Are You Making These Common Mistakes With Your Child With Autism That May Be Reversing Progress?

Would you like a calmer home environment?

Would you like your child to thrive in today’s world?

Would you like your child to be able to be happy and healthy and fulfill his or her potential?

If your answer is yes to one or more of these questions, keep reading. On my quest to figure out how to help my own brother with autism (and how to help others on the spectrum), I interviewed and trained with some of the top health practitioners in the United States. 

I was surprised to learn that there are a number of common everyday activities that can cause your child to regress and reverse progress even if they have already seen significant gains in development or symptoms.

"One step forward, two steps back."

I remember when I first began speaking with mothers of children with autism, they would often tell me that the journey with their child could be described as “one step forward, two steps back.” As I began to speak with and learn from some of the top practitioners in the field of brain health and autism, I learned that the recovery journey for a child with autism was often not linear.

In fact, many times, there would be a clear or remarkable improvement in the child’s development and/or symptoms, before the child would regress sometimes to a point where they were worst than before they started their recovery process. Have you seen this in your own child?

As I continued my research, I began to put together some common patterns that emerged. Have you noticed any of the following to exacerbate your child’s symptoms?

Taking Your Child Swimming

One practitioner and owner of a clinic for autism in San Diego told me that she had a highly successful clinic using a very unusual (but unfortunately not very replicable) approach to helping children with autism. But what she would notice is that almost every time her patients would start to make significant improvements, or even remarkable recoveries, the family would decide to go on a much-deserved vacation as a family (because they finally could!).

The family would go to a nice place, where they could all relax and take some valuable time to rest and rejuvenate. Perhaps they would go to the Caribbean, or a vacation resort, or a theme park. When they returned from vacation, the child with autism would often have regressed significantly and the parents would be besides themselves, unsure what to do. This was an unfortunate price to pay for what was supposed to be a fun and relaxing trip.

The practitioner was puzzled as to what could have affected each of these children after going on vacation. With the help of the parents, she realized that the kids’ regression symptoms would often begin after going swimming in a chlorinated pool. Some postulate that the chlorine in the pools can stress metabolic pathways and creates toxic compounds called disinfection byproducts (DBPs), particularly affecting the liver, which is already working overtime in a child with autism.

Suffice to say, she started to warn her patients’ parents not to take their child swimming in chlorinated pools. Good alternatives to swimming in a chlorinated pool can include swimming in a clean lake, creek, or natural hot springs.


Children with autism often have poor digestion and can suffer from constipation and other gastrointestinal issues. It is common for children on the spectrum to have recurring ear infections as an infant, and often these are treated with antibiotics. In fact, a study found that individuals on the spectrum are often given nearly five times the amount of antibiotics as their neurotypical counterpart by the age of 3.

Because of the gut-brain connection, giving a child antibiotics can exacerbate both digestive and neurological issues. Since antibiotics destroy both the bad and good bacteria (which are required for proper digestion), in the gut, this will lead to further digestive issues and further exacerbate symptoms.

If you are unable to avoid antibiotics due to a medical emergency, make sure to give your child high-quality probiotics and fermented foods to try to replenish the good bacteria in the gut during and after usage of antibiotics. 

Exposure To Allergens

Another common mistake that may occur (sometimes inadvertently) is an exposure to allergens. Most likely, you have heard of the gluten-free, casein-free diet. It has been discovered that many children with autism are allergic to gluten and casein as they create undigested neuropeptides. However, in order for the gluten-free, casein-free diet to work, you must try it for at least 6 months (as it takes 6 months to rid the body of gluten and 1 month to rid the body of casein). 

Karyn Seroussi explains in her book Unravelling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorder: A Mother's Story of Research and Recovery that after removing dairy from her son Miles’ diet, she saw immediate improvements in his symptoms and development. 

However, one day, Miles had a clear regression in his symptoms and they couldn’t understand why, until they read a note in his backpack that explained that Miles had eaten a piece of cheese by accident at school that day. After then removing gluten from his diet, if Miles were ever accidentally exposed to gluten, Miles would have an immediate reaction such as diarrhea. 

There are other things that may serve as an “allergen” so to speak for a child with autism, including various toxins since these sensitive children often have an impaired detoxification system. In order to prevent this common mistake, it is important to carefully check all labels and make sure that allergen-containing foods and products are not easily accessible to your child.

