Autism is one of the most common disorders detected in 1-2% of children. Its causes are unknown. The disease leads to impaired speech and interaction with other people, which in turn leads to a mental retardation of the child. To avoid such consequences, it is very important to detect the disease early and undergo treatment. When treating this pathology, in addition to standard methods, the doctors are increasingly using stem cells. Their injection has a beneficial effect on the brain, improves the behavior of the child and increases the effectiveness of further speech therapy and behavioral correction.
Parent should see a doctor, if they notice the following signs of autism:
- The child does not crow until the age of 1 year
- The child does not have any pointing gesture
- The child does not pronounce separate words up to 1 year and 4 months
- The child does not pronounce short phrases up to 2 years
- The child loses previously acquired speech or social skills at any age
To establish a diagnosis, the doctors use the criteria of the International Classification of Diseases. There are two groups of signs of the disease. The diagnosis can be established while simultaneously observing the following conditions:
- The presence of at least 2 signs of the first group
- The presence of at least 1 symptom of group 2-5
- The presence of at least 6 symptoms in total from all groups
1. Impaired social interaction.
The child cannot communicate with people, does not look at them, does not use facial expressions, gestures and posture to establish mutual understanding.
The patient is not able to establish contacts with other children on the basis of common activities, interests or emotions.
The child does not know the forms of communication that he should know, based on his current age, despite the existence of prerequisites for their establishment.
Impaired social, emotional behavior and communication, deviant (inadequate) type of response to the proposed social contacts.
Inability to show positive emotions in connection with the emergence of common interests or activities with other people.
2. Impaired verbal communication.
The verbal communication does not develop at all or the pace of its development is slowed down. The facial expressions and gestures are not used to compensate for the lack of communication.
The child is not able to start communication and support it with other people.
The phrases, words or fragments thereof are used incorrectly and inappropriately.
The child does not try on social roles when playing games.
3. Repeating behavioral patterns.
The child performs stereotypic movements, performs the same type of repetitive actions, which often have inadequate content.
The patient is busy for a long time with certain objects that are not of interest to most other children.
4. Mental and behavioral disorders, such as fears, agitation, aggression and autoaggression, overeating, etc.
5. The listed symptoms can be detected up to 3 years.
Autism is not one separate disease, but a whole group of disorders. It includes Kanner's syndrome, Asperger's syndrome, Rett syndrome, Geller syndrome, childhood psychosis, mental retardation with signs of autism and other pathologies. Each type of autism spectrum disorder has its own features.
The severity can be assessed using the CARS quantitative scale. It can be used not only for the initial diagnosis, but also for the purpose of monitoring the child in dynamics, confirming the success of the treatment provided. The scale is intended for children from 2 years. It evaluates 15 parameters:
- Relationship with people
- Imitation of their activities and movements
- Eye contact
- Sound response
- Touch, smell and taste response
- Emotional response ability
- Anxiety or fear
- Mobility and coordination
- Ability to use items
- Ability to adapt to a new situation
- Nonverbal communication (facial expressions, gestures, posture)
- Total activity of the child
- Quality and consistency of smart responses
- Overall impression from the patient
For each item, the child can get from zero to 4 points. The final maximum score is 60 points. Autism starts at 30 points. The presence of 37 or more points indicates a severe form of pathology.
In different patients, autism proceeds differently. The described staging is only indicative. The classic version of the course of the disease is as follows:
Stage 1 – psychosis. It lasts from 1 to 6 months. It is characterized by a halt or a sharp slowdown in the development of the child. He becomes detached, prone to self-isolation. He has no emotions, activity becomes reduced.
Stage 2 – regression. It lasts 6-12 months. The child loses speech. Self-service skills and tidiness are gradually deteriorating. The child manifests motor stereotypes. The gestures become more primitive, corresponding to the early age of the child.
Stage 3 – catatonic. It lasts 1.5-2 years. The symptoms gradually become less pronounced. At the same time, the child develops catatonic disorders, such as agitation, negativism. Stereotypy remains.
Once the third stage is completed, the development usually resumes. The symptoms gradually regress, but many problems remain. These may include increased activity, impulsiveness, obsessive disorders, phobias. With the natural course of the disease, two-thirds of patients cannot be trained due to the lack of coherent speech and the inability to follow the instructions of an adult.
