There are many ways we can go about improving the health of our children on the autism spectrum. We can eliminate foods from their diet that may be toxic to their system. We can also add supplemental foods and substances to support the activities of their brain and nervous system. In this post, we discuss specifically the pre-frontal cortex, how it affects behavior and what we can do to assist its activities.
Pre-frontal Cortex (PFC)
The control center for the brain (often called the brain’s CEO), is the pre-frontal cortex (PFC). The pre-frontal cortex is the center for making judgments and recognizing the consequences of our actions. The PFC stops impulsive reactions, rules the emotions and calms the fear center of the brain called the amygdala. The PFC has the ability to calm other areas of the brain down as well. When the PFC has decreased activity, it increases problems with impulse control and distractibility. The PFC is often imbalanced in children on the autism spectrum.
When underactive, the PFC is often the hidden cause behind autism’s ADD-type behavior and impulsivity. People with underactive pre-frontal cortexes are people who have little or no filter to the sounds and visual stimuli in their environment. An underactive PFC means that both the internal/emotional and the external environment can easily overwhelm the individual.
Pre-frontal Cortex Development
The PFC is the last part of the brain to develop. It completes development at about twenty five years of age for males and twenty three years of age for girls. The PFC is not yet fully developed prior to the early twenties. An underdeveloped pre-frontal cortex is the reason why kids and teenagers find it easier to take so many risks. Their brains are not yet capable of seeing the consequences of their actions. Anger and irritability are also common with PFC imbalance. And of course, we commonly see an inability to control emotions in those on the autism spectrum.
There is a phenomena known as PFC deactivation. When a person is stressed, as in the case of a test or a social situation, the PFC will temporarily turn off. This can result in a loss of memory for the information studied for in the test or an embarrassing moment when one suddenly cannot remember what they were talking about in conversation. PFC deactivation can be triggered by anxiety, which may also lead to loss of impulse control, procrastination, difficulty with self expression or communication, short attention span and poor judgment. People experiencing PFC deactivation are the people others may see as “unfeeling”, because they shut down in stressful situations. Because the PFC controls how you speak your thoughts, PFC deactivation is often interpreted as a lack of empathy in children on the autism spectrum. They do have feelings, but often they have difficulty or an inability to express those feelings.
Supplements for the Pre-frontal Cortex
The amino acid L-tyrosine can help to build the neurotransmitter dopamine. This helps the pre-frontal cortex to stay balanced. 500-1500 mg per day have been known to be helpful. Omega-3 fatty acids are essential to the health of the brain and assist in balancing mood. I like Captains Krill oil. 5HTP and St. Johns Wort also assist in balancing mood. If motivation and energy are a problem, SAMe is fabulous. (This is discussed in detail in my soon to be released book, Naturally Recovering Autism.) See the “products” page on this website for what quality products are available to you.
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