I’m sure it comes as no surprise to other parents of autistic children that 40% of children with autism are considered nonverbal. Speech delays are one of the defining characteristics of autism. What may be surprising is the use and success of biomedical or functional interventions to treat speech delays.
All kids deserve the chance to communicate whether it’s verbally or with the assistance of a communication device. Biomedical interventions in conjunction with traditional therapeutic approaches can help autistic children achieve this goal.
Therapeutic and Biomedical (Functional) Interventions: Two Complementary Approaches
One of the most common interventions for speech delays in children with autism is speech therapy. Using at home interventions like reading, talking, and singing to your child in combination with more focused therapy can produce great results for autistic children with speech delays.
The addition of biomedical interventions can make speech therapy more effective and help speed your child’s progress. The two interventions are complimentary, not exclusive.
Medical Causes of Speech Delays
- Mitochondrial Dysfunction
Mitochondrial dysfunction can contribute to speech delays in autistic children. Mitochondria are the little organelles inside of our cells that are responsible for energy production. This energy is needed to activate the portions of our brain responsible for speech as well as fuel our tongue and facial muscles which are essential components of speech.
For these reasons, mitochondrial functioning is important to look at and support.
- Cerebral Folate Deficiency (CFD)
Cerebral folate deficiency or CFD means the folate in our brains is inadequate or deficient. This happens when folate has trouble passing through the blood brain barrier. One symptom of CFD is a speech delay.
To prevent this, we want to make sure our kids are getting enough folate. Standard over the counter formulations of folate come in very low doses. Kids with CFD will need prescription strength doses of folate. Products on Fullscript are available in moderately high doses.
However, in the meantime, you can boost your child’s folate levels by increasing their intake of leafy greens. Smoothies can be an excellent way to sneak these into a picky eater’s diet.
Supplements to Improve Speech Delays
There are a variety of supplements that can help address the underlying medical cause of a speech delay in autistic children. When used in conjunction with traditional speech therapy, you can speed your child’s progress.
- Vitamin B12 (Specifically MethylB12)
Methylation is important for cognition, mood and sleep regulation, and speech development. A methylated form of vitamin B12 can help improve all of these issues.
If you don’t have access to subcutaneous injection you can use a liquid or lozenge form of methylB12 and still see great results.
- Folinic Acid or Folate
Folinic acid or folate helps with methylation and mitochondria function. Folate is not the same as folic acid. In fact folic acid (found in cereals, rice, pasta, and baking flours) actually blocks our receptors from accepting naturally activated folinic acid and folate.
You can usually find B12 and folate in the same supplement if you look for methylation combinations. There are many options on Fullscript.
- Fish oils
Not only do fish oils decrease inflammation which can cause speech delay, they also provide healthy fats to nourish our brain. Our brain is made up of a lot of fat, and our kids need good levels of fatty acids like EPA and DHA to support healthy brain function and reduce inflammation.
- Carnitine, CoQ10, B6, and Magnesium
All of these supplements are important for mitochondrial functioning. These nutrients are easy to find in almost any store bought supplement combination that’s labeled as mitochondria supplement.
MitoVive by Metagenics and Mitocore are both pleasant tasting powders that can help with mitochondrial functioning (and in my Autism Essentials list on Fullscript).
It can be very frustrating to watch your child struggle with speech and communication. Remember to be gentle with them, and with yourself.
Make the decision to start somewhere. Maybe that means removing gluten or dairy for a bit to see if there are any positive effects and then keep trying new interventions to see what’s helpful.
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