Common Sense Health

Minimize the Risk of Autism

By: Maureen McDonnell


That’s a rather bold statement you might say.   But when the worst children’s health emergency in the history of our country is upon us, we must be bold, think out of the box and not wait for the powers that be (The American Academy of Pediatrics, the CDC etc.) to guide us out of this mess!


In the beginning of April 2012, the CDC announced that from their last count (which was in 2008), 1 in 88 children, and 1 in 54 boys who were born in the year 2000 now have a diagnosis of autism.  That is a 78% increase since 2002!  Once again, let me reiterate, these statistics are from 2008.   One can only imagine what the current numbers are!


Although speculation regarding the causes of this epidemic is wide ranging and includes theories such as better diagnosis, older dads and obese mothers, savvy researchers, parents and clinicians who follow the emerging science believe the combination of genetic vulnerability and environmental  toxins is the theory that makes the most sense.


Another area to look for clues regarding causes (and therefore ways to treat and prevent autism) is to examine the approaches parents who have recovered or greatly improved their child have taken.  Going ‘green” by minimizing chemicals in the home, eating organic, removing gluten and casein, addressing intestinal candida, decreasing inflammation are all interventions that parents claim brought about positive changes in their child’s symptoms.  Listen to these parents and you’ll often hear them say,” if I only knew then, what I know now, this is what I would have done differently.”


On behalf of these parents and my own 35 years’ experience and observations as a pediatric RN, I believe we have enough information and evidence now to begin applying these practical, common sense,  precautionary strategies for minimizing the chances that a child will develop autism.


Where to Begin?

Get Healthy Before Getting Pregnant:
One of the best actions a woman considering pregnancy can take is to give herself six months to a year to “clean up” her diet and lifestyle.  Laying the foundation by putting herself in optimal shape nutritionally prior to conceiving will go a long way to maximize the chances of having a healthy baby and reduce the risk of  miscarriage and  or developing other complications of pregnancy and birth.


Minimize Exposure to Chemicals:
The assault of chemicals including the hormone disrupting ones such as Bisphenol A (found in baby formulas, register receipts and plastic bottles) has grown considerably over the past several decades.  The average home stores 3-10 gallons of hazardous materials. Though it is smart for all of us to reduce our exposure to chemicals, during preconception and pregnancy it is especially critical.    Studies by Jill James, PhD and others (1) have shown that some children on the autism spectrum have disruptions in their methylation chemistry thereby leaving them more vulnerable to damage when exposed to toxins.   Research has also emerged from Palmer (2) revealing that for every 1000 lbs. of environmentally released mercury, there is a 43% increase in the rate of special education services and a 61% increase in the rate of autism.


Eat Optimally Before, During and After Pregnancy:
The value of a healthy diet (consisting of nutrient dense foods grown organically with adequate protein and healthy fats) to ensure a healthy pregnancy, birth and a good milk supply, has been advocated for years.   But recently, a study has shown that an additional benefit to healthy eating is the fact that optimal nutrition protects the body from the damaging effects of toxins (3).


Educate Yourself Re the Baby Business:
Back in the days when I was a certified childbirth instructor and working as a labor/delivery and newborn nursery nurse, I witnessed some unsettling changes in the “mom and baby care business.”  These changes (referred to as “medical advances”) often were at odds with common sense, but since they came under the guise of “progress” they prevailed.


I observed the rate of Cesarean births, for instance, climb from 15.8% in the late 70’s to its now all time high of 33%.  In 2004 (4) a study showed an increased prevalence of autism in children born via C-section.


Induction of Labor: I also observed a drastic increase in the use of Pitocin (a drug used to induce labor).  In 2011 (5) a study showed a two- fold incidence of ADHD diagnosis in children whose mother’s received Pitocin.


Epidurals also became more common place over the last several decades.  A recent study in Pediatrics (6) revealed that fever is more likely to develop in women receiving epidurals therefore increasing the likelihood of mom and baby receiving antibiotics.     Since we know disturbed gut flora is a hallmark of many children on the autism spectrum (often caused by early antibiotic use), this may be a relevant piece of the puzzle to consider.


Vaccines: During my 35 years as a pediatric nurse, I’ve also seen a shocking increase in the number of vaccines children receive.  The US now specifies 26 vaccines be given in the first year of life (which is higher than any other country in the world.)   A 2011 study confirmed that the higher a countries vaccine rate, the higher their incidence of autism.(7)


Add Supplements: A good comprehensive multi with adequate folic acid, calcium and B vitamins (to support methylation) taken during pregnancy has been shown to optimize the health of mom and baby.   I’ve been advocating for years that a woman considering pregnancy start this supplement regimen prior to conceiving. In addition to a multi, I suggest adding Vitamin D and Probiotics.   Omega 3’s, found in fish oil has been shown to increase a child’s IQ and have other positive effects on health. Remember the brain is 70% fat.



Obviously, no one suggestion listed above is going to be the entire answer. But rather we do need to consider a comprehensive approach to autism prevention.  I believe after World War ll, exhausted from the strain of war, we began choosing convenience over common sense and profit over people.  We turned our backs on Mother Nature and her simple rules of health and healing and chose instead to blindly follow progress and technology without evaluating where they might lead. The resulting catastrophic combination of a nutrient-deficient diet, increased exposure to, and consumption of toxins, as well as the increase in the number of vaccines we give our babies created the perfect storm which has set our children up for autism and many other chronic illnesses.   It’s now time to back up the train and reevaluate some of our practices and philosophies that fly in the face of common sense.   As the Chinese proverb reminds us:  “Unless we change the direction we are going, we are bound to end up where we are headed.”


OB/GYNs, midwives and pediatricians can be wonderful additions to your team. But we as parents should do our own research and never abdicate total responsibility for our children’s health to our doctors. Be informed about nutrition and the environment, research the vaccine issue and find a health care provider who listens and respects your view… so together you can make the smartest, healthiest choices for you and your baby.


For a more extensive discussion of this topic, go to Saving Our Kids, Healing Our Planet and read 52 tips for Preventing Autism:


Maureen McDonnell, BS, RN


1. Oxidative stress James, S.J.,  et al. Metabolic biomarkers of increased oxidative stress and impaired methylation capacity in children with autism.  Am J Clin Nutr. Dec. 2004; 80(6):1611-7


2. Palmer, et al. Proximity to point sources of environmental mercury as a predictor of autism prevalence. Health place 2009 March 15 (1): 18-24


3. B. Hennig et al, Nutrition Can Modulate the Toxicity of Environmental


Pollutants: Implications in Risk Assessment and Human, Environmental Health Perspectives, Online 22 February 2012


4. Glasson et al, Perinatal factors and the development of autism, a population study, Arch Gen Psychiatry 2004, June, 6 618-27


5. Houssmann, Perinatal Pitocin as an early ADHD biomarker; neurodevelopmental risk J Attent Disorder, 2011, Jul;15 423-31


6.. Leiberman, et al, Epidural Analgesia, Intrapartum Fever and Neonatal Spesis Evaluation,  Pediatrics, 1997, vol. 99: pp. 415-419)


7. DeLong, A Positive Association found between Autism Prevalence and Childhood Vaccination uptake across the US Population,  J Toxicol Environ HealthA. 2011 Jan: 74(14):903-16

Written by Maureen “Mo” McDonnell, BS, RN