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The Five Root Causes of Autism Challenges

5EggsResizedYou’ve possibly noticed just how different each autistic person is.  The kinds of therapies and treatments most suited to helping each one of us are almost as diverse as we are.

But the lifestyle changes that address our underlying health challenges are ALL the SAME!

How can this be?

Autistics have some unique blend of up to five underlying health problems.  These health problems have lists of symptoms that may overlap hugely, so they can be hard to tell apart.  ALL health problems respond to a healthy lifestyle… and the sicker you are, the bigger the impact a healthy lifestyle will have.

When you talk to health professionals who support autism turnarounds, many of them say, “If you can restore an autistic person to health, you can restore ANYONE to health.”

They say this because autistics get just about every illness we know about at such a young age that the stress changes how our brains develop (e.g. systems thinking, outside-the-box creativity, lots of long-term memory, very little RAM).  For more information on how stress changes development, I highly recommend Dr. Robert Scaer’s book, “The Trauma Spectrum“.

Unless there are certain co-occurring genetic syndromes, such as Down’s or Fragile X, involved, our brains are developing just fine under all the physical, mental, and emotional disruption caused by these serious ailments — we just can’t communicate what we’re understanding.

Intelligence in Autism

Evidence shows that even the most challenged of us have certain types of intelligence that are above average.  My favourite quote from this Scientific American article is:

Harvard Researcher Isabelle Soulieres:  “Many of those who are considered low-functioning can solve really complex problems if you give them material that they can optimally process.  Based on the test results, people come to the conclusion that autistic children cannot learn, when perhaps they do not learn the same way other people do.

And even those of us autistics with genetic syndromes can have a lot more cognitive potential than expected.  When underlying problems such as thyroid issues and malnourishment (from suboptimal absorption) are addressed, syndrome autistics can also thrive cognitively.

What Do You Mean, the Five Root Causes of Autism Challenges?

There are a number of models of autism out in the world, competing for attention.  Almost all the information available until about 10 years ago belonged to the “Incurable Neurological Disorder” model.

But the BioMedical crowd has been getting more raucous, and are drumming up a lot of evidence behind Gut, Immune, and Detoxification issues.  When these are resolved, many autistics camouflage just fine in neurotypical settings (though our brains are still systems thinking, etc.).  But not all autistics respond to biomedical treatments.

Among those of with autism, the conversations go deeper.  Yes, we’ve done things to decrease our immune, gut, and detox issues, and had much better function and quality of life as a result.  But we’ve also benefited tremendously from trauma release and osteopathic interventions… which indicates two more root causes that the BioMedical folks are missing.

What Restores Health, Points to What Caused the Illness!

Parents of autistic children and autistic adults who have used various treatments, therapies, and other interventions to treat these underlying gut, immune, detox, trauma, and neurological compression issues are the ones who’ve seen the largest increase in function and quality of life.

But the interesting thing is, if you don’t address the underlying lifestyle issues that caused the illnesses in the first place, you either don’t get the same results, or the autistic individual comes down with some other chronic autoimmune or other illness.

In the growing field of environmental / metabolic / anti-aging/ personalized/ integrative medicine (they’re still settling on what to name it, wry grin), we’re realizing that we can prevent and reverse most disease states with lifestyle changes ALONE.

But let’s get into the evidence behind the 5 root causes of autism challenges…

The Stress-Trauma Continuum


Non-autistic adults can begin exhibiting autistic traits (e.g. droning, rocking) when they have experienced more trauma than they can cope with.  Adults with autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).

Unprocessed negative experiences affect mental, emotional, and physical health and functioning.  Processing these experiences can often resolve chronic health problems with no other interventions, and autism challenges are no exception.

Indigenous medicine begins from the understanding that a body is designed to automatically heal itself. If someone isn’t healing, the first place to look is for the spiritual blockage, the emotional trauma, the thoughts or ideas formed which aren’t allowing the body to heal.

Many autistic adults experience profound benefit from releasing old trauma, and the autistic children who have dodged that bullet, or who have effective trauma release support, recover quality of life and function much faster.

Brain and Nervous System Injury

BrainMorguefileResizedSometimes nerves, and parts of the brain, can get compressed in utero, during the birth process, and from any of life’s common falls or accidents.  When parts of the brain or specific nerves get compressed, messages don’t get through easily, or sometimes, at all.

For many years it was assumed that nothing could be done for injuries to brain and nerve tissue, but stroke and other research has surfaced something called “brain plasticity”.  Dr. Daniel Amen is one of the world’s leaders in the brain repair this plasticity allows, and he has some resources specifically about autism (here’s one).

Additionally, osteopathic, cranio-sacral, and chiropractic treatments have all built up large bodies of data on nervous system compression in the brain and throughout the body for people in the autistic spectrum… and have developed the skills to relieve this compression, allowing nerve communication to flow freely.

