This is an introduction to the biomedical approach to the treatment of children with autism spectrum disorders. I am a family physician who became interested in this approach when my daughter, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at age 5, was not doing very well and failing to improve with conventional treatments. This approach dramatically helped her. In fact, she lost her autism diagnosis before high school, swam on the high school swim team, attended a liberal arts college in Ohio without special support and now works and lives completely independently. Like many parents, we were told at age 5 that none of these goals were attainable for her.
When I first learned about this, I spent the next two years working to understand everything I could to help our daughter. After learning the science and treatment options available at the time, I realized that I wanted to offer it to other families. I am now a Fellow at the Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs (www.medmaps.org), a comprehensive, evidence-based training program for this care. While not all patients improve as dramatically as our daughter did, most are at least happier and more comfortable when the underlying biological problems are addressed.
Evidence increasingly shows that autism is a medical condition affecting the entire body, not just the brain, with special problems involving the gastrointestinal, immune and nervous systems. The foundation for treatment is healthy lifestyle including a healthy, appropriate diet, as well as carefully avoiding environmental toxins. It can involve diet changes to decrease sugar, avoiding gluten and casein and adding targeted dietary supplements, as well as identifying and treating any other problems specific to each child. In fact, diet changes are so critical that there is no reason to see me if you are unwilling to change your child’s diet. The goal of treatment is improved health. Most families find that special diets are helpful, but do not need to be lifelong. The goal of dietary supplements is to replace nutritional deficiencies, and are also not lifelong. This approach was developed by a group of physicians and researchers. There are now thousands of published articles about medical conditions in autism, and how to treat them. Because we are evidence and science based, our treatment suggestions may change over time. The goal at MAPS is to first do no harm and second to improve health and development. You can learn more about this approach at www.tacanow.org (for parents) and www.medmaps.org (for practitioners).
Because the medical problems in individuals with autism can be quite complex, I recommend each family learn as much as they can to help their child. The website www.tacanow.org has very up-to-date information under “Parent resources”. In addition, I provide evening group sessions where I explain in more detail what the medical issues are and how to address them. I speak for about an hour and then answer questions for an hour. The cost is free for families and I request that young children stay at home. Teenagers and adults with an autism spectrum disorder are welcome to attend, if they do not have disruptive behavior and caregivers think it would be helpful. I recommend both parents and any caregivers to attend. Healthcare professionals interested for their own information are also welcome and will not be charged. I have consistently received feedback that families find these talks to be helpful, and will continue to do them, as long as there is interest from parents.
I no longer provide primary care and see myself as a consultant for integrative autism care for interested families. While I will prescribe psychiatric medications, they are my last resort. If you are looking for a physician to prescribe psychiatric medications only, we will help you find a psychiatrist to do so and my practice is not right for you.
I hope to see you soon and look forward to helping you and your child.
Mary Lou Hulseman, MD, FMAPS
Fellow, Medical Academy of Pediatric Special Needs