Autism Prevention and Treatment Options with Dr. Robert Melillo

The number of children diagnosed with autism has jumped from just 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 50. With autism rates continuing to grow, many parents are left with questions as to how they can treat it or how parents-to-be can prevent it.

Renowned physician, author and autism expert, Dr. Robert Melillo joined me this morning to discuss why autism rates are continuing to grow at such a rapid rate, whether it starts at birth or in the child’s first few years and whether or not autism can be treated with diet.

Dr. Robert Melillo joined Candace Rose of CandieAnderson.com for Autism Awareness Month to discuss whether or not autism starts at birth, prevention and proper treatment.

Dr. Robert Melillo joined Candace Rose of CandieAnderson.com for Autism Awareness Month to discuss whether or not autism starts at birth, prevention and proper treatment.

 

Candace Rose: Why are autism rates continuing to exponentially grow?

Dr. Robert Melillo: “In my book, the first chapter really addresses this- are we really facing an epidemic or not? It’s a big question because there’s controversy on either side. The numbers are increasing dramatically as you mentioned. We went from 1 in 10,000 children with autism to now 1 in 50. ADHD is increasing, and all these other disabilities are increasing.

The question is are we just recognizing it more or does it represent a real increase? I really addressed that and looked at this. What I’ve been able to see from the research is about 50% of that increase is probably due to improved recognition, changes in diagnostic criteria and diagnostic substitutions and other things like that. But at least 50%, more like 60 or 70% of the increase represents new cases. If we’re looking at new cases that are actually coming on each year and increasing that number, the only way you can describe that is by environmental factors meaning you can’t blame that on a genetic mutation because genetic mutations take generations to come into the population. And generally those are only ones that are beneficial. It must be environmental factors that are driving this increase, which is the reason why I wrote this book is because that means if environmental factors are ultimately the cause and are increasing these disorders, then ultimately the cure is going to be prevention by identifying them and being able to measure them before somebody is even pregnant.”

Candace Rose: Does autism start at birth or does it develop in the first few years?

Dr. Robert Melillo: “We believe that it starts prenatally. Based on what we see in the brain, that a child is born already with the beginnings of what could be autism. And again, autism, ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s- they’re all basically the same thing in the brain. That’s really one of my main areas of expertise is trying to understand what is actually going on in the brain of these children. The only way we can really say how something is causing is when we first understand what it is.

So what we see happening in the brain of these children is what is called a ‘functional disconnection’. It’s basically a developmental imbalance that effects the way their brain connects and the way their brain is able to communicate with itself. Primarily there seems to be a delay in development in the right side of the brain which is starting in the womb, meaning the right side develops first in the womb and for the first two to three years of life. So something that interferes with that growth and development, not causing damage but just causing a stunting of its growth in the womb and in the first two to three years of life has the potential to create this imbalance which may be significant enough that it may end up being labeled as autism or ADHD. We believe that that’s what happening but we also know that that’s reversible.

So even if the child is born with this imbalance, in my first book “Disconnected Kids” I really showed parents how to identify this in children, to measure it and then how to put together a plan to really reverse it. And we also have Brain Balance Centers, which are centers across the country that are really dedicated solely to really help to reverse these issues.”

 

Candace Rose: Is it true that parents can help treat their children’s autism with diet?

Dr. Robert Melillo: “Absolutely. Not just diet but a combination of things. In my book “Disconnected Kids” I talk about how identifying food sensitivities is very helpful at reducing stress hormones and inflammation in the child. Giving certain nutrients and supplements, being able to reduce inflammation and help heal the gut, these are things that are very important. But most of those problems, most of those dietary and nutritional problems I believe are secondary to what’s happening in the brain. The brain regulates the autonomic system which regulates gut and digestion. It regulates the immune system, it regulates the hormones so what we see in these children is that they have imbalances in their hormones, they have imbalances in their immune system, they have imbalances in their autonomic system or in their body’s regulatory system. And these imbalances really start with an imbalance in the brain. So although doing dietary and nutrition is important that ultimately if we don’t correct this imbalance in the brain we’re not really dealing with the core issue. And to deal with the imbalance in the brain we need to do things like motor exercises, sensory simulation, cognitive based exercises, as well as modified behavior and lifestyle, along with these dietary and nutritional changes. If we do those in the right combination we can completely eliminate and reverse these issues.”

