Table Full of Food

Autism Spectrum Disorder & Food Allergies

Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a group of symptoms that affect proper brain development, resulting in learning disabilities and or emotional difficulties. ASD may affect the way children communicate, along with multiple physical problems with the immune system, motor skills, and digestive health. Most children with ASD have many food intolerance/sensitivities resulting from compromised gut health. This inflammatory process is borne from an unbalanced microbiome in the gut and the inability for the body to tolerate specific kinds of foods.

Gut health is critical, especially with ASD. The gut has a separate nervous system that is called the enteric nervous system. It’s made up of bundles of nerve cells and fibers that interact with the community of bacteria that keep your immune system functioning properly. Gut health plays a major role in mental and physical well-being. We are currently seeing more mental health issues being impacted because of the foods we eat and a lack of beneficial bacteria in our gut.

Avoidance of certain foods can contribute to improved behavior and overall health for those with ASD. Try to avoid or minimize the consumption of packaged products or processed foods. And while this is not always possible, be sure to read labels carefully and be prepared to make phone calls to manufacturers to get specific questions answered about what is actually in each product consumed.

While every child is different and each case is so unique, I do have some general guidelines as to what foods should be avoided in order to see an improvement in overall health and behavior with ASD.

  1. Anything involving casein or dairy. This includes cow’s milk, yogurt, and even some non-dairy cheeses.
  2. Gluten and most grains can cause more inflammation and exacerbate an already problematic digestive system.
  3. Artificial colors and dyes are known to contribute to hyperactivity and can contribute to behavioral changes in children. They are often found on ingredient lists as a color followed by a number on them. Such as Yellow #5 and Red #40.
  4. Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners should be avoided. Also, any sweeteners derived from corn. Corn sweeteners have multiple names and can include cornstarch, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrin, maltodextrin, fructose, glucose and many more. If there is a sweetener in a food and the label does not list the source, it is likely from corn.
  5. Avoid most fruit juices, as they are high in sugar.
  6. Any products with soy in them.
  7. Vegetable oils, as they are often mixed with soybean oil.
  8. Caffeine and stimulants.
  9. Foods high in Phenols/ Salicylates & Nitrates/Nitrites. This includes berries, tomatoes, plums, oranges, chili powder, cloves, apples, vinegars, raisins, pickles and cured meats.
  10. GMOs, MSG, and non-organic foods.

Every child has their own specific needs, so I recommend working with a healthcare specialist who can help you figure out which foods may be most problematic for your child. The ASD journey is challenging for both parents and children. Realize that each day is a nurturing and rewarding experience. Take time to care for your child and yourself. This will improve the health of your whole family.

Scared Boy

Childhood Trauma & Autoimmune Disease

Many things can determine the possibility that autoimmune disorders develop as we age. Genetics, nutrition, stress, toxic exposure and infections can all weaken and attack the immune system. These are all factors that have been studied for a long time. However, what we are now realizing is the fascinating connection between autoimmune disorders (that show up later in life) and childhood trauma.

These events, called Adverse Childhood Experiences (otherwise known as ACEs), have had a profound impact on the health of adults later in life. Events included physical and emotional abuse, the loss of a parent, and continual lack of support or neglect within a family structure. These are all identified as Adverse Childhood Experiences and can result in a long-term exposure to stress, leading to health issues as an adult.

The research behind this was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente in 1996. Called the “ACE Study” in short, the study was published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 1998. Patients who were identified as experiencing an Adverse Childhood Experience ended up developing higher rates of cancer and mental health issues compared to adults who had not.

Long-term stress can also increase the risk of autoimmune disease in someone who has had an Adverse Childhood Experience. The key is in the gene that is activated after the stressor has occurred. The human body has a series of responses to stressors that vary greatly according to each situation and person. However, one such response is the flood of inflammatory stress hormones that can result from a traumatic experience. This inflammatory response can activate a series of genes that contribute to autoimmune disease.

