There’s a very good chance, if the doctor to whom I’ve been talking for the last little while, that autism and autism spectrum disorders like learning disabilities and Asperger’s Syndrome aren’t caused only by genetic factors.
Dr. Robert Melillo, founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers, an internationally recognized expert on Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) and author of the recent book, Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders–and What Parents Can Do Now, stressed that people with an ASD must have a genetic predisposition. That is, the genes that can cause ASDs are there in the person’s body, but it’s a whole host of environmental factors that actually triggers the disease process.
One very important environmental trigger, he said, is stress in parents. Not just job-stress, but a more pervasive stressed caused by constant activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system, or the flight or fight response. This stress, he said, not only causes inflammation in the parents’ bodies, which certainly isn’t good, but it also can change how their genes work without changing the actual genetic code.
“When our bran and body are active and we’re healthy, our brain inhibits our fight or flight system in our body, what’s called the sympathetic nervous system,” he said. “If our body is working correctly, the stress levels go down. It lets us sleep better and eat better and we keep our stress response very low.”
The problem with that stress response, Melillo said, is that it can produce hormones which interacts with already extant genes, which then can cause a diminished cognitive response.
“If the adult has increased stress hormones, which can mask the effect of the gene for brain activiey, it doesn’t affect you much since the adult brain is already mostly already formed,” he said. “But if you pass that along in a turned-off position to your child, it will have a major impact.”
That, Melillo said, is from where the increase in ASD diagnoses is coming, a stressed-out population constantly teetering on the verge of flight or fight.
Sounds pretty horrible, actually. Still, all that bit is really some pretty good news. Which is that, if one of the major causes of ASD manifestation is parental stress and other environmental factors making an impact on the parents, there is every possibility that ASDs can be, if not cured, then severely ameliorated, Melillo said.
“One of the reasons I wrote the book is that most people are completely unaware that you can prevent it,” he said, speaking about his first book on the subject, Disconnected Kids: The Groundbreaking Brain Balance Program for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Other Neurological Disorders.
So there are things parents can do to reduce the risk of having an ASD child, as well as, according to Dr. Melillo, reduce the impact of an ASD on a child already on the spectrum. Still, I wondered, are there certain types of people who might be more inclined than others to having a child on the spectrum?
As it turns out, yes, there are. And I’ll be back on Tuesday with out last post on Dr. Melillo and autism to tell you dudes about it.