Like many parents, Barb and Mark watched their beautiful, social, intelligent, and incredibly articulate son, Devon, regress into severe autism when he was 14-months old. Barb has been researching autism and biomedical aspects ever since. Barb and Mark wanted answers as to why their perfectly healthy little boy regressed to an anxious, obsessive child, plagued with constant diarrhea, ear infections, headaches and OCD behaviors. They wanted to know why he lost his speech, started falling, and could go days without sleeping. Being proactive, they immediately started him in early intervention programs when he was 2 ½. They began ABA therapy when he was 3. They also added, speech and occupational therapy, and visited countless medical and health specialists. They thought for sure they would have their flirtatious and energetic son back in 6 months. Some days would be better than others, but progress was always minimal. Because they were only addressing the behavior, not the true cause of the behavior.
When Devon was 5, Barb and Mark found doctors that specialized in autism, biomedical issues, and functional medicine. They ran scans, genetic tests, heavy metal tests, food allergies/sensitivity test, organic acid test, and titer testing. The discovered their son was not only loaded with heavy metals but he also had yeast issues, gastrointestinal issues, wasn’t producing glutathione (the body’s most powerful antioxidant), a toxic liver, and histamine issues. He also had an autoimmune disorder called PANDAS/PANS, leaky gut, wasn’t absorbing nutrients, had food sensitivities and allergies, a mitochondrial disorder, and more. Barb had studied public health and nutrition for over 6 years in college. She quickly realized she had much more to learn when it came to her son’s autism. She saw how important diet, genetics, and environment was for her son’s progress.
Did you know between 95-100% of children with autism have gastrointestinal dysfunction; and that gut problems don’t always cause obvious gut symptoms? Did you know 70% of individuals with ASD have immune system abnormalities; and most are experiencing inflammation, especially in their brain? Did you now most suffer from several allergies, food sensitivities and intolerances, histamine issues, toxic exposures, infections, and nutritional deficiencies that all manifest through behavior?
No wonder they weren’t getting anywhere with just ABA, occupational therapy, and speech therapy. These therapies were doing their best to address the outward symptoms, but not the cause. What Barb learned over the past 18 years of practical application, research, additional trainings, and exposures to a variety therapies, is that autism is not purely behavioral and that ABA, and other behavior-based programs alone are not the sole solution. If that were the case, their issues would have been resolved almost 20 years ago when Devon first started ABA therapy.
After implementing some diet and lifestyle changes, Devon finally started making eye contact. He was potty-trained, started interacting, stopped spinning, and overcame his apraxia (with the additional aid of mild hyperbaric oxygen therapy). He stopped having constant diarrhea and his flushed cheeks and constant runny nose went away. Devon had been doing ABA, occupational therapy, speech therapy, for years. Adding diet changes, supplements and hyperbaric therapy seemed to help these treatments “stick,” but Mark and Barb still had a long way to go. Barb took any course or class the doctors she worked with would invite her to. Her studies lead her to many research groups, such as The Autism Research Institute, and to Cleveland Medical Clinic’s Functional Medicine program. Barb has spent the past 16 years studying functional nutrition, the basics of functional medicine, positive psychology, brain plasticity, and epigenetics. She saw the value of brain plasticity exercises, movement and music and got certified as a provider for The Listening Program and was trained in the FastForword program.
As long as there are kids out there with similar issues to their son’s (that aren’t so easily resolved with just behavior therapy and taking supplements), Mark and Barb will be continuing their education and research. A lot has changed over the past 20 years since Mark and Barb were thrown into the world of severe autism. And they are committed to staying up on the research for their son’s betterment, and for the betterment of others in their same situation.
The most significant fact they have learned is that there are many things going awry in autism that will manifest as behavior. What you see on the surface are the behaviors. But the behaviors are the brain and body’s way of acting out under certain stressors. There is so much more to autism than just observable behavior. There are many underlying genes (there are over 100 different genes associated with autism). Behaviors that emerge in autism or other psychiatric conditions are common pathways in the way the brain acts when exposed to different genetic, molecular, and system challenges. Most the ABA and ASD related therapies and services Mark and Barb had hired never consider these outliers and expected Devon, and kids like him, to progress and do their best when they are feeling their worst. How can we expect a child to focus when he is in pain, experiencing migraines, has itchy skin, has muscle spasms, is dizzy, and has brain fog?
To add to their frustration, these therapies and services were compartmentalized and worked individually and rarely worked to complement each other. Barb would mention what her son’s doctor, or one therapy modality, was doing with Devon. She was hoping for consistency and carry-over, just to have it blown- off or contradicted by another teacher, aid, or therapy service. Each therapy they used had addressed symptoms from a limited perspective without seeing the value of the other therapies and underlying causes of behaviors. There were inconsistencies from things like how Devon was taught to hold a pencil and use the PECS program, to learning techniques, exposures to allergens and adherence to his anti-inflammatory diet. It created twice the work for his parents, and the inconsistencies frustrated them and Devon. And, not one service would push him to his true potential. His mother homeschooled him for years, taught him how to read and write, only to find him tracing the alphabet and writing his name over and over again with each therapy service she hired.
After years of services that were one-size-fits all, ignored their input, didn’t push Devon or see his potential, and seemed more concerned about making money than helping their son, Mark and Barb realized they may need to take matters into our own hands. They never found a service that respected their son’s health issues, behavior issues, intellect, potential, and still provided the proper mix of compassion and push for his progress. They wanted an autism service that considered all these factors when working with individuals under the spectrum. Not one individual under the spectrum is the same, and they shouldn’t be treated as if they are all the same. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all program. That is why they found it so important to integrate therapies for these individuals, especially those with a more severe diagnose, and focus on more than just behavior.
Along their journey, they did find some amazing therapists and specialists in their individual fields who truly connected with Devon. These specialists, saw the value of integrating their services for the betterment and success of a child, stood out in their field, and contributed to Devon’s progress. Mark and Barb teamed up with these professionals who shared their vision. Together, they have worked very hard to develop Integrated Autism Therapies. All Integrated Autism Therapies’ team members have a passion and a commitment to see each client’s individual’s strengths, understand the root causes and obstacles, and will do all they can to assist each client to be happy, comfortable, productive, and develop their strengths. They aim to add subtle changes in each of their client’s therapies to make a difference and allow the brain systems to get some relief so that it can better organize and regulate itself. This is just the first phase of four or Barb and Mark’s vision to provide services to a community that will continue to need services past the age of 21.