Dr. Donna Jackson Nakazawa persisted to further examine the possible link between Adverse Childhood Experiences and autoimmune disease based of her own experience. While her personal story is powerful, it may not necessarily be supportive of the majority of people. In her adult life, Dr. Nakazawa was diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that attacks the nervous system. While seeking treatment, she was asked by her own doctor about any past trauma in her life. It turns out that her doctor was one of few doctors seeing a link between trauma and the chronic, systemic inflammation she was suffering from as a symptom of her illness. Her doctor decided that this question was an avenue worth pursuing.

Remembering the loss of her father at age 12 due to a botched surgery, it opened up the discussion of the possibility of childhood trauma that lead to her autoimmune issues. Connecting these two together, she has been an advocate for more research on childhood trauma and adult illness. Since then, hundreds of studies have backed up the Kaiser Permanente-CDC led study, though there is still a lack of awareness regarding this health issue.

Being in a constant state of stress resulting from traumatic experiences can be taxing and lead to many ill health effects. This chronic stress reaction leads to an increase in the inflammatory response, which can result in long-term chronic illness development.

Recognizing that your past childhood experiences can influence your health is an important step in healing. It’s important to consider a holistic protocol for total well being, in order to have a beneficial impact on the past trauma to reduce the body’s “auto pilot” reaction. While treating the body is good, treating the mind and its awareness of stressors can help the body to heal on all levels and increase your quality of life.

Liquid Mercury

Mercury & Autism

Autism is complex. Complex enough to contain a wide spectrum of possible symptoms or issues. This is the reason that it is called Autism Spectrum Disorder. Our understanding of it is still fairly new, but we are beginning to develop a clearer picture about its root causes and how our environment and society affects it. Researchers have been looking into whether certain heavy metals or pollutants are also having an effect on ASD.

Mercury is considered as one of these pollutants and is being looked at its’ possible link with Autism. In a study conducted by Janet K Kern, David A. Geier, Lisa K. Sykes, Boyd E. Haley, and Mark R. Geier, published in the September 2016 Journal of Trace Elements in Medicine and Biology, the study compiled many other researchers’ work on the link between mercury and Autism. Relevant data was also collected from over 90 other studies between 1999 and 2016. They looked at the different impacts that mercury had on brain health, including autoimmune activation, oxidative stress, and neuroinflammation; all activities in the brain that contribute to the development of Autism.

The study found that “74% of studies support a link between mercury exposure and a diagnosis of ASD.” This number is important, because “the compilation of the evidence indicates that children with ASD are more susceptible to mercury than typically developing children, and that is reflected in significantly different levels of mercury, or biomarkers indicative of mercury, in the brain, blood, urine, baby teeth, hair, and nails.” This study adds an extra overall perspective to the “vaccines and ASD” controversy.

Autism Speaks, a national advocacy, policy, and research group centered on Autism, states that more research is needed to clearly examine the possibility of a relationship between vaccine use and the prevalence of ASD. Their website mentions that thimerosal, an ingredient used in vaccines, is a synthetic form of organic mercury. This early exposure through thimerosal in vaccines, advocates say, may be the reason for such prevalence in ASD rates. Although vaccine manufacturers started to eliminate or reduce thimerosal in vaccines in 1999 (except certain flu vaccines), many of these vaccines contain aluminum, which may be equally as harmful as mercury.
Reducing the potential developmental impact on children through mercury exposure is an important step toward recovery. Alternate versions of vaccines are mercury free, though caution is necessary because of the possibility of other potentially developmentally damaging ingredients in them. Understanding where mercury is used in household items can reduce the potential risks. Items such as thermometers (non-digital) are potential hazards. A detailed list can be found at the Environmental Protection Agency’s website here:

Mercury is linked to Autism, through a comprehensive analysis of over 90 studies. The argument of how much mercury is damaging is still ongoing, but awareness of the potential risk is the most important point. In making decisions regarding exposure to mercury and other toxic metals, your knowledge, and that of your medical practitioner, can be valuable.

