Addressing Autism at Any Age
It’s never too late to treat ASD, and you may not need psychotropic drugs to do it
At a time when autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects 3.5 million Americans, Kenneth Bock, M.D. has two reassuring convictions about this modern epidemic: it’s never too late to treat ASD, and you may not need psychotropic drugs to do it.
Known worldwide for his work with ASD, Bock uses an individualized, multifaceted approach with his patients, favoring a blend of nuanced, natural treatments like metabolic balancing, dietary modification, gastrointestinal restoration, immune system regulation and the elimination of environmental toxins.
In his recent book, Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies, he explains his biomedical approach and why it’s effective, even in teens and adults.
“There is no question that the younger you work with someone in a biomedical type of approach, the more chance you have of a very, very significant improvement and even recovery,” he says. “But that being said, a child, adolescent, young adult or even adult is never too old to pursue types of medical approaches (and see improvement).” The oldest ASD patient Bock has worked with is 47, and even that patient regained some function, Bock says, adding, “You are never going to lose the diagnosis completely in an older adult, but that doesn’t mean you can’t significantly help them.”
Bock has treated many older teens whose behavior significantly improved after he got them on the right medications, or off multiple medications, in order to address the underlying factors contributing to their autism symptoms. “I believe every teen and young adult deserves to be looked at from a biomedical approach to figure out what might be contributing, because it’s not just one thing,” he says.
To that end, Bock’s treatment regimen always begins with a thorough physical assessment.
“We look at each person as an individual and figure out what’s the proper diet for this person, what are the proper targeted nutrients, whether they have an issue with heavy metals and chemicals—many do—and whether they need to be detoxified,” he says. They may need nutrients to help with detoxification and metabolism, like glutathione or N-acetyl cysteine (NAC). Also promising are sulforaphanes, compounds found in cruciferous vegetables. In a double-blind, placebo-controlled study, researchers at Johns Hopkins found that sulforaphanes reduced the symptoms of ASD in people ages 13 to 27.
In order to know which physiological areas to treat and in what order, Bock identifies each ASD patient by subtype: gut-brain axis issues; immune system issues (immune deficiencies, recurring infections and hyperimmune reactivity, including allergies and autoimmunity); inflammation (often in the gut and brain); nutritional deficiencies or imbalances; hormonal issues, including thyroid or adrenal imbalances; and metabolic imbalances (such as methylation issues).
“Those are things you can do something about, rather than having these kids committed to long-term psychotropics without any other interventions. I think that really misses the boat,” Bock says.
While psychotropic medications might serve a useful purpose early on and may be needed long term, he says, ultimately the practitioner needs to address the underlying problems contributing to the symptoms.
“When you do that, it’s amazing. When you treat the infections, or treat the gut … some of these kids are hugely constipated, have abdominal pain or diarrhea, and that’s going to cause behaviors that are said to be autistic. But if they have acid reflux and they’re in pain, and all you do is attribute the pain to them being autistic and acting out, it’s really a shame. Because if you give them medicine for reflux or give them a diet, give them some nutrients that can heal the lining of the upper GI tract, the behaviors can disappear without a psychotropic. I’ve seen that many times.”
Bock’s practice in Red Hook, NY offers a variety of anti-inflammatory treatments, including a diet that eliminates gluten (found in many grains) and casein (found in dairy). “Sometimes removing those makes a huge difference,” he says. He also prescribes nutrients with anti-inflammatory properties, such as vitamin D, probiotics, curcumin and omega 3 fatty acids, as well as certain herbs.
The goal is not to “cure” ASD, but rather to reverse it, so the patient recovers as much function as possible. “Sometimes we’re very successful, other times we’re moderately so—and sometimes not,” Bock says. “But I’d say the vast majority of people we see show some type of improvement, and that extends to adults.”
Early intervention is still best, he adds, and fortunately pediatricians now have tools enabling them to spot red flags for ASD in children as young as 6 months to a year old. He recommends starting biomedical evaluation and treatment in addition to behavioral therapies as soon as there are clues that a child might have an autism-related issue.
Kenneth Bock, M.D. sees patients from around the world and consults with physicians, companies and institutions, as well as patients and their families. His practice, Bock Integrative Medicine, is located at 50 Old Farm Rd., Red Hook, NY. For more info, call 845.758.0001 or visit BockIntegrative.com.