that many sensitive individuals start doing better and better on our vitamins awhile after they start taking them. Once the body starts to be able to use the nutrients, families are able to increase to full dose and have excellent results. It can take perseverence, but we’ve seen it really pay off for those who can hang in there and be patient.
Most of the most sensitive children can take the Ultra-sensitive formula with good results. There are a very small few who have to start nutrients one at a time, and may be able to eventually work up to the sensitive formulas, due to multiple sensitivities.
My own rule of thumb for starting any kind of new supplements is as follows:
• With most supplements other than vitamins and minerals, you can plan on a week or two startup period. Get your foundation (1-4 above) well established before you let yourself get distracted by other supplements or therapies.
• General rule is to start each new supplement at 1/4 of the full dose you have in mind - or even less if your child seems extremely sensitive.
• After three days or so, if all is well (nothing negative), go up to 1/2 dose, then full dose in another few days. Watch the child closely for signs you need to slow down or that the child can't tolerate it.
• Take notes about when you started what and at what dose. Include any changes you observe in digestion, behavior, sleep, appetite, skin color and so on, and note any time you change the dosage or add anything, and any unusual events in the child's life that might help clarify.
• Have a written plan ahead of time and stick to it, don't try to rush or stop and start lots of things all over the place, or you won't know what's helping and what isn't.
• If you see a little loose stools when starting new supplements, don't worry - this is the most common symptom while their body is adjusting to new nutrients, and will probably settle down in a couple days. Just stay at the current dose until things settle down.
OUR STARTER KIT - Extra Help is Available!
Our Spectrum Support Starter Kit was designed to help you introduce all of these foundation supplements, with step by step instructions written by a veteran autism-mom. We are excited to say that we have seen a lot of success with Starter Kit families making great strides in their children's recovery!
TRYING OTHER TYPES OF SUPPLEMENTS
As you go, you'll have well-meaning people of all kinds, like your doctor, your healthfood store clerk, other moms you talk with, and plenty of others, suggest other possible supplements to you, maybe new ones of a type you hadn't heard of before. The list will get long. As you're considering each one, there are some good things to check out before even considering trying it:
1. Make sure it's safe - be sure it contains no heavy metals, artificial sweeteners or colors or preservatives or anything your child is allergic to. Our kids are generally quite sensitive to these kinds of things.
2. Think like a scientist::
- • Think about what 'kind' of a thing the supplement is -- is it a vitamin? a mineral? an amino acid? a nutritional supplement? a hormone?
- • What is it supposed to do in the body?
- • Do you have any evidence (test results, observations, etc.) that your child's body needs this kind of help?
- • Are you already giving a similar 'kind' of supplement, intended to do the same thing?
- • How is this one the same, or different, than what you’re already doing?
Try to reason it through objectively, and think of pro's and con's. This will get easier over time.
3. Try to find a mom or two (or ten!), who really think it helped kids similar to yours -- there are a thousand things you could try... it will start to get easier as you keep reading and asking questions to tell which are worth your time/energy.
4. If you do decide to try a supplement, look at the other things you have in mind, and put them in a logical sequence, one at a time. Write down which you are trying, when you start, what dosage and what you see. Don't jump the gun and start lots of things at the same time.
After you have started the foundation supplements, you will want to think about Candida and gut pathogens. This is a very common problem area for our kids on the spectrum. After that, the next big challenge is Detoxification. You can find more information on these topics here:
YOUR SUPPLEMENTATION EDUCATION
Nourishing Hope for Autism, by Julie Matthews. ISBN 978-0981655802
Healing the New Childhood Epidemics, by Kenneth Bock, MD. ISBN 978-0345494511
The Encyclopedia of Nutritional Supplements, by Michael Murray
Vitamin D Council - Cutting edge information on all the new information about vitamin D