by Dr. Jared Skowron
I’ve been a biomedical clinician for 15 years and talked with a lot of parents and seen a lot of kids. Patterns of humanity always persist, and as a Dad myself, I know the joys and stress of parenthood. Some of the most joyful moments are when your child looks you in the eye and says, “Mama”, “Dada”, or as they get to be toddlers, “I Love You!”
One of the cruelest parts of autism, dyspraxia, or whatever term you want to call it, is that some parents don’t get to hear those words. Because, something as small as a hug from your child and a few words can make it all worthwhile. When I talk to parents at my clinic, I always ask them what they want, what I can help them with, and how they want their children to improve. Almost every time, the answer is language, speech, and the ability for the child to express themselves and tell us what they’re feeling. So much frustration stems from our children not being able to communicate their desires or their pain.
The best success stories from my clinic with improving language and speech almost always come from supporting normal and healthy brain chemistry. In fact, looking at autism as a medical condition (not a behavioral one), I review 7 categories with families: Brain Chemistry, Gut, Toxins, Hormones, Genetics, Mitochondria, and Autoimmune. Getting more language out of our kids requires normal Brain Chemistry. But…. as we all know, all of our spectrum kids are not the same. It truly is a spectrum.
I have started to group certain presentations together, based on lab results I’ve seen, genetic patterns, and common, yet diverse presentations of our children with developmental delays. Whether ADHD or ASD or PDD-NOS or ODD or whatever letters you received from your neuropsych evaluation, what matters to me as a biomedical clinician is biology. That’s what I’m treating. When the biology improves, so do the symptoms that the abnormal biology is creating.
My goal in creating these sub-type descriptions is both to help you understand what might be creating the behaviors in your child, as well as how to help them. These sub-types can overlap, and you can have more than one of these sub-types, and therefore may need more than one treatment. Let’s use these as a springboard for further testing and treatment ideas for our children. So, while reading these, think about which describes your child best?
Type 1 – The Sensory Seeker / Under-methylator
Methylation has been gaining popularity as a buzzword since the easy availability of the MTHFR genetic test. People have been using methyl-donors in the form of methylfolate (5-mthf), methyl-cobalmin (either oral or B12 shots), DMG/TMG, and other supplements to increase brain chemical levels.
Chemicals in the brain which support healthy emotions, behaviors, language, sleep, and development are built out of the foods we eat, specifically protein and vitamins. The vitamins in our food aren’t in the form that the brain uses, so they go through a process called methylation, which converts (activates) them into a form the brain can use.
This conversion process requires the MTHFR gene to be functioning. If this gene is functioning, and you consume healthy levels of protein and vitamins, you should have normal levels of serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline. When you have inherited an MTHFR gene that isn’t functioning optimally (50% of standard population, and >90% of autism population), you end up with a deficiency in serotonin, dopamine, and/or adrenaline, and have the emotional, behavioral, and developmental symptoms that stem from those deficiencies.
These children often are trying to stimulate themselves. They love TV and video games, love to run around, love sugar, and love sensory input. The more they can activate their brain, the better they feel. They usually sleep well, but have problems with language and distractions.
In my office, I regularly test serotonin, dopamine, and adrenaline levels through a urine collection. When these are low, it usually matches with an MTHFR mutation Single Nucleotide Polymorphism (SNP) abnormality. A potential solution for these kids is Spectrum Awakening’s Power & Focus. It’s a powder combination of methylated folate, methylated B12, along with minerals and amino acids to increase brain chemical levels. Improvements in language and behavior seem to occur quickly.
Type 2 – The Hyperactive / Overmethylator
Medicine is like Goldilocks: not too little, not too much, but just right. Statistically, many medical treatments fit the bell curve shape. If you have a headache, licking an aspirin won’t help, taking a couple does helps, but if you take the whole bottle, you’ll end up in the hospital. Same goes for methylation.
The more methyl donor supplements you take, the more brain chemicals you will make, but how much is too much? Well, that depends on your level of adrenaline. We all know the ‘fight or flight’ chemical can turn our adorable children into the Hulk. Adrenaline is made from our proteins and methylated B vitamins. Adrenaline leaves the brain based on the control from other genes, including COMT and MAO. If you have inherited COMT and MAO genes that aren’t functioning, step back, you’ve got some anger issues brewing.
Ever try to blow out a match that you just lit? Can’t do it. Ever try to use logic on your toddler’s temper tantrum. HAH! Good luck with that. It’s pouring gasoline onto the fire. Adrenaline surges must cool down on their own, and people with poorly functioning COMT and MAO genes can’t remove their adrenaline fast enough.
