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The elephant in the room – it’s time to write about environmental toxins and autism; & how they may affect autistic individuals (written with a healthy dose of cynicism)

The elephant in the room – it’s time to write about environmental toxins and autism; & how they may affect autistic individuals (written with a healthy dose of cynicism)

We have been asked several times regarding our thoughts on environmental toxins, and how they affect autistic individuals. With a slightly heavy heart, here’s our take.

While there’s no specific known cause for autism, much work has been done within the genealogy field, leaving many experts to cite ‘interactions between susceptible genes and environmental factors’ as likely causative factors. E.g., autism is known to run in families, with certain genes associated with the condition – but some experts believe that so-called environmental factors – notably linked to the mother’s health status in pregnancy, the use of some medicines, and her exposure to certain compounds; may ‘turn on’ susceptible genes or somehow increase their risk factors for neurodevelopmental conditions like autism.

The V word – and heavy metal overload

A smiling baby - investigating the link and causative factors between babies, deliveries, C sections and autism

How a foetus processes metals, MAY affect the risk of autism, according to some studies.

There is currently no sound evidence pointing to any causative links between vaccines and autism. However, interest continues in this field.

One study into toxins examined baby teeth from children with autism and correlated the metals lead, zinc and manganese (Ref 1). ). Published in the journal Nature Communications, the study suggested that differences in early-life exposure to metals, or more importantly how a child’s body processes them, may affect the risk of autism.

The discussion continues…

There are studies linking the pregnant mother’s immune response, eg. ‘abnormal maternal immune activation’ and resulting, elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines, which are said to affect the baby’s embryonic brain development, and increase the risk of ASDs. (Ref 2). It states – ‘Mother exposure to some chemicals [including] heavy metals… can affect foetal health negatively through epigenetic alterations of gene expression.

Our bodies produce ‘adrenal steroids’ or stress hormones such as cortisol, and there are also theories relating to ‘placental permeability’ to these hormones when the mother is pregnant.

Heavy metals are of course a much-discussed issue in connection to autism. A recent and very contentious study linked overloads of aluminium to autism (although this was a very small study of five individuals, and in some people’s opinion, didn’t use suitable controls, so was not vey ‘robust’. Please read the excellent article : ‘Using bad science to demonize aluminum adjuvants in vaccines’ which delves into more detail and challenges the study itself. The study may be found at this link (Ref 3).

Why are we being fanatical about causative factors for autism?

child holds balloons to illustrate autism spectrum disorder blog postThere’s certainly lots of research underway searching for causative factors for autism. But in our opinion, families of autists would perhaps be better served supporting their autistic family member by helping them manage their autistic challenges via aspects like talking therapies, mindfulness, the reduction of ‘demands’ (to help reduce anxiety) etc, rather than embarking on non-proven, ‘quack’ ways to help reduce so-called autistic symptoms (or god forbid, ‘cure’ autism), in their family member. We believe that the scientists and psychologists should be left to research and present their theories on Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASCs), but that the rest of us are best placed promoting empathetic autism awareness – not seeking causes and ‘cures’.

Take heed research the research!

There is a big movement consisting of parents of young autists focusing extensively on toxins, (e.g. heavy metal overload, as well as vaccines), and their impact on autistic individuals.

In the course of our work here at www.spectra.blog, we extensively read and research articles and papers, and have found no definitive, irrefutable evidence in the field of heavy metals and autism, in terms of the toxins being a definitive causative factor. Yes, there are studies linking compounds like lead and aluminium to ASDs / ASCs; but these should not lead parents and families to take action by furtively administering potions to their children in the hopes of ‘curing’ them, in our humble opinion. This field of research is still relatively young.

For example, the latest piece of so-called research doing the rounds (Ref 3) which we mentioned earlier seems so limiting, in our view, in that it only looked at five (decreased) autistic subjects. For science to be taken seriously it really has to be a lot more robust. Also, interested parties should always check who funded a study, and consider what gains the funding organisation may reap!

Showing a young child's sandy toes. To illustrate a discussion on whether autism and delivery methodology - are C-sections linked to autism?

One study found that there was a higher rate of cesarean section (CS) deliveries in autistic children. Should we be asking why autistic babies may not deliver naturally?

Not all studies are tenuous; there have been some compelling studies into some areas connected with autism and environmental toxins – one study found that there was a higher rate of cesarean section (CS) deliveries in autistic children, for example. (Ref 4). It stated: ‘This study confirms previous findings that children born by CS are approximately 20% more likely to be diagnosed as having ASD (autism spectrum disorder)’. (You can read our blog on the subject here, which includes the view that studies like this and the resulting ‘chat’ may make women feel guilty – ‘Are C-sections contributing to ASDs?)

Many people reviewing and discussing the results thereafter took the angle that maybe this high amount of C-sections is because they were a causative factor for the autism – however our viewpoint and surely a more logical one, is to question why the autistic babies did not deliver naturally?