Woman holding up hand saying no

10 Ways to Say “No” Without Actually Saying It

Sean E. Heerey  ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Parents and caregivers get tired of saying “No”. Children don’t want to hear the word “No”. Setting limits and establishing boundaries are an important part of raising children.

Sometimes we feel that we have no option when dealing with a child and we must say “NO” quite emphatically and vociferously. Here is a typical scenario: It is time for dinner and your child wants a chocolate bar. Fortunately, there are several clever options in managing these situations.

Here are some helpful tips to change the dialogue between you and your child:

1. Distract- “Hey, did you just see that giant red fire truck?”

2. Pretend- “Sorry, no real chocolate before dinner. How about some pretend chocolate from Adventure Bay (where Paw Patrols rescue dogs live). I can give you 500 pieces of pretend chocolate!”

3. Be in agreement- “Yes, I would love to give you that chocolate bar as soon as you finish all your dinner.”
4. Make an alternative offer - “You had some chocolate earlier today. Why not have some giant, juicy blueberries?”
5. Request help from Authority figures- “I want what Dr. Jones would say about having chocolate before dinner. Next time we see him let’s ask”
6. Commiserate- “Yes, I want a chocolate bar too! All I want is chocolate before dinner. Who came up with that silly rule anyway!”
7. Just Play- Acknowledge that they want chocolate before dinner but launch into a physical play theme- chase, hug, tickle.
8. Google it- “I don’t think we can have chocolate before dinner, let’s ask Google?”

9. Ponder and Wonder- “Hmmmm, I wonder what Mama Pig and Papa Pig would say if Peppa Pig wanted to have chocolate before her dinner?”

10. Play the Grandma or favorite Aunt/Uncle card- “Oh, I am so sorry. I can’t give you chocolate before dinner. You will have to ask your Uncle Tony. Only Uncle Tony can give you chocolate before dinner. We can ask him the next time we see him for all the chocolate that you want?”

There are other many other ways to handle such situations. Patience and kindness goes a long way.

Happy children

Lead Toxicity in Children - There Are No Safe Levels!

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), acceptable Blood Lead Levels (BLLs) for children are <5mcg/dL. However, there is no measurable level of lead in the body below which no harm occurs. Lead is toxic to the brain! It does not matter if a child inhales, swallows, or absorbs lead particles, the health effects are the same. However, higher levels of lead are absorbed when it is inhaled. Sometimes a child can have no symptoms yet have elevated BLLs.

Symptoms that may manifest in a child include:

  • Learning disabilities
  • Slow growth
  • Malformed bones and behavioral problems

Very high levels can cause seizures, coma and death. At a BLL of 10 mcg/dl IQ drops 5-7 points.

Lead is found in nature in abundance in North America and many other parts of the world. Sources of lead exposure include air, water (“lead free” brass pipes can be 5-7% lead), imported goods (lead-glazed dishware, leaded crystal, lead solder in canned goods, spices, herbal medicines, candy from Mexico, children’s jewelry) and cosmetics like lipstick. Leaded gasoline is still used by some farm machinery, boats and race cars.

I recall listening to a story on National Public Radio about medicinal herbs from China and it was reported that they used the diesel exhaust from trucks to dry the herbs.

Perhaps the biggest route of exposure for children is from lead-based paint and lead contaminated dust. Although, lead-based paints were banned for use in housing in 1978, the majority of houses built before 1978 are likely to contain some lead-based paint. It is the deterioration of this paint that causes a problem. Millions of homes have deteriorated leaded paint and elevated levels of lead-contaminated house dust.

If you suspect lead exposure for you or your child, a simple blood test can determine the blood levels. If this is not a part of your healthcare providers workup please ask for it to be included. Keep in mind that lead in the blood only shows the exposure that occurred over the previous 2 weeks since lead gets absorbed into tissue fairly rapidly. If you suspect the exposure happened weeks to months ago or longer, consult an environmental medicine physician for advice on how to measure the body burden of lead.

