What is Autism when looked at with fresh eyes?

Autism is diagnosis made based on a spectrum of symptoms, predominately defined by delays in social skills, communication skills and repetitive behaviours. Definitions are fine, but sometimes we need a deeper look.


In Brief

Autism is a spectrum of symptoms, predominately defined by delays in social skills, communication skills and repetitive behaviours.  Definitions are fine, but sometimes we need a deeper look.  Are autism symptoms the autism?  Or are the causes of the range of symptoms what autism really is.

What is Autism? - The official summary

Caregivers may be concerned about what autism is and how it affects a person. Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a broad range of conditions characterised by difficulties with social skills, communication, relationships and self-regulation.

Autism is typically thought of as a lifelong developmental disability that presents itself in early childhood.  Children with autism often have difficulty understanding the world around them, relating to people around them and managing their emotions.  Additionally, they often have repetitive behaviours and restricted interests as a result of the condition.

Children with autism usually have difficulty relating to people and understanding the world around them. They tend to have repetitive behaviours and restricted interests. Some children with autism may experience unusual sensory perceptions, such as hypersensitivity to certain sounds, textures, tastes, smells, and sights.

Worried caregivers should know that they are not alone.  Many others face similar feelings of uncertainty when diagnosing and caring for someone with autism.  There are more people that have walked the same path than you realise, many of which have had great success with improving the lives of their children.
There are different types of autism spectrum disorders (ASDs), including;

  • Asperger syndrome – A mild form of ASD characterised by difficulties with social interaction but not by restricted interests, behaviours, or activities.
  • Autistic disorder – A more severe form of ASD characterised by significant impairment in social interaction and communication, as well as restrictive and/or repetitive behaviours and interests.
  • Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified – A less severe form of ASD characterised by persistent deficits in reciprocal social interactions and communication.
A report in 2020 from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in the USA concluded that the rate of ASD diagnosis is 1 in every 44 children. This rate has grown quite quickly from the reported 1 in 125 from 2004.

If you're a parent of a child with autism, like me, you'll probably want a better answer.  The answer to the questions - what is autism? - is usually given as a number of symptoms and traits.  In reality, autism symptoms aren't autism.  Autism is something else which causes the symptoms.  So lets look at autism from another angle.

What is Autism? - From another angle

We parents have a variety of views on autism. When we break it down, autism is a term used to categorise a child based on traits and behaviours, just like someone who can perform sport at a high level is called 'athletic'. Autism is not a diagnosis in the same order as a diagnosis of cancer, for example, which involves diagnostic pathology and imaging. The diagnosis of Autism uses no such tools.

Although we are told by psychologists that our child has a permanent developmental disorder whereby their brain is wired differently, there are no diagnostics done to confirm that assumption. The logic used by the psychologists flows something like this.
Unfortunately, assumptions can get in the way of the truth. We parents don't want to risk going down the wrong path as a result of assumptions that may not be true.

Autism can be used as a term to help us explain to others and get extra assistance where needed. Without the term 'autism' it would be difficult when explaining the challenges of our child to others. We would spend a few minutes describing our child, in which time, the average modern person in the smartphone generation would switch off and start scrolling through their social network feed.

In reality, our kids are not autistic. They may be simply having some challenges with certain parts of their development. In many cases, the differences aren't challenges, they are just differences and in some cases enhancements!

When we are looking to help our children develop into the person they have been born to be, we need to assist them in overcoming their individual challenges, keeping in mind that some diagnosed symptoms of Autism should not be considered to be a problem. People are meant to be individuals.

The help our children, we need to be open to a wider range of strategies. The remainder of this post will cover some key aspects of Autism, but from an alternative point of view.

The further enhance your ability to help your child on the spectrum, seek parents that have walked the path already.   For further support, you can join our online private community with parents of kids in the spectrum and learn about the benefits of hiring an autism life coach.

Signs and Symptoms of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Signs and symptoms of Autism can help us as parents and medical professionals to focus our efforts to help children with autism. In some settings, there can be a focus from people to use the signs and symptoms to diagnose a child as either autistic or not, then further categorise them to represent where on the spectrum they belong. A better use of the signs and symptoms is to use them to guide our focus and help our children.

Signs that need to be addressed first include those that negatively impact people's life. Some of these include:

  • Inability to comfortably engage in eye contact.
  • Visual and auditory sensory challenges.
  • Difficulty with speech.
  • Impaired motor skills.
  • Difficulty understanding language.
  • Poor social skills.

