The Rise in Autism Spectrum Disorder

Research today is looking at how environmental exposures play a role in the development of ASD

By Deb Dittner

Over the years, we have seen a distinct rise in the diagnosis of autism and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including Asperger’s syndrome. These rates continue to increase including developmental and speech delays, and motor disorders.

With most disease, there can be an imbalance either in the gut, immune system or in mitochondrial dysfunction. Searching for the root cause of any disease is an important step in finding the imbalance and speaking to the specific symptoms.

Research today is looking at how environmental exposures may play a role in the development of ASD.

Increasing exposures to environmental toxins, bacteria, food, electromagnetic fields, and the combinations of these factors need to be studied in more detail. You are a complex system. Evaluating the gastrointestinal system helps in determining diagnosis and treatment along with examining the immune system for function and chronic infection.

Hippocrates said “all disease begins in the gut. The GI tract is an excellent place to start in the search for good health.

Whole, nutrient-dense foods, compared to highly processed food-like products play a large role in your health. Many foods may be contaminated with chemicals such as the herbicide Roundup, causing a negative reaction in the gut and mitochondria.

Genetically engineered foods such as corn, soy, sugar and wheat play a large role as these are heavily sprayed with glyphosate.

The overuse of antibiotics kills not only “bad” bacteria but “good” bacteria in the gut causing poor immune function. Antibiotic usage and poor food choices by the mother carrying the child affects the gut and thusly symptoms, of the child right from the start. The early disturbance in the baby’s gut has led to the increased use of prescription medication.

A diet that is gluten-free and casein-free plus the restriction of simple sugars, dyes, fruit juices and grains has shown positive results in ASD. Restrictions and eliminations of these in the diet will decrease the inflammatory response allowing the gut to slowly heal. Providing healthy fats such as avocado and coconut oil is good for brain development and may also be beneficial in other ways.

Consider decreasing the exposure to environmental toxins as much as possible. The Environmental Working Group ( has done in-depth research and provides a plethora of information including the Clean 15/Dirty Dozen, Cosmetics Database, and Shopper’s Guide to Pesticides. Some important steps to take to lower your exposure are:

• Eating organic fruits and vegetables.

• Wash fruits and vegetables before consuming.

• Drink filtered water instead of tap or bottled water.

• Use non-toxic containers for water and other food storage such as glass and stainless steel.

• Open windows in your home whenever possible to let in fresh air.

• Start a “no shoes in the house” rule as shoes can carry in pesticides and chemicals.

• Use a HEPA filter vacuum and filtration system. Replace filters as recommended by the manufacturer.

• Do not use synthetic fragrances in the home such as air fresheners. Consider therapeutic grade essential oils.

• Use no or low volatile organic compounds paints.

• When purchasing furniture, consider buying the floor model as these have already emitted some of the VOCs.

• Consider wood, stone tile, like that of a kitchen tile, or natural fiber flooring instead of carpeting.

• Avoid personal and cleaning products with fragrance or perfumes.

• Read labels and ingredients and avoid purchasing products that contain ammonia, bleach, chlorine, dyes, diethanolamine, formaldehyde, fragrance, hydrochloric acid, imidaolidinyl urea, isopropyl alcohol, lye, mineral oil, monoethanolamine, naphtha, nitrobenzene, parabens, petroleum, perchloroetylene, sodium laurel sulfate, sodium laureth sulfates, polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, trichlorethane, triclosan, triclocarban, triethanolamine and toluene.

• Also avoid bisphenol A and phthalates as these disrupt hormones.

• Use fluoride-free and SLS-free toothpaste.

• DIY cleaning products using baking soda, lemons, therapeutic grade essential oils and vinegar.

• Cook in glass or ceramic containers. Avoid aluminum and non-stick pots and pans.

• Prevent the build-up of mold using proper ventilation and dehumidifiers. Experts like Air Care Heating and Cooling can help with improving the ventilation of your home.

The previous steps may seem daunting to incorporate into your daily routine but are necessary interventions for a happy and healthy family. Start with a few items at a time and add a new one every couple weeks. Read as much literature as you can and join parent discussion groups. Preparation is important in every aspect of your life.

Deborah Dittner is a family nurse practitioner and health consultant. Her mission is to transform as many individuals as possible through nutrition and lifestyle changes. For more information, check out her website at or contact her at 518-596-8565.