Gut Microbial Imbalances

Deer scatThe healthiest humans on the planet host the equivalent of a diverse rainforest of probiotic (helpful bacteria) species in the gut, especially the colon.  Unfortunately, many aspects of modern living kill probiotics, so if you don’t live off nature (or on an organic or biodynamic farm), chances are your gut ecosystem has crashed to the equivalent of a grassland.

Grassland-type ecosystems are much more vulnerable to stress (drought, flooding, temperature extremes…), and sometimes crash further down through various stages of disrepair, to something like a stagnant pond.

Gut issues are the norm for people with autism.  Estimates of how many autistics have digestive problems run between 60% and 100%,  Autistics with the most distressing symptoms (projectile diarrhea, projectile vomiting, constant crying or screaming, chronic constipation, digestive stench, toe-walking, etc.) have gut ecosystems of the stagnant pond type.

Once the human genome project (genetic mapping) was well-underway, global science launched the human microbiome project (microbial species mapping).  We are still learning, but it is getting increasingly easier to help gut ecosystems re-establish healthy and diverse populations of probiotic microbes — with massively beneficial impacts on emotions (anxiety, depression), cognition (learning, memory), and physical function (balance, coordination, reaction times, etc.).

Immune Overwhelm

leafrot jackieThe immune system overlaps between 70% and 85% (depending on which scientist you listen to) with the gut.  The gut is usually the body’s first exposure site to infectious and parasitic organisms, and is usually the first place to fight them.

Virtually all people with autism have immune issues:  allergies, asthma, warts, fungal toenails, sinus infections (with horrible mucous), chronic Candida, frequent or constant colds & flus, eczema, and so on.  Autistics who don’t have obvious immune issues all have high inflammation (redness, swelling, soreness); brain inflammation is one of the few things all autistics share.

In order to function at its best, the immune system requires certain things in certain balances, or ranges of tolerance.  An example of a range of tolerance is oxygen:  too little, and we get sick and/or die, too much and we get sick and/or die, but oxygen in just the right range of amounts keeps us healthy.

The farther we live from our best ranges of tolerance in air quality, hydration, food, toxins, electromagnetic fields, radiation, temperature, kindness, and many other factors, the more stressed we are… and the more vulnerable our immune systems are to infections and invaders.

Chronic infections such as parasites and Lyme can cause autism-like challenges at any age.  But at young enough ages, lifelong brain development changes occur, ones that we autistics call our gifts.  Immune challenges are reversible with lifestyle changes, and sometimes herbal or pharmaceutical antibiotics to kill off invaders.

Impaired Detoxification

PoisonMorguefileResizedThe Autism Research Institute (ARI) was started in the 1960s by Dr. Bernard Rimland, whose son’s function had spiralled down into autism challenges.  Dr. Rimland noticed the health problems which accompanied his son’s downward spiral, which called into question the idea that “nothing can be done”.

He did many tests, and tried many treatments for his son, reversing a significant degree of the challenges… and then had his practice filled by parents of other autistic children.  Determines and supportive parents eventually convinced him to start his own research institute because they wanted someone who would listen when they said things like, “Diet makes a difference” to do the research.

All autistics tested to date by the ARI have much higher toxic body burden than is usual, and have impaired detoxification mechanisms.  There are now a plethora of studies on many different environmental toxins in autistic blood, urine, feces, saliva, and sweat.

All Five Root Causes Are Treatable

The thing is, if you make the big mistake of diving into therapies and treatments right away, you waste an awful lot of time and money getting a fraction of the results you could.  Chances are, your lifestyle is undermining the gains in health, thinking, emotional balance, and physical capacity that you want your child to have…

If you don’t address these lifestyle issues first, the way my SMART System does, it’ll be like trying to walk forward with a bungee cord holding you back.  On the other hand, these inexpensive, do-it-yourself, and highly effective lifestyle changes may be all you need in order to thrive with autism.

While many of us autistics and parents of autistics have gone it alone, very few of us have fully realized our potential this way.  So I’m encouraging you to set up a free 30-minute Autism Turnaround conversation with me.  We’ll cover:

  1. What your autism challenges are communicating
  2. Your main blocks to autism turnaround
  3. Your top 3 autism turnaround action steps

I’ll look forward to hearing from you!


  1. Fiona Lyczynska says:

    What about genetics? Or do you feel that the premises of heritability studies are too flawed. Or maybe that there is nothing that can be done about our genetic inheritance so why focus on it? I’m not sure what I think. but it’s an obsession of mine.

    • Jackie McMillan says:

      Hi Fiona,
      Genes and their expression change in response to environment (toxicity and stress, mainly). Dr. Bruce Lipton has done some great work bringing this data into popular language.
      Genetics are a result, not a cause.

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