Delve deep into the studies concerning autism and Asperger’s

We would urge anyone interested in reading more about ASCs and the effects of toxins to delve deep into the research. One thing which is interesting is that inflammation is widely credited with being linked to autism; that seems consistent. And yes, environmental factors do somehow seem to be linked to the onset of autism, in terms of how a child’s body processes the compounds in the womb. (Ref 2).

In our option there are far better things for people interested in learning more about autism to read and learn about, than detoxing children…

With science advancing, there is every possibility that new studies will come out that do conclusively link toxins to autism; but our belief is that many of the current studies are simply not convincing enough.

Two females talking _ to illustrate communication between NTs and autistics: ASC ASDIn our option, there are far better things for people interested in learning more about autism to read and learn about, than detoxing children (without their consent!!!) from toxic heavy metal overload; for example, SEND support in schools, the male / female divide in autism, and the process of referral and diagnosis for autistic children in the local authority system. Have we all got our priorities skewed?


Inflammation, IBS and autism

It is important to point out that as mentioned, inflammation certainly seems to be a factor with many autistic individuals, as is digestive challenges. The causes aren’t  really known, but some people propose that stress hormones are a factor. (Certainly the author of this blog suffered with digestive issues – Ketoacidosis attacks every single year of my school attendance as a child, and then irritable bowel syndrome attacks every single year of being in the workplace as an adult. Anecdotally, many, many other autistic individuals will attest to similar challenges.)

So, while we at www.spectra.blog are not ready yet to advocate detoxing from heavy metal  overload to reduce so-called autistic symptoms with branded water, we are certainly open to the concept of supporting an autistic individual’s body through diet, and managing their stress levels, so that physical signs of stress, such as IBS, may be reduced.

A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. Please share our articles if you find them useful!

References-

Ref 1 – Arora et al. 2017. Fetal and postnatal metal dysregulation in autism. Nat Commun; doi: 10.1038/NCOMMS15493 [Online 1 June 2017].

Ref 2 – Environmental factors influencing the risk of autism. Padideh Karimi et al. J Res Med Sci. 2017; 22: 27. Published online 2017 Feb 16. PMID: 28413424.

Ref 3 – Aluminium in brain tissue in autism, Mold, Exley at al.https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jtemb.2017.11.012.

Ref 4 – Ref 2 – ‘Association Between Obstetric Mode of Delivery and Autism Spectrum Disorder: A Population-Based Sibling Design Study, Eileen A. Curran et al. JAMA Psychiatry:2015;72(9):935-942. )

Inflexible (black and white) thinking, common in autists, can be linked to negativity. We examine the phenomenon, plus find ten positive traits of b&w thinking (ASD / ASC)

Inflexible (black and white) thinking, common in autists, can be linked to negativity. We examine the phenomenon, plus find ten positive traits of b&w thinking (ASD / ASC)

Autists are renowned for their black and white thinking styles. While we will start here by detailing the challenges this brings, at the end of this article, we have detailed some information on the benefits this mentality brings!

Also described as polarised or inflexible thinking, black and white thinking, a phenomenon that’s not limited to autists, is usually linked to negativity. In that the negative voice common in this thinking style may overwhelm us. E.g: I’m a failure, he/she hates me, I am no good at reading, etc.

Emotional reactions to everyday situations

A man is shown in shadow to show black and white thinking styles _ autismExperts agree that black and white thinking is caused by heightened levels of emotional arousal to everyday situations. It is usually earmarked by immediacy and impulsivity, states Corey Whelan, writing on WebPsychology.

This thinking style is a limiting factor for autists and, when linked to impulsivity, can lead to knee-jerk decisions that are not helpful; examples include breaking off a friendship after a small disagreement, or abandoning a hobby due to an ill-perceived sense of failure.

Adapting our thinking styles

However, despite being a naturally occurring thinking style for many autists, it IS perfectly possible to adapt and limit negative black and white thinking. (Although to what degree various enormously, depending on the individual and many other factors, notably any mental health issues.)

This ‘greyness’ is easier to achieve as an adult, however young autists can also be taught to question their thinking styles.

Key points in terms of trying to change a repetitive, negative thought pattern, or an ‘all or nothing’ approach, would be:
Looking for evidence to back up the thought; e.g. am I really no good at art? This drawing isn’t my best work, but I have painted beautiful pictures before.
Or, is my friendship with ‘x’ really over? Or was this a small disagreement that’s part of the fabric of our relationship?

Finding perspective and making choices

 woman in black and white - to illustrate autism article re black and white thinking styles Finding perspective can help too, especially in terms of blame. Yes, person ‘x’ threw the punch; but what happened previously, and were they provoked?

