The Connection Between Learning Difficulties, Autism, and Neurotransmitters
Difficulties with learning, paying attention, and memory are common among children with autism. It’s believed this is caused by a deficiency in acetylcholine: a neurotransmitter responsible for helping to refine memory, motivation, thought processes, language skills, and concentration.
Acetylcholine is a chemical compound formed from acetyl coenzyme A and choline, the latter of which is a nutrient from B vitamins. It’s different from other neurotransmitters as it isn’t bound to an amino acid.
Generally, choline gets into the body through food, while acetyl coenzyme A is found in cells through energy production. But how does this neurotransmitter work and why is it less active in children with autism?
What does acetylcholine do?
The neurotransmitter acetylcholine helps maintain moisture within the body’s internal structures, enabling information to be transferred more easily. It also allows for myelin (surrounding the nerves) to form and control brain activity.
The brain can struggle to connect new stimuli received when the body lacks the required amount of acetylcholine. The brain’s processing speed slows, and some of the essential information it should take in can start to fall apart before it’s able to be processed. Memories can become patchy and less effective as a result.
Speech problems may occur due to the slowing of essential electrical signals, while the child can find concentrating and comprehending information tough, too.
It’s vital to distinguish concentration issues caused by dopamine deficiency and forgetfulness caused by acetylcholine. The right deficiency should be addressed to achieve the desired result, which means accurate assessment/testing is crucial.
Why is acetylcholine less active in children with autism?
There are several reasons why the neurotransmitter acetylcholine may be less active in children living with autism. These include:
- A low density of acetylcholine receptors
- Reduced acetylcholine secretion from the presynaptic cell
- Too much acetylcholine breakdown
But what can you do to increase choline intake? One popular option is by implementing a tightly-controlled diet.
Boosting choline consumption with a controlled diet for children with autism
If you’re concerned about a child’s acetylcholine issues, you can plan their diet carefully to increase the neurotransmitter levels in their brain.
You can source choline from various foods, including plant-based options. These include:
- Dairy products
- Egg yolk
- Brazil nuts
As children with autism often have selective diets, they may be deficient in acetylcholine. Encouraging them to eat some or all of these foods listed above can be difficult, but it’s worth persevering with. Most of these foods are delicious and can be added to meals or consumed as snacks.
Peanuts and Brazil nuts may be packed in a child’s lunch box, while cauliflower and cabbage are excellent additions to a soup. Experimentation will pay off when you create a meal your child enjoys, and you can have peace of mind that their neurotransmitter levels may rise.
It’s important to have your child tested if you believe they may be experiencing difficulties with learning, memory, or attention span.
Legal clarification – the statements herein are intended to expand personal knowledge and general understanding only. The foregoing is not to be considered an alternative to medical consultation or medication or treatment performed by a caregiver or physician or constitute a recommendation for individual care in any way.