The early diagnostics is extremely important, since treatment should be started as early as possible. This approach allows the doctors to normalize, as far as possible, the pace of intellectual and psychological development of the baby. The treatment is ongoing. There can be used various directions of therapy:
- Psychological, neuropsychological and psychotherapeutic
In recent years, cell therapy has gained popularity. Stem cells are injected to the child, which ensure the restoration of damaged areas of the brain and lead to improved behavior, intelligence, social interaction and communication.
The main approaches to treatment
The basis of treatment is behavioral therapy. It must be carried out continuously, at least 20 hours a week. All other methods are auxiliary.
ТЕАССН technique. It involves the creation by adults of an environment for the child, which excludes everything that annoys the baby. His day passes strictly according to the schedule, which he learns thanks to prompt cards. All things are in the right place. The child has correctional classes, before which he establishes contact with the teacher for a long time. The technique does not involve coercion to anything.
ABA technique. It involves a behavior modification. It can be used for severe forms of autism. It is an essentially opposite treatment method. The adult tightly controls all the actions of the child, learns with him the individual stages of various manipulations and gradually connects to the chain. The patient is not provided with any initiative. The targeted actions gradually become natural, and eventually complicated.
Drugs. There are no drugs, which can cure the child from autism. Nonetheless, the drugs help to get rid of current problems, such as aggressiveness, fear, hyperactivity, etc. The drug therapy does not solve the main problems, such as training and socialization of the child, the acquisition of communication skills.
The existing methods of treating autism are mainly a set of pedagogical measures. In fact, this is a special training for the child. He is taught to talk, perform certain actions, and integrate into society.
Before starting treatment, the child's parents should be aware of the purpose of treatment. In early childhood, they want the baby to behave well at the table, go to the toilet on his own, not show aggression and not require the constant presence of an adult. As the child grows older, the needs of his parents change: they want the child to get an education, integrate into society and adapt to the world. At the same time, the needs of the patient himself often run counter to the wishes of the parents. The autists are not particularly keen on introducing themselves into society, they are not very interested in social status, although they can achieve impressive results in some professions.
Thus, one of the problems of treatment is the lack of understanding of the goals. Before starting treatment, it is worth solving an important ethical question: if the treatment should primarily pursue the goals of parents or those of the patient? They are often completely different.
Another problem is the insufficiently high efficiency of the measures taken. To make the treatment methods work, they have to be applied constantly, for years. However, not all parents have enough money and time to provide continuous treatment to their baby.
Perhaps the problem of autism will be solved in the near future, if not completely, then at least partially. The European clinics are increasingly using stem cells. They allow for achieving the impressive results in just a few procedures. Such treatment does not require parents to be constantly present and abandon their usual lifestyle. It gives long-term results and increases the effectiveness of subsequent pedagogical and psychotherapeutic measures.
Such treatment is most physiological. This is not just "training" a child in the hope that his behavior will be acceptable to parents. Stem cells can repair the damaged areas of the brain and normalize the immune processes in the central nervous system. Therefore, the behavior of the child and his social skills begin to develop naturally. Such development does not contradict the desires and aspirations of the patient himself, does not cause him discomfort and negative reactions in response to training attempts.
Mechanisms of action of stem cells
The mechanism of action is not precisely established. It is expected that stem cells have a beneficial effect on the clinical course of autism by normalizing the patient’s immune profile and isolating growth factors that stimulate tissue regeneration.
It was previously believed that autism spectrum disorders are exclusively genetic pathology, but today there are more publications linking autism with immune disorders. The main immune causes are dysfunction of T cells and B cells, cytokines (especially interleukin-6), as well as the increased activity of tumor necrosis factor alpha.
Attempts have been made to eliminate immune disorders. To this end, steroids and intravenous infusions of human immunoglobulin were used. There have been published some studies suggesting direct inhibition of cytokines. The best results are noted with the injection of stem cells. They have a positive effect on the state of human immunity, as they eliminate immune disorders and stimulate the function of brain neurons.
Preclinical studies show that intravenously injected stem cells can migrate to the brain parenchyma, reduce the effects of its damage, and even repair the damaged areas. The proposed mechanism of action is associated not with the conversion of stem cells into neurons, but with the release of growth factors initiating reparative processes and angiogenesis (the formation of new vessels).
Most studies showing good results in autism use stem cells from the patient's own cord blood, but it must be prepared in advance, at birth. Not all patients have cord blood reserves. Therefore, the doctors can also use alternative methods for obtaining stem cells. They are taken from bone marrow, adipose tissue or peripheral blood. The optimal source of mesenchymal stem cells is considered to be adipose tissue – they are contained in high concentration here.