Mother communicating with child

Positive Ways to Communicate with Your Child

Sean E. Heerey  ND, MA, CCC/SLP

The words we say have power. Sometimes it is not the words we say but how we say those words that communicates how we are feeling. Our words can have the power to hurt and harm someone or they can heal and uplift.

Researchers at Florida International University made an interesting discovery about children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and parental expressed emotions. For many children with ADHD, symptoms appear to decrease as they age, but for some there is no such decrease and one reason for that may be persistent parental criticism. The researchers found that children with ADHD who had parents that regularly expressed high levels of criticism over time, were less likely to experience such a decline in symptoms.

While sustained parental criticism is not the cause of ADHD symptoms implementing interventions to reduce parental criticism may lead to a reduction in ADHD symptoms. (Although not the focus of the research article treating the unique needs of the child with ADHD can have profound effects.) Choosing our words is important. I recall my 4th grade teacher admonishing us to “think before you speak”.

Here are some ways to encourage children even when their behaviors are challenging your patience:
Start with something positive:

When you see the shoes in the middle of the room say “I like that you took your shoes off when you come into the house. Next time place them in the rack” (or wherever they belong)
Communicate rather that criticize. “Let’s do it differently next time” rather than launching into critical attack mode.

Wait. Some issues can wait. If one parent has already discussed an issue the other parent can wait or just not say anything.

Don’t forget to give praise! Always praise (or punish) the behavior and NOT the child. The child is inherently good. It is the action or the poor decision that is the issue. It is less stressful and better for all parties involved to act and speak with kindness and compassion.

Back to School

Planning for a Successful School Year

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Summer is a great time for children. Lots of free time and opportunities to be outdoors and play! The end of summer means that the beginning of the school year is just around the corner. Parents and caregivers can take advantage of this time and help prepare their child for the transition back to a scheduled and regimented day.

Here are some suggestions that can ease the transition and alleviate stress:

1. Establish routines. Create a daily and weekly schedule with your child that uses words and pictures. Place the schedule in a place where it can be easily seen and accessed like the refrigerator door.

2. Create bedtime routines. Start 60-90 minutes before the actual bedtime. Keep the lights low in the home. Bright lights stimulate the brain to stay awake. Limit screen time the before bed. The blue light that LED screens emit, e.g., tablets and smartphones, can interfere with hormones that signal our brain to sleep. Best to avoid electronics before bed by at least 90 minutes.

3. Prepare for the next day. Have children get their clothes ready for the next day. Have backpacks filled with all necessary books and school supplies. Get input on lunch for the next day. Depending on the child’s age teach them to prepare and pack their own lunch.

4. Eat a healthy breakfast! Breakfast cereals are easy, but there are lots of healthy alternatives: coconut yogurt with fresh fruit and nuts, oatmeal or hot quinoa, homemade granola, omelettes or quiches, wraps with eggs, turkey sausage, etc.

5. Visit the school. Walk or drive by the school. If it is a new school, contact the school so your child can visit. Let your child get familiar with the building and route to school. This is very helpful for a new school but also serves as reminder for children returning to the same school.

6. Talk to your child about the school year. Talk about how great it is going to be and how much learning is going to happen. Also talk to your children about what stresses them, e.g., worried about making friends, bullies, homework.

7. If possible, parents can adjust their schedule so they can be present for drop-off and pick-ups.

These tips can help make your child’s transition back into school easy and comfortable, so they can enjoy a stress-free environment!

Angry girl having meltdown

Are You Tired of Meltdowns?

You say the word “no”. You take the iPad away. You tell them to put the candy or toy back on the shelf. The result is catastrophic. A full blown meltdown with yelling, kicking, screaming and head banging. The whole store is looking at you. Nothing works to transition your child. It is alarming because it seems to happen on a regular basis.

