Ray of hope

The shocking rise in the number of children diagnosed with autism in this country is a big concern of mine.

I treat many children with this condition–usually quite successfully–through diet and nutritional supplementation. And I’ve seen many diagnoses reversed, and children removed from the spectrum, even when parents were told there was no hope for them.

Today, I’d like to share the results of a couple of new studies on this urgent topic.

First up, recent research shows that children and teens living in states with higher levels of ultraviolet B (UVB) exposure are less likely to develop autism than children living in states with lower levels of UVB exposure.

And not just a little less likely, either.

This study found that children who enjoy higher solar UVB exposure in the summer or autumn months receive autism diagnoses at half the rate of their low-UVB counterparts.

Summer and autumn are really the only times of year when our bodies can actively make adequate vitamin D through exposure to the sun. Oh, and that sun exposure has to be without sunscreen. Just 20 minutes per day is enough–but that is 20 minutes per day during which most of your body must be exposed.

That’s pretty much the only way we can get enough of this critical vitamin, other than through supplementation.

Yes, vitamin D is in a few foods. But taking vitamin D in pill form is probably the only way most of us will be able to maintain levels significant enough to help ward off disease–especially in the winter.

How far north you live is a good indication of typical vitamin D production in the winter months. In fact, there is now an autism map, which appeared in the Los Angeles Times in December 2011.

This map showed that 2010 autism rates were highest in the Northeast and on the West Coast and lowest in the Southern and Plains states. (Not unlike current cancer trends.)

And according to this latest study, the risk appears to be especially high for black Northerners.

Compared to white Americans, autism rates were 40 percent higher among African Americans living in states with the lowest UVB exposure. And their vitamin D levels were roughly 40 percent lower, too.

Of course, we already know that it’s more difficult for African Americans to get adequate vitamin D from exposure to sunlight. But this study exposes a remarkable difference, which comes at a great deal of risk to this ethnic group.

It also underscores the vital importance of vitamin D supplementation for anyone trying to conceive.

This study doesn’t prove a link between infant vitamin D status and autism. But the study authors think that these trends are enough to suggest that D deficiency during pregnancy may be a key risk factor.

So if you or someone you know is attempting to get pregnant, it appears that 40 ng/mL is the magic number. Get your levels tested. And if you’re not already supplementing with D3–at least 2,000 IU per day–start now.

Meanwhile, in other autism news…

A recent nationwide study showed that a type of early behavioral intervention called the Early Start Denver Model (ESDM) can make a serious difference for children with autism.

The 48 children in this study represented a full range of early autism spectrum disorder (ASD) severity. All were between the ages of 18 and 30 months, and were randomly assigned either ESDM intervention or a control intervention for two years.

Researchers gauged results by measuring brain activity in response to both social (faces) and non-social (toys) stimuli via EEG.

Results showed that, following ESDM intervention, 73 percent of the children showed increased brain activity when viewing faces as opposed to objects. (This is on par with typically developing children, 71 percent of whom showed the same patterns.)

Results from the control intervention were starkly different.

In this group, 64 percent of children with ASD showed greater brain reactions to toys than faces–almost the exact opposite response. (This is in line with what we know about autism. Namely, that the brains of ASD children are more engaged by nonsocial stimuli.)

But that’s not all. Almost none of the ASD children were verbal prior to ESDM intervention, possessing an average IQ of only 65.

But results after the intervention revealed that average IQs jumped into the 80s…and that all of the children were able to communicate effectively using language.

This is a pretty remarkable study for so many families who think they may have “lost” their little boy or girl to autism. And it perfectly illustrates why I always encourage parents of children with ASD to get as many early interventions as they can afford.

Before you give up, know that there are many alternative solutions out there. I wrote about some of them in my book Feed Your Kids Well. And have shared other developments in past Reality Health Checks (you can search on autism on this website.)

But based on these results, you should absolutely read Early Start Denver Model for Young Children with Autism, by Sally J. Rogers and Geraldine Dawson, as well.

And please spread the word. It could be life-changing for thousands of children and their families.

“Autism prevalence in the United States with respect to solar UV-B doses: An ecological study.” Dermatoendocrinol. 2012:4:4.1-6.
“Early behavioral intervention is associated with normalized brain activity in young children with autism.” J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2012 Nov;51(11):1150-9. doi: 10.1016/j.jaac.2012.08.018.