Studies confirming the effectiveness of SCs
Cell regenerative therapy is a relatively young and insufficiently studied field of medicine. It is mostly used in oncohematology, orthopedics and neurology. More and more studies are being conducted, which aim to assess the effectiveness of stem cell use for various pathologies. Over the past 10 years, a dozen studies to test the effectiveness of SCs for autism have been carried out in the world. This is still not enough to recommend a technique as a standard treatment for the disease. Nevertheless, the results obtained are encouraging, since most children who had stem cell therapy managed to achieve significant improvements in the social, emotional, behavioral and intellectual spheres.
Studies conducted at Duke University
The United States is actively exploring the possibility of using stem cells for autism. The first stage was completed in 2017. The children were treated using the stem cells from their own cord blood. According to the results of the study, the method was considered safe and potentially effective. The study involved 25 children 2-6 years old with a confirmed autism spectrum disorder.
Six month later after the injection of stem cells, the patients showed an improvement that affected behavioral reactions, social and intellectual functions. All children improved their attention and speech. The patients with initially higher rates of nonverbal intelligence were able to achieve more tangible results.
The second phase of the study followed immediately. This time, scientists at Duke University have decided to test the effect of allogeneic (donor) stem cells on the development of children with autism. The study involved patients from 2 to 11 years. The intravenous administration of stem cells was carried out 4 times with a break of 2 months. The results of the study have not yet been published.
Results of Gracie Gregory
The statistics have no face. The dry figures indicating an improvement in a certain number of patients do not motivate parents to opt for treatment. To increase confidence in a new method for treating autism spectrum disorders, Duke University doctors published a video featuring the family of one of the patients: Gracie Gregory.
At the time of sharing the video, Gracie was 7 years old. Her older sister Ryleigh claims that before treatment she was very afraid of her and never sat next to her. When Ryleigh approached, Gracie threw tantrums. Today, the girl does not remember this.
She was diagnosed with autism when she was 2 years old. The conventional methods did not yield good results: the first lessons led to the girl screaming, spat, and once even hit the doctor. The normal hygiene procedures could trigger aggression. The parents assure that the use of stem cells completely changed their lives. They used to spend 75% of their time on caring for their daughter, but now they spend only 10% on it.
Gracie's parents were asked to rate the improvements that their daughter has experienced on a scale of 1 to 10. They gave a score of 8-9 points. The parents were especially pleased with the fact that Gracie went to an ordinary comprehensive school. Previously, they considered this impossible.
The parents noticed significant improvements in the girl's condition 6 months after the last intravenous stem cell injection. Since then, the severity of the pathology has been constantly decreasing, despite the fact that cell therapy is no longer carried out. Some symptoms still persist, but it’s obvious that Gracie is no longer what she used to be.
Translational Medicine Study
The Sutter Neuroscience Institute conducted a placebo-controlled study. 29 children participated in it. To treat autism, the doctors used the patients' own cord blood containing stem cells. The results were positive: 12 weeks later there was a significant improvement in socialization in children receiving stem cells compared with the placebo group. To assess the results, the Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales was used.
The essence of the study:
- Patients were divided into two groups.
- One group received stem cells, while the second one received a placebo (dummy).
- After 12 and 24 weeks, the treatment outcomes were evaluated.
- Repeated infusions with group rotation: now those who received a placebo are treated with stem cells, and vice versa (the patients themselves do not know what treatment they are receiving).
The researchers themselves noted that the treatment method is safe. However, to evaluate its effectiveness, they need further research involving more patients.
The parents of children who participated in this clinical trial noted clear improvements. Jennifer Lundberg, the mother of a boy named Hayden, said she was impressed with the results. In her opinion, they can in no way be a mere coincidence, the result of the natural development of the brain. The fact is that Jennifer has already spent more than 4 years using standard treatment methods. They managed to achieve certain results, but after using stem cells they were much better. And they were achieved much faster! Hayden's mother claims that she noticed positive changes in the behavior of her son 2 weeks after the end of the course of intravenous infusion of stem cells.
Shandong Jiaotong Hospital Study
Another study on the use of stem cells in autism has been conducted in China. It involved 37 children at the age of 3-12 years. The study involved the use of donor cells:
- Cord blood
- Umbilical cord mesenchymal SCs
The effect was evaluated in points, taking into account a number of criteria, such as social interaction, emotions, communication, reaction to visual images. As a result, good and excellent outcomes were obtained:
- In 88.89% of cases (8 out of 9 patients) in the mesenchymal stem cell use group
- In 50% of children (7 out of 14) in the umbilical cord blood group
- In 7.69% (one out of fourteen) patients in the placebo group
What are the expected results?
