By, Dr. John Sotis
There has been an alarming increase in ADHD, obsessive compulsive-disorder, learning disabilities, and autism in recent years. While research shows that 25 to 40 percent of this increase is due to greater awareness and diagnostic substitution, the majority of cases represent a true incidence, not merely a prevalence. Sadly, scientists who are searching for “bad” genes as an etiology for autism receive the bulk of funding, while money could be better spent on prevention, education, and specific therapies.
While there are suspected genes responsible for autism, any genetic component would represent a very small percentage of cases. There is an inescapable truth – there is no such thing as a genetic epidemic! Damaged genes cannot account for an increase from 1 out of 10,000 children 30 years ago to 1 out of 68 at present. Even in cases of spontaneous gene aberrancies (de novo mutations), any geneticist will say that something environmental must be driving such mutations. Since most low functioning autistics do not procreate, the disorder should be fading away – but it isn’t.
Until a few years ago, it was believed that if a disorder ran in families, damaged genes must be at fault. While a small percentage of autistics do have syndromic autism (occurring with another syndrome such as fragile x, for example) with a genetic defect, the vast majority of autistics do not. It is now known that parents can pass on genes that are critical for brain development in a dormant state. They are not damaged, they simply fail to express when stimulated by the environment. Therefore, children can inherit traits from their parents, and if their lifestyle does not promote optimal brain development, a brain imbalance, termed Functional Disconnection Syndrome may result. Rarely is there actual damage to brain tissue; rather, there is deficient “cross talk” between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. This has been documented by electroencephalogram studies and SPECT scans.
Autism is inheritable within families, which has led many to believe that it is purely genetic. Past studies of twins concluded that there was a greater incidence in maternal/monozygotic identical twins (two children produced from one egg having identical genes) than in fraternal/dizygotic twins (two eggs fertilized by different sperm). These studies were flawed due to small sample sizes; a more recent study found the opposite the dizygotic twins, whose genetic makeup is similar, but not identical, had a higher rate of autism! Obviously, other factors are implicated in these cases.
The science of epigenetics emerged over 20 years ago and is becoming increasingly prevalent. According to this model, parents pass on traits to their offspring, which, if combined with poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and excessive use of technology, result in neurobehavioral disorders. It is interesting that as one goes up the socioeconomic ladder, there is a greater incidence of autism! The reason is that people with a left brain cognitive style tend to be more academically inclined, pursue higher levels of education, and have better paying jobs than those who have right brain dominance. If, for example, an accountant and a surgeon produce a child with predominantly left hemisphere traits, but gets adequate exercise, has good nutrition and minimal screen time with technology, he may be considered “nerdy” or “geeky”, not very socially adept, but have a fruitful life. If, conversely, this child has a poor diet, is sedentary, plays lots of video games, and has excessive screen time with technology, rather than merely having a left brain cognitive style, hemisphericity results. It may sound far-fetched, but parents who adopt a sedentary lifestyle and have poor nutrition are more likely to pass on genes in a dormant state –the child pays the price for the parents’ unhealthy habits! Epigenetic factors mingle with inherited traits, resulting in the “perfect storm”. Women who smoke, are overweight; especially if they are diabetic or have an autoimmune disease, are much more likely to give birth to a child on the spectrum. The risk is greatly lowered if the mother has healthy habits and takes prenatal vitamins.
Parents need to limit their children’s exposure to technology, as it almost exclusively stimulates the left cerebral hemisphere, driving down right brain skills. A study performed at Indiana University medical school concluded that there is no measurable activity in the prefrontal cortex when one engages in Nintendo games! This adversely affects brain expression, impairing cognition and executive function, social and emotional maturity. Video games that cause excitement deplete the brain neurotransmitter dopamine, which is essential for attention and motivation.
The upside of all of this is that lifestyle modifications can be implemented, along with nutrition, supplementation, and brain-based exercises to create neuroplasticity – that is, the brain is moldable, like plastic and can strengthen in various ways if provided with the appropriate stimulation. Hemispheric Integration is a cutting edge method for clearing up primitive reflexes that have persisted beyond infancy, while harnessing postural, sensory-motor and ocular (eye) systems which, when combined in a way that is appropriate to the individual, evokes neuroplastic changes. The reason for this method’s success is that treatment plans are individualized after performing a lengthy neurological examination to identify deficient brain regions and blood work to assess inflammation and immune system function, with counseling on lifestyle changes.
Currently, 1 of 4 children in the United States has a neurobehavioral disorder and the epidemic is increasing. Thanks to Dr. Robert Melillo, creator of Brain Balance Centers and author of the best-selling books Disconnected Kids and Reconnected Kids, many children and adults are making very positive changes through Hemispheric Integration. Yet, we must now look more toward prevention. We can’t fix broken genes; however, there are many variables that can be controlled through lifestyle choices –again, those epigenetic factors.
Dr. John Sotis is a chiropractor; he is also a functional neurologist – a title held by only a small percentage of practitioners. He has maintained a private practice since 1987, treating a wide variety of neuromusculoskeletal conditions. Dr. Sotis completed a year of post-graduate training under Dr. Robert Melillo, world-renowned researcher, professor, clinician, and author of the books Disconnected Kids, Reconnected Kids, and The Scientific Truth About Preventing, Diagnosing, and Treating Autism Spectrum Disorders. This course of study qualifies Dr. Sotis to practice Hemispheric Integration – a non-pharmaceutical, brain-based treatment for ADHD, learning disabilities, and autism. He is an active speaker, lecturing for various agencies and school systems, teaching clinicians and educators about the neurobehavioral epidemic. Dr. Sotis is an active member of the International Association of Functional Neurology and Rehabilitation and is a registered scholar of the Carrick Institute for Graduate Studies.