Have you tried B12 shots or methylfolate and your child got more angry or more hyper or couldn’t sleep? That usually means you’ve got an overmethylator! The methyl B vitamins make more serotonin, dopamine, AND adrenaline. However, if you’ve got the COMT/MAO gene problems, you can’t get rid of the extra adrenaline that you’re creating from the methyldonors.
You’ve got to stop! Even if you have an MTHFR mutation, don’t force the clogged toilet until you’ve cleaned the pipes. Try a B vitamin with adenosyl-cobalamin or hydroxy-cobalamin, and with folate. These are the non-methylated forms that the overmethylators work well with. Also, a good addition could be Spectrum Awakening’s Calm & Cool. This is an amino acid powder with inositol to keep those adrenaline explosions to a minimum
Type 3 – The Inattentive / Sluggish
Hello? Are you in there? What are you staring at? Is this an absence seizure? Want a million dollars? Anything?
Do these words sound familiar? Some children are sluggish and non-responsive. Some don’t care, and are unbribe-able. Some just want to stare at the birds.
The stimulating chemical in the brain is dopamine. It’s our accelerator. We need it to pay attention and it also makes us feel good, feel rewarded, feel excited. Kids who lack attention, focus, and tend to be sluggish often have low levels of dopamine (in fact I once tested one child that had zero!)
Increasing dopamine is easy, but remember our Goldilocks story. A little is good, too much is not. The amino acids that are used to produce dopamine (tangent: I’m constantly amazed that our focus and mood comes from our protein and nutrients in our food. We truly are what we eat, not just physically, but behaviorally and emotionally too.) Anyway, the amino acids that produce dopamine are called phenylalanine and tyrosine. A product to consider is Spectrum Awakening’s Attention on the Double, a combination of tyrosine and NAC, which could increase your child’s dopamine levels, giving them focus and motivation.
Type 4 – The Anxious / Worried
I think one of the most under-diagnosed conditions in our kids is anxiety. That’s a strong word, let’s use the term, ‘worried’. So many of our kids have worries that consume them. Even my daughter spent the first few years of her life glued to my hip because she never wanted to be alone. Is your child worried about being alone? Worried about what others think about them? Scared of the dark?
This worry and constant fear throws off cortisol (stress hormone) and adrenaline levels. That has downstream medical effects, including alterations in the immune system, increase in GI yeast infections, not to mention the obvious changes to mood and behavior and focus. If you’re anxious, you’re not going to pay attention at school or during therapy or what did mom just ask me to do?
When a child is living at the edge of Fight or Flight, the rest of the family is walking on egg shells. Any transition, any time you take away the iPad, any scream from a sibling sends them into a spiral. This can make daily living a large frustration. In fact, I spoke with a new patient yesterday, and the phrase they said over and over again was, “this life is hard.” My reply is that my job is to make your life easier!
I use two natural supplements for these kids. One is Spectrum Awakening’s Temper Tamer. This is a licorice syrup that improves cortisol levels and temper explosions. Another supplement is GABA. In my practice I have found an issue with GABA levels or GABA receptors in kids with autism. Please note that dose matters. I often will suggest 750-1,500mg a couple times a day, but many products only have 100-200mg.
Type 5 – The Spastic / Yeasty
Last, but not yeast (pun intended), the spastic and the stimming children, maybe even with a side of maniacal laughter. There’s a difference between hyper and spastic. Is your child non-stop motion with sleep problems? They’re most likely an overmethylator. Does your child have outbursts of energy? Lots of flapping and jumping stims? Do they laugh at inappropriate times? Do they have a red anus or a white tongue? These are all possible symptoms that they have an intestinal yeast infection.
Treating yeast and intestinal dysbiosis is very common in the biomedical world. Many of you may have already successfully treated yeast, or maybe are still in the middle of the battle, or dealing with the frustrating die-off reactions. Underneath a yeast eradication treatment lies the question, why did it happen in the first place? Perhaps many rounds of antibiotics? Perhaps the chlorine in tap water? Or is there an underlying immune system problem? Boosting and modulating the child’s immune system can help them keep the yeast away on it’s own. Team up with a biomedical autism doctor to get the best treatment plan to get rid of these bothersome bugs.
Our kids come in all shapes and sizes, some happy, some angry, some scared. Regardless of a diagnosis, emotions can throw our households into a fury. These behaviors may not only be a behavioral issue, but probably have a genetic, chemical and hormonal cause. Understanding our children as individuals can help us make them happier and healthier. Get some testing done by your biomedical physician, try some natural supplements that can improve brain chemistry, and sooner than you expect, your child might be giving out a lot more hugs and kisses.
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Dr. Jared Skowron created one of the largest biomedical autism clinics in New England, helping children for 15 years recover from the spectrum. He is on the Advisory Board of Autism Hope Alliance, NeuroNeeds, and lectures at TACA, Generation Rescue’s Autism Education Summit, Autism One, and other international conferences.