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Finding Nutritional Support for Autism
by Gretchen Vannice, M.S., R.D.

As many as 1.5 million Americans are thought to have autism today. According to the Autism Society, this disorder is currently the fastest increasing developmental disability with an annual growth rate of 10-17%. With symptoms generally appearing by age 3, autism is the result of a neurological disorder which affects brain function. It is characterized by difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure/play activities. Changes in diet and the addition of certain supplements have shown great promise in reducing symptoms.

A Case for Omega Essential Fatty Acids

It is now believed that children with autism and autism spectrum disorders (ASD) have similar, albeit more complex, behavioral and learning difficulties as those exhibited by children with attention deficits (ADD). Recent studies show that children with ADD and autism have significantly lower blood levels of EFAs than control subjects. In a study of 41 children with specific learning difficulties and above-average ADD, mean scores for cognitive and general behavior significantly improved in the treatment group, compared to the placebo group, after 12 weeks of EFA supplementation.

Improved Language and Learning Skills

Louise Patrick, a Licensed Speech Language Pathologist, is a clinician and researcher focusing on children with ASD. In 2005, she and Ronald Salik, M.D., reported positive benefits using EFA supplementation to address language development and learning skills in children with autism or Asperger's syndrome. Their open-label pilot trial involved boys and girls ages 3 to 10 years who had been professionally diagnosed. None of the children were taking an EFA supplement before the study.

They used a fish oil-based EFA supplement from Nordic Naturals, which provided 246 mg of omega-3 (EPA and DHA), 33 mg of omega-6 (GLA), and 15 IU of vitamin E. The children were given the company's Complete Omega-3.6.9 (equivalent to two capsules of the children's version called Omega-3.6.9 Junior), on a daily basis for 90 days. Capsules were used for convenience.

The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills, a criterion-referenced tool, was used to measure eight primary areas of language and learning: receptive language, requesting, labeling, intraverbals, imitation, play skills, social interaction, and generalization. Children were assessed on days 0, 45, and 90 of supplementation. Eighteen of the 22 children completed the study. Language and learning skills significantly improved in all children who completed the trial. No adverse effects were reported.

According to Patrick, "It was the clearly observable, developmental change that the children made at the conclusion of the 90-day trial period and the happiness it brought to the parents that was the biggest highlight for me. I love the 'simplicity' of nutrition—to assist a child in becoming a better learner by making them healthier on the inside!"


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