Candace Rose: Where can viewers go for more information?

Dr. Robert Melillo: “I have a website: DrRobertMelillo.com that they can go and find more about what I do and my books. Also BrainBalanceCenters.com, they can go there and find more about our centers and my books. And of course they can get my books on Amazon or in any major bookstore.”

Celeb Image: Tommy Hilfiger Holds Champagne Reception in Honor of Autism Speaks & New Childrenswear Collection

According to autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks “more children will be diagnosed with autism this year than with AIDS, diabetes & cancer combined”. Legendary fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger and wife Dee (who are both Autism Speaks board of directors members) and Autism Speaks co-founders Bob and Suzanne Wright invited New York Knicks point guard Jason Kidd and teammate Amare’e Stoudimire, New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle, pro surfer Alek Parker, music producer Billy Mann, and countless celebs along with their families to the “Tommy Hilfiger Fifth Avenue Flagship for a champagne reception on September 19, 2012 to celebrate the in-store launch of the brand’s childrenswear collection. Tommy Hilfiger U.S.A., Inc. donated 20% of sales of the Tommy Hilfiger Kids collection from the evening to Autism Speaks.” (Source: Business Wire)

 

 

Tommy and Dee Hilfiger, New York Knicks point guard Jason Kidd and wife Porschla, New York Rangers forward Brian Boyle, NY Knicks center Amar’e Stoudemire with Alexis Welch and family, and Autism Speaks Celebrate the Launch of Tommy Hilfiger Kids at the Tommy Hilfiger Fifth Avenue Flagship Photo credit: Courtesy of Jamie McCarthy / Getty Images

Interview: Children’s Book Reviewer Heather Feldstein of WordsByMom.com

Are you struggling to find good books for your children to read aside from the classics? If so, you're in luck! Children's book reviewer, Heather Feldstein of WordsByMom.com joined me to not only discuss her website where she reviews 'great quality children's books that aren't highly marketed', but to discuss the importance of reading to children and having them read to us, and 'why we're giving our children the greatest gift'!

 

 

Heather Fieldstein, WordsByMom.com

Children's book reviewer, Heather Feldstein of WordsByMom.com

 

Candace Rose: Can you tell us about your website WordsByMom.com?

Heather Feldstein: "Sure. WordsByMom.com was created a few years ago and it's meant to be a resource for parents, teachers, and librarians, and anyone who has a child in life that's important to them. And it's really meant to be a resource to them to find really great quality children's books that aren't highly marketed. They're the books that are newer and modern; they deal with today's issues, even just topics that speak to children of today. But they're not the ones that are necessarily going to jump off the shelf at you. They may not be the ones with the really big display sections in the book store, but they're ones that are certainly on the shelf of any bookstore and they're great finds."

 

Candace Rose: What would you say inspired you to start your website?

Heather Feldstein: "There were a few things. First of all I've got children of my own and it's always hard as a parent when you've got young children and the excitement of going to a bookstore, and they're all running around- you're trying to keep one eye on them and one eye on the books that you're buying. A lot of these hardcover beautiful picture books are not cheap, and so you go and you invest in these books, but you can't really take the time to do a focus search when you're with your children; and so you come home and read the books and you realize 'oh this isn't what I thought it was'. I found myself kind of making up the story to be kind of what I thought it was as opposed to what it really was. So I thought that there should be a website or a resource for parents where they don't have to go through that and you can have a more focused or targeted search when you go to the bookstore. My website is really intended to be that and it's meant to be a few things.