In the list above, I have intentionally not mentioned those signs of autism that involve things such as different interests and the way children play. I believe variation in interests and some behaviours can be positive, whereas those making a diagnosis see them as a negative because they differentiate the child from a 'normal' child.

I have added poor social skills to the list above because sometimes there needs to be a focus on helping children socially as they come out of the autism fog to enhance their life. Children that have been overwhelmed with the symptoms of autism may not have had the opportunity to develop social skills and connection in the normal timeline. Therefore, they may want and need additional support in this area.

There are other symptoms of autism that are often overlooked.  These include things like gut issues and persistent toe walking.  These symptoms aren't considered to be autism traits, but they are more common in children diagnosed on the autism spectrum, than those that aren't.  If you're child has gut issues such s diarrhoea or constipation,  please read the post - Gut Health and Autism.

In my view, the signs of autism above all have a common influencing factor of poor gut and mitochondria health. Issues with gut and mitochondria result in increased inflammation, as confirmed in studies comparing kids on the spectrum with neurotypical children. Studies comparing children on the spectrum to neurotypical children regularly show autistic children have increases in inflammation and oxidative stress. The increases in inflammation tend to be found in the nervous system and the brain, which I believe is a major factor in the signs of Autism above.

Based on the evidence of increases in nervous system inflammation in groups of children with ASD, it makes sense to improve their health and implement strategies to reduce inflammation. As many parents and doctors can attest to, strategies addressing inflammation, gut health and mitochondria health can have amazing results.

What Causes Autism?

Autism is a spectrum of disorders with a spectrum of possible causes. Due to it's complexity, the common path for intervention with autism doesn't spend much time on uncovering the cause of autism. The diagnosis is made, permanent brain development issue from birth is assumed and potentially contributing factors are not explored any further.

As described above, an often overlooked cause of autism may be gut and mitochondria health issues and the resultant inflammation and impaired energy production. If we had access to an unlimited supply of information for each child, we would probably find many contributing factors rather than a single cause. If you are able to find and afford a skilled integrative medicine practitioner, you would likely uncover many of these factors.

What are some of the best natural treatments for Autism?

There is a well established treatment pathway for autism that involves early intervention therapies. These therapies are important and can significant help children on the spectrum. These therapies including psychology, speech pathology and occupational therapy will be the backbone of your child's treatment plan. You are probably already utilising these therapies, so I won't go into much detail on those treatments in this post. The purpose of this post is to offer some additional approaches and understanding.

Most of us don't have access to or have the funds to utilise a skilled integrative health practitioner right from the start. As such, we need to make some improvements to health and lifestyle first. An integrative health practitioner will suggest you do this anyway, so why not start now.

The health and lifestyle changes that I mention here are not to be considered medical advice and are my opinion only. You should seek advice from a qualified health professional able to provide specific advice The ideas below are general only.

Consider start with changes to the diet that remove potentially inflammatory foods. Consider implementing an elimination diet protocol that works for you. You can find many good options from simple internet searches and books. Elimination diets remove likely foods that are causing inflammation, then reintroduce them one-by-one and monitor symptoms.

Common inflammatory foods includes:

  • Gluten
  • Diary, particularly milk.
  • Eggs
  • Sugar
Our son had noticeable improvements in his wellbeing and symptoms quite quickly from eliminating milk and gluten. This gave us incredible hope and motivation to continue. We knew that we were on the right track.

Increase the amount of vegetables in the diet while reducing processed foods. Focus on nutrient dense foods.

Our default these days is to make sure we are filling our kids up with food. We believe that we need to provide enough energy for our children to grow and thrive, so we want to fill them up. I urge you to stop thinking like that! Please focus on quality food. That's where health comes from.

If you are ready for some fine-tuning and potential supplements, that's where you should seek help from a good integrative health practitioner who can run diagnostic tests and specific advice.

For more details on alternative strategies to help your child with Autism, please visit our post about healing autism.  There are many additional strategies and therapies that can be very helpful that you may not have explored yet, such as those to help with noise sensitivities and primitive reflexes.


Warren Gouin
Warren Gouin

I'm a parent of a child that was diagnosed with autism. I'm an engineer and scientist with most of my career in the diagnostic pathology industry. I'm passionate about improve health and I want to help other parents of children with autism.

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