Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is officially considered a neurobehavioral disorder. As such, most of the mainstream therapies applied are neurobehavioral based. Occupational, speech, behavioral therapy as well as drug therapy (primarily to control unwanted symptoms) are the mainstays of this approach.
The limitation of this designation is the poor recognition of other common medical conditions that accompany this diagnostic group. Common areas of dysfunction involve the gastrointestinal, immunological and nutritional systems.
With this recognition, ASD can then be viewed as a combined “medical” and neurobehavioral disorder. Treating patients with ASD in this way is the approach of many physicians who advocate so called “biological therapies” for ASD.
The “DAN” movement (referring to the Defeat Autism Now organization) and the subsequent emergence of “DAN Doctors” was primarily responsible for this shift in thinking. Unfortunately, this mode of thinking is not the norm among most practicing physicians. Much like alternative and holistic medicine, many of the concepts of treatment embraced by the DAN movement are not advised or encouraged by mainstream physicians.
Despite this lack of support, many physicians whether only subscribing to “DAN” treatment approaches or alternative/holistic/integrative physicians like myself who incorporate “DAN” ideas plus other holistic approaches continue our quest to improve the lives of our patients in the ASD community.
Specific areas of common ground include recognizing the importance of a gluten/casein free diet, avoidance of other potential food allergens or irritants, detoxification, brain support with specific supplements and remedies and balancing gastrointestinal flora or overgrowth issues of yeast and pathogenic bacteria.
There are also a wide array of other potential therapies that span the fields of occupational therapy, speech therapy, neurochemical support, regulation of the autonomic nervous system support and more.
The holistic approach bases treatment on levels of dysfunction and not so much on the official diagnosis. How one comes to a “diagnosis”, fortunately or unfortunately, depending on its treatment ramifications can shift with time (see my associated article on the changing diagnostic criteria for autism).
A comprehensive approach to ASD would include a combined approach of therapies taken from conventional medicine (primarily in the areas of occupational, speech and behavioral therapies) along with the approaches promoted by the DAN/holistic medicine movements. The best of both worlds is my recommended approach.