Currently, there are no effective standard treatments for autism. Most countries only use psychological and pedagogical correction, which helps children with autism spectrum disorders adapt in society. Nonetheless, many parents are not completely satisfied with the outcomes achieved as a result of such treatment. As an additional method, cell therapy can be used. It is already practiced in some clinics in developed countries.
After the injection of stem cells, the results develop gradually. The first positive changes appear only after a few weeks. They are constantly improving even after a single injection of stem cells. If they are administered several times, with a break of 1-2 months, the treatment results can be achieved faster and become even more noticeable to parents.
As a result of stem cell therapy, the following results can be achieved:
- Improvement of the child's eye contact.
- Improvement of attention. The child can respond to his name and show interest in other people.
- A pointing gesture and handling skills appear.
- Formation of imagination, the ability to play.
- Improvement of communication skills: the child develops speech, he begins to express his desires and perceives the emotions of other people.
- Ability to perform targeted actions.
- A child learns to switch between different types of behavior.
- A child begins to smile, show emotions, use facial expressions and gestures.
- A child learns to perceive the whole, but not to see individual fragments.
- A child can better plan and coordinate his movements.
It takes several months to achieve all of these results. In addition to stem cells, the methods of pedagogical, behavioral and psychotherapeutic correction should be used. Only a combination of different treatments can bring consistent results. Stem cells help the child learn new skills better, develop speech, communication and social interaction faster.
70% of patients receiving treatment have a steady improvement. In 10% of cases, children can recover completely. In the future, they will not experience any manifestations of autism. They can normally interact with other people, create families and have professional achievements.
Atypical autism and Kanner's syndrome are characterized by the worst prognosis. These pathologies are often accompanied by mental retardation, which limits treatment options. However, when using stem cells, the effectiveness of complex therapy can increase due to restoration of brain function.
In addition to stem cells, the patient requires periodic or continuous treatment aimed at correcting behavior, speech and teaching a child.
- Logopedic correction. Many children lose speech or it becomes very impoverished, while some of them do not develop it at all. The goal of treatment is to restore speech as early as possible so that the child can continue intellectual development. Logopedic work is focused on vocabulary replenishment, development of auditory attention. The untimely speech correction leads to a lag in mental development.
- Neuropsychological correction. It involves a set of exercises for the development of communication skills and cognitive brain functions. The child trains the muscles of the tongue and jaw, hand motor skills, performs exercises to relax the nervous system.
- Music therapy. It has not only a psychotherapeutic effect, but also improves listening perception of information. Studies show that this direction of treatment allows for a better establishment of relationships with other people.
- Psychosocial therapy. It allows for creating emotionality, motivational-volitional qualities, communication skills with others. This type of treatment is especially important when a child is growing up, since the lack of social skills is most severe in adolescence.
- Other methods. The doctors may use hippotherapy, dolphin therapy, physical exercises, physiotherapy, massage, pool exercises.
Where can patients with autism receive medical care?
When signs of autism appear, the therapy should be started as early as possible in order to develop speech and avoid mental retardation. You can undergo both diagnostics and treatment in Germany. Some clinics use stem cells to fight against this pathology. Cell therapy complements other treatments, thus allowing doctors to get more tangible results.
You can book a treatment program through the Booking Health company. Here are some of our services and advantages:
- Selection of the best clinic that has experience in treating autism with stem cells and demonstrates the best results.
- Reduced cost of treatment up to 50% due to the lack of overpricing and additional coefficients for foreign patients.
- Booking an appointment on the most suitable dates for you.
- Preparation of the program, taking into account the previously performed studies.
- Establishment of communication directly with the attending physician.
- Control of all stages of the program.
- Insurance against the increased cost of treatment in case of complications (coverage of 200,000 euros, valid for 4 years).
- Control of invoices, return of unspent funds.
- Buying and forwarding medicines.
- Organization of additional diagnostic or therapeutic procedures.
- Communication with the clinic upon treatment completion.
The Booking Health company will provide you with top-class services. We will book airline tickets, a hotel room for you, meet you at the German airport and take to the clinic by car. After completing the stem cell treatment program for autism, we will arrange a return transfer.
Choose treatment abroad and you will for sure get the best results!
Author: Dr. Vadim Zhiliuk