In terms of choices, it’s easy as a black and white thinker to sometimes feel that stopping, leaving, abandoning and walking away is the only real option. One useful tool is to remember there are always other options – and that this abandonment option is usually option B.

We can help young autists gain perspective by working out what the Achoice could be. It may seem harder, but it has more potential benefits. Stay for ten minutes, as we could discover a great new skill, or gain a prize? Try the new menu, in case we discover a new favourite taste?

Seeking the evidence

Sometimes, waiting and looking for the evidence helps us decide. A child doesn’t want to enter the room of a birthday party, saying they’re too tired, or feel ill. Going home is the B option – but what is the evidence for feeling tired or ill? Is their body tricking them?

Could waiting for a few minutes outside help them look at the choices? Maybe option A could involve the birthday child coming outside to say hello; or the worried child entering the room for ten minutes and sitting with the parent, to count the balloons? If they then decide they want to leave, this is ok of course, but some ‘thinking time’ helps with the issue of immediacy, linked to impulsivity.

Visual cues and scales

rl in black and white to illustrate autism article on black and white thinkingAs many autists respond well to visual cues, a traffic light graphic could help. If red is option B, amber is thinking time, and green is option A, this may help autists look for (and wait for) other options or perspectives.

Another option is to scale one’s feelings from 1-10, with ten being the worst. How much of a failure was the issue? Did I just not reach a personal best, but still made an average score? (What did everyone else score; again, seeking evidence.) If today’s occurrence scored an eight, what other occurrences scored an eight recently, and what was the outcome? Did they stay an eight, or could I lower the number, on reflection?

Keeping an actual chart and writing the details down can help too, especially if it involves tracking emotions; e.g. ‘That class was awful, I felt too embarrassed’, and giving the experience a five. Next time, if you repeat the exercise and score a four, the evidence shows you that your skill-sets have improved.

‘Doing’ something in the moment

We have a further tip, gleaned by the author of this article from Phil Parker’s Lightning Process training. (The Lightning Process attempts to modify the brain’s thought patterns to reduce stress-related hormones, and was designed by British osteopath Phil Parker in the late 1990s.)

The tip is to remind oneself of what you are doing or feeling in the moment, or the hour, or the day. Black and white thinking makes us think in extremes (e.g. I will never lose weight, I can’t give up this addictive habit, I will never feel well again, etc.) But framing the issue as something we are DOING at the moment, rather than something that we will necessarily also be doing tomorrow, next week or later today, helps give us some perspective.

Positives of black and white thinking

Whilst black and white thinking is undoubtedly unhelpful for the most part, there are some positives of black and white thinking.

black and white graphic to illustrate black and white thinking styles for autism blogTen ways that autists may have positive skill sets, due to their inflexible thinking styles:

  1. Cutting to the chase in business – removing the irrelevant data, and seeing the important elements. (If something’s good or bad, or right or wrong, decisions can be made more quickly.)
  2. Not getting caught up in the emotionally draining dramas that many NT (neurotypical) individuals can sometimes become embroiled in; who said what to who, etc. This lack of importance attributed to such trivial matters often leads to good, logical problem solving.
  3. Sticking to rules that help us – in terms of safety and security, health and wellness, legality, etc. Right and wrong thinking styles can help us stay safe.
  4. Generating action in a business capacity – no endless meetings, boardroom discussions, and pros and cons charts – logic is applied and a decision made. Simple.
  5. Sorting the available data to find a problem – this could be why something doesn’t add up, why a part has malfunctioned, or why a machine doesn’t perform well. Not paying attention to the grey or inconsequential information helps the individual solve a problem efficiently.
  6. Expertise – autists are known for developing special interests and obsessing about certain elements – together with black and white thinking, this helps them see a way to reach a goal logically. These combined factors mean autists often excel in key areas of sport, technology or the creative fields, because their obsessions mean they’re open to practise and repetition, and ultimately, expertise.
  7. Good employees – autists are renowned as being loyal and dedicated employees, due to a leaning towards rule-keeping. This can involve punctuality, reliability and honesty; all valuable workplace skills.
  8. Great pattern recognition, due to the brain ignoring the unnecessary grey areas – useful for memory, and learning techniques that require repetition.
  9. Attention to detail – again, in business, this can be beneficial for highly technical roles involving data. Honing in on what’s important helps the autist see areas that their NT peers may miss. It also reduces the risk of ‘mis-remembering’ information. And sometimes the little elements make all the difference.
  10. Loyal and trusting natures, which make many autists good friends and romantic partners. Whilst autists do have challenges in relationships relating to some areas of communication, they are often the shoulder to cry on, the reliable friend who keeps appointments, the partner who arrives for a date on time, and the person who upholds the values of monogamy and shared couple values.


    A little disclaimer – here at Spectra.blog we don’t claim to be experts about Autism Spectrum Conditions / Disorders; the information we post here is based purely on our own exposure and experiences. Please share our articles if you find them useful!