    When you go to the bookstore look ahead of time to see some of my favorite picks or if you're looking for something in particular, certainly there are categories on my website that you can search through all the reviews. I've got about 100 reviews on my site to date, and I add to that on a weekly or biweekly basis. If for example your child is going through a period where they're very shy at school and you want to talk to them about coming out of their shell, you can do it through books and there are books that address that on my website. That's really what I want people to get out of the website.

     And certainly I also welcome suggestions from my readers. I get emails all the time from not only authors, and illustrators, and publishers, and publicists saying 'Can you review this book'? But I also like to hear from my readers saying 'Hey, you haven't reviewed this book, this is a great book that is loved in my house'. My policy really is that I will read everything, but I only review what I love. So people who go to WordsByMom.com are not going to see any books that I don't love."

 

Willow Whispers

'Willow's Whispers' by Tania Howells touches on the topic of shyness. Be sure to read Heather's review of the book on WordsByMom.com

 

Candace Rose: Do you ever get parents who want their kid(s) to read about a certain topic and not necessarily a particular title?

Heather Feldstein: "I do. I had a mother come up to me about a year ago, and she said that she has two boys- one has autism, and one doesn't. She was struggling to talk to her child who didn't have autism about why his brother is different, and she asked me if I knew of any books that could help her in this quest. I didn't at the time, but I certainly told her that I would find, and get back to her. So I did, and I got back to her and I posted it on my site; so now there's books about that.

    A question that I also get asked a lot by parents and grandparents is 'what age range are these books for'? I don't put on my website a recommended age range for a book. There's a specific reason for that- I think a good picture book doesn't just speak to a limited group. The way I do things in my home, I have to assume is the way a lot of people do it in their home. When I read at bedtime, I read to more than one child at a time, so I have my two children there that are different ages, so what my older one gets out of a book, and can extract from a book is a very different message than what my younger one can extrapolate from the book.

    And yet again, to take it further, I take the message out of the book that's different from what either of them do, and there's a section after each review on my site for post reading discussion questions. What I do is I try to give people a guideline or groundwork to talk to your child about the book and how to generate conversation. And the answers you'll get from a 2,3,4 or 5 year old is different than a 6, 7, 8 or 9 year old."

 

Ians walk Autism

Ian's Walk; A Story About Autism by Laurie Lears is about a boy suffering from autism. Be sure to read Heather's review on this book at WordsByMom.com

 

Candace Rose: You frequently feature books (as you mentioned) that offer lessons for kids, including handling fears, standing up to bullies and the importance of gratitude. How would you say children's books have evolved over the years?

Heather Feldstein: "I don't know that children's books have evolved per se, but I would say children's books have evolved with society and with our times. There are certainly classic books- Shel Silverstein is one of my personal favorites and 'The Giving Tree' is my favorite book of all time. These aren't necessarily modern books, but they're not books that I wouldn't recommend that everyone have on their bookshelf either. There's a lot to be said for some of those classic pieces of literature. Having said that, I think stories of today speak more to today's modern child. You wouldn't have found books years and years ago on autism or learning disabilities, like a book I've recently featured on my site 'Thank You, Mr. Falker' which is actually an autobiographical tale based on the true story of the author/illustrator of the book, her name is Patricia Polacco. It's about how she had dyslexia and wasn't diagnosed until 5th grade. So where my children get a certain message out of that book, I extrapolate something very different, and I don't think that these were topics that were discussed years and years ago. There's always a lot to be said about the classic books, and reading those to your children as well. Dr. Seuss- that's a classic. It doesn't necessarily speak to the modern child, but some of his books do- 'Green Eggs and Ham' is a perfect example. I don't feature books like that on my site because everybody knows about 'Green Eggs and Ham'. Certain books are relevant throughout the ages, but I find books today tend to speak a little bit more to today's children and I don't think we often give children enough credit for how perceptive and how smart they are. I really think a good book of today has to have an authentic voice, that's what we call it in the children's book industry; it has to speak with an authentic voice."

