Doctor Claims Autism Prevention Possible – I had the opportunity to interview Dr. Robert Melillo, an internationally known lecturer, author, educator, researcher and clinician specializing in the areas of neurology, rehabilitation, neuropsychology and neurobehavioral disorders in children.
Dr. Robert Melillo is co-founder of the Brain Balance Achievement Centers and developed the Brain Balance Program, a multi-modal approach to the remediation of ADHD, dyslexia, autism, Asperger’s, Tourette’s, learning disabilities and processing disorders along with other neurobehavioral disabilities found in children. Dr. Melillo has written two books for parents focusing on brain imbalances in children; Disconnected Kids and Reconnected Kids. His third book, Autism: The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders – and What Parents Can Do Now, is now available.
My interview questions focused on Dr. Robert Melillo’s claims about autism prevention.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – Why are autism rates continuing to grow? Is there a possibility that doctors over-diagnose it more now or were they too lax in diagnosing years back?
Dr. Robert Melillo – This is the first chapter of my my recent book because this has obviously been a concern and a question. What I really did was spend a year researching this and speaking to everybody and reading most everything I could. To summarize what I found, essentially we have had this huge increase going from 30 years ago with 1 in 10,000 children with autism, to now as you know it’s one in 50. Best we can tell, maybe about 40-50% of that increase is because of improved diagnosis and improved recognition. That means about 60% of the increase is unexplained by any of that, which basically means that they are new cases. So, there is a real increase. It’s not because people are recognizing it more, or people are diagnosing it more. It’s not because doctors missed it in the past. It’s because we’re actually seeing more people with the problem. The good news is that when you see that happening, you can’t explain that in terms of a genetic mutation. Many people have believed for years that autism must come from some sort of genetic mutation or combination of genetic mutations, but when you’re seeing an increase like that that doens’t fit a genetic mutation. There is no such thing as a genetic epidemic. Another thing that doesn’t fit a genetic diagnosis is that most parents of a child with autism don’t have autism, most siblings of children with autism don’t have autism, and most people with autism don’t have their own children. So, that means with all of that, we can’t really describe it in genetic terms. That increase that is happening over a short period of time must be driven by environmental factors. And if it’s driven by environmental factors primarily then that means it’s preventable and that’s really the whole purpose of my book. It’s the first book to come out and say Hey, these problems are preventable, not only prenatally, but really pre-conception. We can actually measure the risk factors, we can develop a plan, we can eliminate those risk factors, and we can reduce the risk of you having a child with a disability.
Lisa LaGrou of Oakland County Moms – What can you do to decrease it to make autism prevention possible? Does this become the mom-to-be’s responsibility?
Dr. Robert Melillo – It’s really both parents. What we’re talking about is that these environmental influences affect gene and gene expression. So, that means that before a couple is even pregnant, they can have genes that are turned off by different environmental factors. And, when they get together and conceive a child, those genes can be passed on to a child in the turned off position. So, both can be responsible. But, certainly a lot of the risk factors are known about the mother’s health. What we see is that of course there are things, like certain chemicals in the environment and pesticides and things like that that we know elevate the risk. We know that there are certain drugs – last week a study just came out looking at anti-depressants use in mothers and the elevated risk of autism. But, most of the risk factors are really lifestyle. They relate really to the both the parents’ health. So, we see as one of the risk factors of course is a man over 40 or a woman over 35. What we also see is other factors like if a woman has obesity, diabetes, or hypertension… it elevates her risk of having a child with autism 60% per condition, 150% per condition for other disabilities. So, what we see is that a lot of it is what we call lifestyle. A lot of it is related to the same things that are driving an epidemic rise in obesity and diabetes and cardiovascular disease in adults. Although, if this is passed onto children, then what happens is that it affects the brain development because that’s primarily what’s happening in the womb. The good thing is that looking at one’s health, you know, making sure that we’re not overweight, that we’re eating properly, we’re exercising, we reduce our stress levels. A lot of these factors, the chemicals, the different things… ultimately what they do is they raise inflammation and stress hormones, and they activate immune responses in the body. And, that kind of almost attacks the baby in the womb and affects the expression of genes.
See related posts below to read another interview with Dr. Robert Melillo.
To learn more or to find a Brain Balance Achievement Center near you or to learn more about autism prevention, visit the Brain Balance website.