Maybe it is homework time or any structured activity that requires focus and concentration. Your child starts out strong but then fades very quickly. There are lots of tears, broken pencils, arguments, ripped papers and all sorts of excuses to get up from the table and do something else. Much encouragement is needed to complete the assignment but 2 hours pass and only a small portion of the homework is complete. This is frustrating for the entire family because it happens every day there is homework.

I have heard the stories over and over and one of the most common factors that influence behavior is food. Theo Theoharides, MD, PhD at Tufts University has shown that some children with behavior issues have lots of mast cells in their brains, which are the same cells that are responsible for causing a runny nose of hay fever in people with allergies. So when these kids get exposed to certain foods, they don’t necessarily get “allergy” symptoms, but rather neurological symptoms such as tantrums, mood swings, sleep disturbances, cognitive impairment and poor focus.

Many children may be sensitive or intolerant of foods and NOT allergic. Conventional allergy testing only looks at immediate type reactions, such as hives or facial swelling, so often misses any delayed-type reaction that may develop over hours to days. This means that it can be difficult as a parent to figure out what adversely affects your child.

One mother told me about her son’s reaction to eating a piece of cheese after having been on a casein-free diet for some time: “After having my son avoid dairy for several months we decided to take a break from the casein-free diet. My son had a piece of cheese.

Through tears he told me that he had to close the zipper on his jacket just right. It took him 30 minutes to put on his jacket “. It was clear to her that even that small piece of cheese had adversely affected her son’s ability to complete a simple task.

The reality is that some food reactions are difficult for parents to observe, since they may take up to 2-3 days to appear after a food has been ingested. It could be milk, wheat, corn, soy or some other food like raspberries. Or it could even be a family of foods.

Even if a child does not eat a food in great quantity, sometimes only a small amount of a particular food is needed to upset the balance in the body.

If you at your wit’s end with the tantrums, meltdowns and outbursts, it may be time to find out if something your child is eating is the cause.

There are many ways to figure out which foods may be immune triggers, so it is important to work with a healthcare provider who is knowledgeable about food intolerances and sensitivities.

At our office, we utilize conventional and non-invasive methods to help figure out what bothers each person. Working with practitioners who offer a comprehensive approach to food allergies and sensitivities is most likely to help your child be healthier and happier!

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP

Child looking away

Why Isn't My Child Looking at Me?

When a child makes meaningful eye contact for the first time it is a very special event. The bond between a parent and child strengthens. Some children give great eye contact in the first few weeks of life while others establish eye contact around three months of age. All babies are different in how they develop.

As children reach the 12 month level they are starting to use eye contact in different ways by looking at people and objects to make requests. Even if a child does not have any words they are communicating with eye gaze, gestures and different consonant-vowel combinations.

Some children give very poor or fleeting eye contact. If they look at you it is for a few seconds or they look to the side of your face. Many parents have reported that they feel as if their child is looking through them. Other children avert their eye gaze completely. Several parents have reported that their child used to have great eye contact but regressed near their 2nd birthday.

Your primary care provider can check this out and they can make a referral to a developmental optometrist. In most cases there are no vision issues.

Early Intervention providers (SLP, OT, and PT) can assess for delays and commence behavioral therapies.

3 ways to improve eye contact with your child:

1. Get on the floor and play with your child. Share an activity with them, e.g., ball play, container play, stacking blocks.
2. Bring objects or toys of interest to your eye level. When a child looks at you make a big deal of it, i.e., give lots and lots of verbal praise.
3. Remove milk and dairy products from the child’s diet. Many parents have reported sustained and prolonged eye contact from their children when dairy is removed from their diet.

If no changes occur after the aforementioned recommendations, then ask a Naturopathic Doctor to create an individualized dietary/nutritional and homeopathic plan to support your child’s development.

Sean E. Heerey ND, MA, CCC/SLP