 

ThankYouMrFalker

Heather's review of 'Thank you, Mr. Falker' by Patricia Polacco. WordsByMom.com

 

Candace Rose: As you mentioned earlier, not only do you offer book reviews, but you also offer ideas for post reading discussions as well. How important is it not just for kids, but for their parents to discuss the books together after reading?

Heather Feldstein: "I think it's critical. I think in today's world we're all so busy- we're working, we're running to soccer practice, we're running to basketball, and swimming, and doctors appointments, and we don't really have all the quality time we want so it's not necessarily about the quantity, but about the quality. I think that when we're reading we have to really zone out. Put your iPhone's down, put your Blackberry's down- put it all away and take out a book (unless you're doing it on an e-Reader). Pull out a book whatever form it's in- digital or traditional tactile book, and pull it out and read it, and then talk about it. I find (with my children) when I read to them and start talking about the book with them, that's when they start talking about things- things about their day. It could be things that are about the book, about a message in the book, about a picture in the book. Even if it doesn't appear to you that it is about the book, your children are talking to you. I think creating dialogue, and creating dialogue through literature is really important. I think this is how we develop the foundation, not only for literacy but also formulating a good relationship with our children whereby they can speak to us and we can speak to them."

 

Candace Rose: Do you have any additional tips or information you'd like to share?

Heather Feldstein: "It's so important that we read to our children, especially when they're young. Make it a positive experience and don't push your children to start reading (for the really younger children). They will read. Reading is a cognitive skill that comes when they're ready. As a parent it's our job to provide our children with a positive literacy experience whereby we're reading to them and giving them a love for the book, and for the pictures and for the literature. Reading will come as long as we create positive feelings around the books, I think we're giving our children the greatest gift."

 

For more information, please be sure to visit WordsByMom.com. Heather can also be reached via Facebook and Twitter!

Health Interview: Autism Awareness Month with Dr. Timothy Culbert & Roberta Scherf of MeMoves

According to the CDC, autism affects one out of 100 children in the United States, and with April being Autism Awareness month, I was joined by Dr. Timothy Culbert and Roberta Scherf, founder and creator of MeMoves, to discuss the new tool that is revolutionizing the way autism is being addressed at home and in the classroom.  

 

Dr. Timothy CulbertDr. Timothy Culbert. Image courtesy of Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota

 

Roberta scherf memoves autismRoberta Scherf, President and Founding Partner of Thinking Moves, LLC. Image courtesy of FableVision

 

Candace Rose: Dr. Culbert, can you explain fight or flight symptoms?

Dr. Culbert: "I certainly can. The fight or flight concept refers to this idea that when your nervous system is very aroused or stressed you have a lot of what's called 'sympathetic nervous system activity' and that leads people oftentimes to make one of two choices either in essence to stand and fight in that difficult, stressful situation or alternatively, run away. And so one of the issues we get into with kids with autism, is that many kids with autism (we believe) are over-aroused or have that sympathetic nervous system turned on all the time or at least most of the time, and in that mode they tend to be less socially engageable, they don't think as clearly or focus as well, so that can lead to some of these more difficult or challenging behaviors."

 

Candace Rose: Roberta, as the founder of MeMoves, can you tell us about the tool and how it works?

Roberta Scherf: "Sure. It's very easy to use; it's an intervention that has a couple parts- the heart of which is a multisensory DVD that contains short sequences two to three minutes in length. And each sequence contains simple images, patterns, music and rhythm and people moving to the rhythm and the patterns. And what the child with autism would do would be to imitate (as much as they're able) the person on the screen."

Candace Rose: This question is for both of you- what can administrators do to help those with autism, ADHD and other disorders?

Dr. Timothy Culbert: "Well, I think in terms of a broad perspective there has been quite a strong focus for kids with any kind of emotional or behavioral difficulty on the use of psychiatric medications. And I think what we're seeing more and more as those kinds of meds- although they can definitely be useful, they don't really address some of these core issues like rebalancing the nervous system. And so I think that parents really want non-pharmacologic approaches for their kids. They're really asking us for more skills and less pills. So I think administrators, health care providers- other folks can really be more aware of a lot of these other tools that are out there to help kids, actually with not just autism, but other developmental and behavioral disorders and understand that teaching kids self-care skills so that they can self-regulate or balance their own nervous system is a really wonderful thing that provides them with a life long skill they can apply to lots of different challenges as they move along in life."