Exposure To Food Dyes

Research shows that artificial food dyes can exacerbate hyperactivity and affect a child’s ability to focus. In particular, food dyes can exacerbate ADHD symptoms. A 2007 study found that common food dyes caused children to be more hyperactive and distractible. Another study, conducted in 1994, determined that 73% of children with ADHD benefited from an elimination diet that included removing artificial colors. Try eliminating artificial food dyes from your child’s diet and see if you notice any changes in symptoms. A food and behavioral journal can be especially helpful to help you track if there are any changes in symptoms due to a specific food or dietary change.

Having Pets and Exposure to Parasites

Dr. Hulda Clark was one of the pioneers in the alternative health movement, specializing in parasite cleansing. She used a protocol using specific antiparistic herbs and supplements to remove parasites in children with autism. However, as part of her approach, her patients were advised to avoid contact with pets or they might regress due to exposure to new parasites.

If the family did have a pet, she recommended the entire family (including the pets) be treated for parasites to prevent re-exposure to the patient and would strongly recommend pets be rehomed or only allowed outdoors. 

Fortunately, there are other approaches to autism that can go beyond parasite detoxification and deworming, so that having to rehome a pet is less of a concern. But, it is important to make sure that your child avoids other parasite infection sources which are commonly acquired from pork, sushi (raw fish), and contaminated water sources. The GI-MAP (GI Microbial Assay Plus) test is one laboratory test that can be used to test for parasite infections. If you suspect your child was infected with parasites, you can use an antiparasitic protocol such as that of Dr. Hulda Clark.

Exposure To Heavy Metals

It is now well known that heavy metals can cause a number of neurological issues. Mercury is a known neurotoxin and other heavy metals, like lead, aluminum, and arsenic are other heavy metals that can cause neurological damage. Unfortunately, heavy metals can be hidden in a lot of common household products and foods.

For instance, beyond larger fish, which tend to bioaccumulate high levels of mercury as they are higher up on the food chain, mercury has also been found in fairly high levels in high fructose corn syrup due to the manufacturing process, which is present in many common foods and drinks. In fact, half of tested samples of commercial high-fructose corn syrup were found to contain mercury as well as almost a third of 55 popular brand-name beverage and food products at relatively high doses according to two studies conducted in 2009. 

In addition, mercury is found in compact fluorescent lightbulbs (which is especially a concern if they break in the home), band-aids, eye drops, contact lens solution, ear drops, antiseptics, mascara, batteries, skin cremes, dental amalgams, and biologics. Higher rates of autism have also been found near coal-burning power plants (which release both mercury and aluminum into the air). Lead can sometimes be found in high levels in older homes containing lead pipes and/or lead paint. A Hair Mineral Analysis test can be used to determine what heavy metals your child may have been exposed to. If you suspect your child was exposed to heavy metals, natural heavy metal detoxification can be used to help gently detox your child of heavy metals.


The use of anesthesia can exacerbate underlying health conditions common to individuals with autism such as methylation abnormalities and mitochondrial dysfunction. As a result, children with either of these conditions are more likely to regress after anesthesia usage. Some dental and diagnostic procedures may require sedation or anesthesia. In particular, some children with autism may require sedation for common dental procedures due to anxiety and sensory issues. Although it is possible to try to mitigate potential reactions to anesthesia, it is best to avoid anesthesia and sedation to prevent a potential regression.

Puberty And Folate Deficiency

There are a number of theories as to why a child with autism might regress when they hit puberty. Here, I will mention just one theory that may be responsible for this. Cerebral Folate Deficiency (CFD) is a newly discovered disorder in which a low level of folate (vitamin B9) is present in the brain (CFD is common in children with autism). According to The Autism Community in Action, a national non-profit focused on autism research, “when kids hit puberty, fast growth taxes the mitochondria. They need more folate to meet these demands.  If there is not enough folate, the result may be seizures, aggression or regression.” One way to address this deficiency that can be exacerbated during puberty, is to work with a functional medicine doctor familiar with how to treat CFD and to implement a dairy-free diet since milk blocks folate receptors.


In the case of my brother, we had recovered him from being non-verbal to fully verbal and had nearly completely recovered him from autism while he was in elementary school. However, when he was exposed to one of the common regression factors mentioned above in sixth grade, he regressed in his symptoms to such an extent that he became almost worse than when he started his recovery journey. At the time, my family was not aware that this common regression factor could have been an issue and did not know what to do. He lost many years of progress and we had to start the whole recovery process over with a different approach.

There are a number of other potential factors that can lead to regression of symptoms that I have not mentioned here. What have you noticed in your own child? Have you noticed a factor not mentioned above?

Next Steps

If you would like to learn more about my brother's story, I have prepared a short video to explain more about his story and the steps we used to help him recover.

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