Did “Rain Man” teach you everything you know about autism?

Autism, by definition, is a behavioral/developmental disorder characterized clinically by delays and qualitative differences in communication and social interaction as well as repetitive behaviors and restricted interests.

Figure 1. The evolution of the proposed cause of autism.

Figure 1. The evolution of the proposed cause of autism.

In the movie “Rain Man” Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond, is an adult with autism.  Throughout the movie certain classic symptoms of autism are portrayed such as high intelligence, repetitive behavior, and limited eye contact.  However, the movie is not able to explain the reason behind the disorder – that exact reason has escaped researches for some time, but it is becoming more and more apparent that there are many contributing factors.

The proposed cause of autism has changed over time. Today’s theory of the pathophysiology of this disorder is rooted in the many biochemical and systemic factors that can affect the brain (Figure 1).

Figure 2. Many factors and various immunological and neurological components can affect a patient’s presentation.

Figure 2. Many factors and various immunological and neurological components can affect a patient’s presentation.

To help identify the various factors that can contribute to the presentation of autism, one could ask the following questions:

1)     Is this individual’s body and brain getting what it needs to function optimally?  This can include vitamins; minerals; omega-3 fatty acids; and healthy, clean foods.

2)     Is something present in this individual’s body and brain that interferes with the ability to function optimally?  This can include internally- or externally-derived toxins, free radicals, or cytokines.  Intestinal dysbiosis, or the disruption of a normally-functioning GI system, can severely disrupt a patient’s health and is an emerging point of intervention (Figure 2).

Figure 3. “Background noise” factors can have an opposing relationship with a patient’s signal strength.

Figure 3. “Background noise” factors can have an opposing relationship with a patient’s signal strength.

The net effect these immunological factors can have on the body has been called background noise in a recently described “signal-to-noise” ratio paradigm.  This model explains that when background noise increases (poor nutrition, oxidative stress, etc.) the body’s signal strength (brain transmission) decreases.  This may mean that the body’s neurotransmitters have become depleted or they may simply be unable to be heard over the background noise (Figure 3).

Providers can come to understand how better to treat autism by learning how the disorder may be caused.  The root cause is now believed to lie within multiple biochemical factors.  Decreasing exposure to potentially harmful factors and ensuring the body’s various systems are in good working order can result in beneficial outcomes.

Guest author: Rachel Rixmann is the manager of the Clinical Support & Education Department at NeuroScience, Inc. and the resident expert in gastroenterology and nutrition.

References:
Compart, Pamela J. (2013). The Pathophysiology of Autism. Global Adv Health Med,2(6): 32-37.
MacFabe, Derrick. (2013). Autism: Metabolism, Mitochondria, and the Microbiome. Global Adv Health Med, 2(6): 52-66.
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