Autism, A Medically Complex Disorder

Parents, scientists and physicians are recognizing that autism is more than a mental illness or neurological disorder, it is also a medically complex disorder. Medical comorbidities often appear in clusters with neurological symptoms of delay in individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If medical symptoms can be recognized earlier, then children more vulnerable to autism may be identified and monitored at a younger age, allowing earlier and preventative intervention. This includes limiting environmental exposures that could potentially exacerbate the symptoms of autism.

2015_10_9 iStock Autism squareThe medical community has made some progress in recognizing these medical complexities. The revised DSM V, a tool used by physicians to diagnose mental disorders, including autism, now recognizes that medical comorbidities may be present in patients with autism. It does not, however, refer to these medical comorbidities as diagnostic indicators.

These medical comorbidities or autism symptoms:

Many of these medical conditions are present in infancy, long before communication and cognitive dysfunctions are recognized. Currently, autism can be diagnosed as early as two years of age, however, the average diagnosis is 4.5 years. If comorbid conditions are identified, vulnerable children could potentially be recognized even earlier.

Medical comorbidities often appear in clusters with neurological symptoms of delay. These are signs that the brain might not be growing and developing normally.

Clinicians and parents regularly look for major developmental milestones such as first words, sitting independently, and first steps, but they are not always looking for earlier symptoms that could help recognize vulnerable children in early infancy.

These symptoms include:

  • Impaired sensory processing (difficulty self-regulating, calming, sleeping, self-soothing, irritability)
  • Decreased muscle tone (can feel weak, drooling)
  • Poor motor planning (clumsy)
  • Motor Coordination disorders (uncoordinated suck swallow breath patterns)
  • Picky eaters (strong food preferences/aversions that may have medical component)
  • Delayed early communication (lack of eye contact, lack of reciprocal interactions/emotions with caregiver/flat affect or lack of facial expressions)
  • Delayed adaptive responses

Children with these symptoms are frequently described by parents as “picky eater,””colicky,” “klutzy,” and “poor sleeper.” These symptoms are not always recognized by medical providers, or are under-reported by parents at well-baby checkups, as they do not relate to the more identifiable milestones like “walking” or “talking.”
Research has shown that early diagnosis is crucial for a positive prognosis for children with autism. If medical comorbidities can be used to recognize vulnerability to an autism diagnosis earlier than two years old, these children could receive earlier essential intervention.

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Autism symptoms


Carolyn Gammicchia

Dear Ms. Marino,

Thank you for broaching this subject. As a parent of a son, who lives with vaccine induced autism, I feel it is important that there is a realization that the “autisms” that individuals are living with today do indeed involve a medical piece. Our son has done very well within his recovery from his initial vaccine injury as we seek overall wellness for him via medically based services.

My only concern with this piece is the title and your referencing autism as a mental illness. It has not been categorized as that in the past nor it is considered a mental health diagnosis. It is a neurological disorder which may lead to an individual having an intellectual or developmental disability. However it is very important to not categorize it as a mental illness, especially within treatment and interventions. I do hope that this piece will be amended to show this because I would hate for this to be utilized as a guide for a parent seeking assistance and they are referred for mental health rather than I/DD supports.

Carolyn Gammicchia

Sheri Marino, MA, CCC-SLP

Dear Ms. Gammicchia,

We are happy to hear that your son is doing well. Thank you so much for your feedback and for giving us the opportunity to clarify our comment. We fully agree with you and are not taking a position that autism is a mental health disorder. In the article, our comment makes reference to the Diagnostic Statistical Manual for Mental Health Disorders (DSM), the American Psychiatric Association’s classification and diagnostic tool that provides doctors the criteria for diagnosis. Treatment recommendations and insurance reimbursement are usually based on DSM coding. Unfortunately, the diagnostic criteria for autism only identifies impaired social communication, verbal and cognitive dysfunction, and stereotypy to make a diagnosis. Our purpose is to increase the awareness of the medical comorbidities as well as the early neurodevelopmental symptoms. It is our hope that we can facilitate dialogue that would help to identify children who may be showing earlier neurodevelopmental signs or commonly comorbid medical issues, which are clearly not mental health issues. The new DSM V acknowledges the presence of comorbid medical conditions in autism as “specifiers,” essentially allowing diagnosticians the ability to comment on the presence of “Associated, known medical or genetic condition or environmental factor.” While we are encouraged that the DSM V is recognizing these comorbidities, it does not refer to these comorbidities as possible diagnostic indicators. These early symptoms, which may be present in infancy may not manifest until social demands reveal delays in language development, mal-adaptive responses, and behavioral disorders that then warrant a diagnosis of autism as per the criteria in the DSM V. We believe these early “warning signs” may help identify those at risk and allow earlier, preventative intervention.

Focus For Health appreciates your comments as we strongly believe that dialogue will help facilitate the refinement of the diagnostic criteria as well as educate parents and professionals on the early warning signs. We hope this dialogue will prompt physicians and parents to be more aware of early warning signs and therefore protect the vulnerable child from potential environmental exposures.

I hope I have addressed your concerns and I wish continued wellness for your son.


Sheri A. Marino, MA, CCC-SLP
Focus For Health, Advisor


Prenatal vitamins with folic acid cause autism the doctors know this but they don’t want us to know. I hate the fact that I took these same prenatal vitamins with my son . After I noticed his delays I started doing my research .

Nina Dello

I never took them because they made me sick and my son has ASD. Everyone wants blame everything. I love my son I give him my all! Any services he needs I get or has I waitimg for him. Instead of blamimg this and that and the other thing accepted it move on there is no cure. I would do everything all over again I love my son for who he is not a label or a diagnosis.

Jennifer Tanzi

Mary that is completely false information. Prenatal vitamins help prevent autism. Folic Acid has been studied numerous times and found to be a key element in prevention.