Roberta Scherf: "I would absolutely agree and say that what we do know- when you're asking about what administrators/teachers can do- we know that in order for a child to learn, their nervous system has to be in a calm, but alert state. And giving them the tools and the skills that will help them to get to that place, so that they're not constantly holding their breath or self stimming or having all these different thoughts ore really shut down in stress. That makes a big, big difference and we know that as you reduce stress, you increase function and this is a very simple way to bring something into a classroom. It doesn't replace anything else, what it does is to enhance everything else that's going on in the classroom so you can use it as a transition tool or priming activity, because it will then make everything else that follows easier and more effective, particularly allowing that child to move through their world more easily and to learn more easily."

 

MeMoves ThinkingMoves Autism ADHD Panic Attacks Anxiety Disorders Fight or FlightMeMoves

 

Candace Rose: What kind of feedback are you getting about how the tool works?

Roberta Scherf: "Oh my gosh, it's so cool, it's amazing. I'm so thrilled- what we did was to put something together so that we could help kids and what we've found is that just by word of mouth it's being used now more than 800 school districts, and a dozen countries around the world. The best thing, though is that the feedback is from parents and from teachers and from the children themselves, where we're seeing that for them it changes everything. It will stop meltdowns. I can tell you a couple different stories of one- we got a lot of phone calls- it was surprising before Christmas this year from parents who said 'this is the one thing my child wants for Christmas' and I'm thinking 'okay, they're going to want a bike, they're going to want a Nintendo. But we got calls from parents saying 'I've been looking all over for this because my child uses it in school and it gives them two hours to just be like other kids to think, to read, to be calm, to have a safe space'. And so when that happened, that's just amazing to hear, but yeah we get calls from teachers, parents, occupational therapists, physicians and the response has been overwhelming."

Dr. Timothy Culbert: "I think the other thing I find in the clinical setting is that kids can really engage in it quickly and in a non-threatening way because it's really designed to be interactive fun for them, so it does not seem like therapy. So the kids play the game- they do it, they do what they need to do, they notice it, enjoy it, engage in it and at the same time they're receiving this wonderful therapeutic response. But again, they don't have to know that, which I think is a really nice thing."

 

Candace Rose: Is the tool useful for those who don't suffer from ADHD or autism?

Roberta Scherf: "Oh my gosh, yes. I would say that it works for people of all ages and abilities. It really reduces stress. As one example- there's a school in Missouri, we have a teacher who is also a graduate student and she's been using it in her classroom of young children. And she's found that when she uses it on average four minutes a day (and this is a primarily mainstream classroom, not special needs) she sees a 71% reduction in off task behavior. It's a classroom where you can walk in and she said 'these kids are calm and they're able to attend for the first time'. So absolutely it's just another tool that really, really helps people."

 

Candace Rose: Can it be used for those who suffer from fight or flight symptoms due to anxiety disorders? 

Dr. Timothy Culbert: "Absolutely. So in our clinical practice I've used it with many kids with variations on anxiety disorders- everything from separation anxiety and panic attacks to kids who have insomnia, they can't sleep because their anxiety is so high. So I think it has a lot of applications really for any child that's experiencing stress. And as we all know stress is really ubiquitous these days for kids. Stress is everywhere, and this is a great example of an interactive tool that works well to calm their stress. I think the fact that it is done in a way that is electronic and interactive of course, even makes it more appealing because so many kids these days are oriented towards those kinds of activities."

 

Candace Rose: Do you have any additional information you'd like to share?

Roberta Scherf: "Well, we actually have a lot of information on our website, so if people have more questions they could go to the site, which is: ThinkingMoves.com. Again, ThinkingMoves.com or they could google 'MeMoves'."