Autism, Brain, and Environment

By Richard Lathe | Go to book overview

Chapter 8
Gut, Hormones, Immunity:
Physiological Dysregulation
in Autism

Limbic abnormalities and sometimes frank damage are seen in subjects with ASD. Because limbic dysfunction appears to fulfill the dual criteria of necessity and sufficiency regarding ASD, perturbed limbic function is very likely the explanation of the brain and behavior disturbances that define the disorders. However, the limbic brain plays a second role – it controls body physiology. If limbic dysfunction is indeed at the heart of ASD, altered physiological function is predicted.

The aim of this chapter is to explore physiological disturbances that accompany ASD. The treatment is necessarily technical – but it is worthwhile entering into the detail so as to underscore the fact that accompanying physiological disturbances are contentious, but the data, when properly scrutinized, are unambiguous.

Part of the difficulty in addressing this area lies in the fact that children with ASD are primarily referred to psychological, psychiatric, and educational services, all ill-equipped to assess physiological changes. Moreover, there is often too little understanding that the body and the brain are inextricably linked – and changes in one compartment have marked effects on the other.

Even so, it is hoped that the tide of opinion is changing, and neurological and psychiatric disorders are no longer always seen in isolation of the changes in physiological function they can produce (and be exacerbated by).

This change in perspective is in no short measure due to the work of Robert Ader and colleagues. In his seminal book Psychoneuroimmunology,1 to give one example, he and his co-authors discuss a subject with severe allergy. To the

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