Eddie Albert

My comment is directed at Nina Dello’s comment.
“Accept it and move on…” Is in my humble opinion horrible advice.
We should investigate every lead to determine the true cause and prevent this as much as possible. Blaming without evidence or in the face of evidence may not be productive. But most people are acting on information they were given by a source they trust. If all these random autism organizations could unite and merge funs and focus, maybe we could get somewhere faster. Food for thought, hopefully no one gets food poisoning.

Shelley Tzorfas

Parents can begin to recognize symptoms long before age 2. Academia’s might not but family can. Does the child suddenly try to arch his or her back when being picked up? Does the infant try to speak or not? Does the infant seem to stare off whether you are in the room or near the crib? Do they whale tirelessly most of the day or night? Are they vomiting or have awful constipation followed by awful diarrhea? Are they staring at moving objects or spinning things? What about the moving mobile above the crib-do they stare at it past the time that they should be that interested in it? Did they lose the ability to suck and suddenly begin to instead “Tongue thrust?”

Rosanne Boike

I have a granddaughter moderately on the spectrum with Autism. She is 9 now. Early on we had blood work done and found she had high levels of a protein called phenolenolin. I have a brother that has PKU not discovered until he was 3…that said has anyone done any studies that may be of importance on this matter. Thanks

Eben Plettner

Are you aware of the research of Dr Theohrides of Tufts and Dr Herbert from Harvard which is supported by AutismFreeBrain. They have found a medical cause of autism that explains all these symptoms and have developed a blood test that has been shown to detect autism over 70% of children

Loren B Horton M D

4/3/16 I am in deep sympathy for the seeming bewilderment about Autism. Great effort is being made towards early diagnosis and treatment with a rate originating in the 1oos to a rate of 1 in 68,a broader outlook towards cause is warranted. The etiologies listed above invite derision as coming from a learned group. For 3 years I have sent my theory, with accompanying data to several universities, local papers, the Amish community, and even the Autism society. They were the oNLY ones to even respond, and then with a pat on the head, presumably because of my age. 94-,. Just think of the individual and family misery which might be alleviated with an answer. However, simple as the answer is, as depicted in today’s WSJ one must be prepared for derision> The results would be worth it

Janna moore

My teen nephew chose to go to the back of the room and sit alone playing a computer game at his grandmother’s funeral. I do not see this nephew very often and did not know if I should go sit by him awhile and say hello, etc. Any suggestions as to how to be with him and not make him uncomforable?

Chelsie henson

I am autistic and my son is aswell and dhr got involved and took my boys they said they were porly cared for because my oldest taven who is also autistic has problems if you could contact me with a responce to wht i should do to get my boys back and my rights i need all the help i can get thnk you

Lana Jackson

Great article. I am African American and recently discovered my nephew and an alarming number of minority children (incl., Latin, Asian and Indian) are born with G6PD. is there any research on the connection of this disorder and Autism. I was told there is but very limited attention is given to this topic because G6PD is not found in Caucasian babies.

Jeffrey Lorin Price

My son is 19 as a young boy he was seen for sensory disorder and am not sure if they really fixed this issue . Now my thought is he may have mild autism and at 19 years old for him I feel lost on answers to best help him .

Shane Stoddard

I know what autism is—it is not what you think it is! It is much different! I was 55 when I was diagnosed autistic savant. I have always loved trains, they were always in the forefront of every thing I did!!! I did poorly in elementary school, and had to teach myself how to learn. It was that process that I came to know what autism really is—it is NOT the vaccines!!! It begins much, much earlier!!!!!!!!!!


Absolutely, preach. My son evolved into his autism, obvious, mild, but clearly there. He grows to love new things and that’s all he can focus on, but he is the best at it! No one vaccinated him to be him and chose what his mind is drawn too.. He’s struggled in elementary but taught his peers MANY things and they are in awe of him along with all the staff because he’s creative and the sweetest kid ever! You’re luckily if you get one.

rose james

hello i want to let the world know about the great man Dr Odia. i am a mother of 14-year old son with autism. my son is verbal, problems with maturity practically no iends because interaction with people is difficult, parasite, yeast on him, kind of dandruff on top of his head. since the age of 6, we have been trying hospitals medicine and it very hard for me making him been the man i which i was, without being intimidated, by friends also to get him heald and more focused with his education. i was browsing internet for a solution on how to cure my son and i saw some comment of some women saying how Dr odia. did an herbal medicine that cured their childrens Autism. i then decided to take a bold step. i contacted his email: just to give him a test, he instructed me on what to do of which i did, Dr odia sent me an herbal herbs and gave me direction on how to apply it, during the process of applying it i saw so many changes and improvement on my son before a month he was totally cured of Autism illness. Dr Odia autism herbal med is very powerful and covers everything that go wrong in your child body, my son is so happy living the good life he deserves, kindly contact him on his email address: ( if you have been trying to get your child cured of autism thanks.

Jessica scott

it still surprise me how Dr ODIA did it all with the autism herbal cure he sent to me when my 5 years old daughter with autism who don’t play with friends, and doesn’t sleep, has also never cried ever since i gave birth to her of which i have gone to many hospitals for solution and i have uses so many medicines but still no hope not until i came across Dr ODIA email (odiaherbalcenter @ yahoo. com) here on line who sent me his herbal autism cure and asked me to use it for just three days morning night and evening on her and also a seed oil to rub on her body after bath. I did has he instructed me to and later on i started seeing so many changes, today my daughter can able to walk and talk she was completely healed i’m glad to come out here online and share my own testimony. you out there also having an autistic child suffering from autism hurry Dr ODIA will surely have a cure for you. contact him via email: odiaherbalcenter @ yahoo. com


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