Speech Issues in Autism: Medical Causes and Treatment Options

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This article provides information about medical causes for speech issues in autism as well as treatment options.  Please note: There are two approaches to addressing speech issues in autism: medical and therapeutic. TACA recommends that parents seek to address speech issues from both approaches in order to achieve the best possible outcome for their child.

Click here to learn more about therapeutic approach, including communication options.

Medical Issues that Cause or Contribute to Speech Issues

Speech issues can be caused or exacerbated by underlying medical issues. Below you will find a brief description of some of these medical issues to discuss with your child's physician. A good functional medicine practitioner, who is familiar with treating medical conditions common to autism, can help you on this journey.

Cerebral Folate Deficiency (CFD)

Current research is revealing that many kids with autism have low folate in their brains.  This condition, called Cerebral Folate Deficiency (CFD) is a relatively newly identified disorder in which there is low 5-MTHF (5-methyltetrahydrofolate) in the cerebrospinal fluid but normal or even elevated 5-MTHF in the blood.

Symptoms of CFD include developmental delays, speech difficulties, sleep issues, irritability, and more. Treatment options include prescription medications (Leucovorin, Deplin, or both) and the elimination of dairy from the diet because mammal’s milk blocks folate receptors.

Click here to learn more about Cerebral Folate Deficiency.

Seizures

Seizures are more common in autism than many realize. It is estimated that up to 45% of individuals with ASD are affected by seizures by the time they reach adulthood, and up to 60% have subclinical electrical dis-charge—many without any obvious clinical seizures. Seizures are often undiagnosed as a 30-minute EEG doesn't catch most seizures, and it definitely won’t catch seizures a child is having in their sleep. This is why it is recommended that every child with autism have at least a 24-hour EEG.

You can read more about seizures here.

Mitochondrial Dysfunction

Research suggests that mitochondrial dysfunction may be present in up to 80% of children with autism.  Mitochondria are the powerhouses of cells. Cells are the basic building of the body. If your body’s mitochondria aren’t working efficiently at the cellular level, all of the tissues, organs, and systems of the body those cells are involved with will be affected.

Symptoms of mitochondrial dysfunction can vary. They include, but are not limited to, GI distress, headaches, fatigue, clumsiness, slow cognitive performance, slow processing speed, developmental delay or delay in growth, seizures, and more. With a mitochondrial cocktail given at proper doses, many kids with autism improve greatly.

Click here to learn more about mitochondrial dysfunction.

Vitamin and Nutrient Deficiencies

The body needs sufficient amounts of specific vitamins and nutrients in order to perform certain functions.  Speech is no exception to this rule. The good news is that vitamin and nutrient deficiencies can be addressed through dietary modifications, including supplementation.


Nutritional and Dietary Treatment Options

Many of the underlying medical problems that cause speech issues in autism can be alleviated through nutritional and dietary intervention.  Below you will find a list of options to discuss with your child’s functional medicine doctor.

Gluten Free Casein Free (GFCF) Diet

The gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet removes all sources of gluten and casein from the diet. Years ago, parents and clinicians were ridiculed for reporting that a GFCF diet was the most helpful intervention for speech. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. Today, you will find many studies which not only support those clinical experiences, but explain the science behind them.

The GFCF diet is merely a change of food.  It’s not invasive or dangerous.  The diet been shown to help not only with speech, but cognition, sleep, focus, anxiety, behavior, and gastrointestinal issues too. If you can do something at home that is safe and may help your child, it is always worth a try.

More information about the GFCF diet, including how to implement it, can be found here.

Supplements That Have Been Proven to Help with Speech in Autism

Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin)

Vitamin B12 (cobalamin) is an essential vitamin that your body needs for many functions, including development, cognition, energy, and mood stabilization.  B12 connects the folate cycle to the methylation cycle and is used to treat redox abnormalities.

Folinic Acid or 5MTHF (Methyltetrahydrofolate)

A lack of 5MTHF causes a functional folate deficiency and even cerebral folate deficiency. This can cause speech impairment. The supplements, folinic acid and 5MTHF, can address these deficiencies.  Cerebral Folate Deficiency requires higher dosing.

It is important to note that folic acid and folinic acid are not the same.  Folic acid can block folate receptors in the brain, making problems worse. 

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of essential fatty acids that have been shown to help with speech and focus.  Your body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids on its own, so you must get them from your diet.

L-Carnosine

L-Carnosine, is a naturally occurring amino acid found in high concentrations in muscle, heart and brain tissues. It has been used to treat liver disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. In the study below, children with autism who were given L-Carnosine showed significant improvements in behavior, socialization, and communication, as well as increases in language comprehension.

Creatine

Creatine is an amino acid that supplies energy to muscles through the blood. By contrast, Creatinine is a biological waste formed by the metabolism of creatine and excreted from the body in urine. If creatinine is low, it is possible that creatine is low. According to Dr. Ben Lynch, if you have a child that is low muscle tone, not gaining weight, is low energy, and has a speech or developmental delay, then check their GAMT SNP. If they are ++ on this SNP, they may have a creatine deficiency.

  • More information about creatine deficiency and its association with autism and speech delays can be found here
  • More info from Dr Lynch here
L-Carnitine

L-carnitine is an important amino acid that improves mitochondrial function, thereby possibly improving speech. It is available via prescription or over-the-counter.

Ubiquinol (CoQ10)

Ubiquinol is the bioavailable form of CoQ10. It assists the mitochondria in energy production, and makes ATP, which is needed to carry out all of the body’s functions.  In the study mentioned below, data results showed a 21% improvement in verbal communication with supplementation of ubiquinol.

Sulforaphane

Sulforaphane is a sulfur-rich compound found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli. It is an anti-inflammatory that has many health benefits.  The study cited below showed a 42% increase in verbal communication on Sulforaphane.

B6 (P5P) and Magnesium

B6 is a water-soluble vitamin needed to create red blood cells and neurotransmitters (P5P is the activated form of vitamin B6).  Magnesium is an essential mineral that every cell in your body needs in order to function.  Both magnesium and vitamin B6 play important roles in cognition and mood regulation.

Vitamin D

Many children with autism have a vitamin D deficiency. Knowing your child’s Vitamin D level is important as it should be between 50-80. In the study linked below, the autism symptoms of children improved significantly following 4-month vitamin D3 supplementation.

Iron

The mineral iron plays an important role in cognitive and motor development. Iron deficiency may increase the severity of autism symptoms, including a lack of speech. Too much iron can be toxic, so you should NOT begin iron supplementation unless you’re under the care of a physician who is monitoring levels of both iron and ferritin (iron stores).

Butyrate

Butyrate is a short chain fatty acid. It has been shown to improve mitochondrial function, thereby possibly improving speech.

Kelly Dorfman’s Apraxia Protocol

A combination of phosphatidylcholine, Vitamin E, and Omega 3s has helped many kids with speech. Her protocol can found here.


Conclusion

The best outcome for your child can be achieved if you seek to intervene with speech issues from both a therapeutic and medical approach.  While it’s true that navigating speech issues in autism can be difficult, difficult does NOT mean impossible.

If you are looking for more support with navigating speech issues, please consider joining our online parent support group or signing up for a TACA parent mentor.


Additional Resources

Further Reading:

Video Presentations:

*All content in this article is for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek the advice of your physician, therapist, or other qualified health provider with any questions or concerns you may have.