How to find the RIGHT autism doctor – diagnosis and treatment

By autism specialist Ilana Gershlowitz

Finding the right autism doctor

What do I look for when I am trying to determine if a doctor is a true ‘Autism Specialist’? Well, let’s start at the very beginning…. You probably feel quite uncertain and you’re worried about autism. Some days you think your child is doing okay. The very next day, you clearly see the red flags to Autism. You have reached the end of the road and you feel that you need a referral to a doctor or specialist who can make a definitive autism diagnosis. Finding the right doctor can be challenging. It’s not so simple to find the right doctor specializing in autism, or an ‘autism specialist doctor’ in South Africa.

If you suspect an autism diagnosis you want to avoid being sent from pillar- to- post, wasting time and money. Time – is of the essence and early intervention is key! The best advice I can give any parent, that is concerned about a diagnosis of autism, and is looking for an ‘Autism Doctor’  to help them make the diagnosis is this: You need to book at least a one hour consultation with your child’s regular paediatrician. Take with you to the appointment the MCHAT checklist. You can download it here. This is the standardised, globally accepted criteria for doctors diagnosing Autism. You can also take along, a list of the red flags to Autism. You can find a copy of this at the back of my book “Saving my Sons – A Journey with Autism” (Find on Amazon  & Takealot). Parents should discuss their concerns with the paediatrician. And then they should ask the paediatrician to please make a diagnosis for them. The key is going prepared and giving the doctor what they need to give you the answers you looking for.

Autism doctors and the importance of nutrition

There is another type of situation that is difficult for parents to navigate. Many children on the autism spectrum can be picky eaters.  Children on the spectrum will often limit their diet to processed food. And therefore they are not getting the nutrition they need for proper brain function. We also know that children on the spectrum, can suffer from deficiencies in essential vitamins and minerals.  Parents are at a loss, because they don’t know which ‘Autism Specialist’ they should consult with, regarding their child’s poor eating habits. Picky eating, is actually indicative of gut inflammation. If they are a picky eaters, it can also mean that the child has sensory issues and they are averse to certain textures or tastes.

My advice to parents is to find a dietician or a nutritionist who has experience in this area.  This type of ‘Autism Specialist’ (actually a nutritionist or dietician) can really help tremendously in guiding parents on a treatment protocol. Nutrition is the basis of your treatment protocol for autism. We talk about “nourishing hope for autism” – there is actually a book written by Julie Matthews (Find on Amazon). If your child is a picky eater, you should definitely seek the guidance of a specialist in diet and nutrition. Every child is different. There is no single diet that is correct for every child. Nutrition is the foundation of a good treatment protocol and should be considered by the autism doctors you consult.

There are many different types of diets. There’s a gluten free diet, there’s a diet called feast without yeast (Find on Amazon), there’s the GAPS diet (Learn more here). It’s  well documented and published that these types of specialised diets can show measurable gains and benefits for children on the autism spectrum. It’s therefore, very important to get guidance from a doctor or specialist on your child’s nutrition. It’s also important to enrol your child in an ABA program. If your child is a picky eater then your ABA team can help support your child with a feeding program which will give you a way to introduce your child to new foods that the dietician or nutritionist recommends.

Autism doctors for younger children

For younger children, who have a diagnosis of autism, I have a paediatrician in New York that I absolutely love! I have referred many parents to this paediatrian, who has successfully treated their child’s autism symptoms.  In fact, I have a list of autism doctors and autism specialist doctors internationally, that I refer parents to specifically, when it comes to younger children on the spectrum. These doctors and specialists have the experience to identify and unravel the UNDERLYING CAUSES of the Autism symptoms. They know and have experience in directing treatments. I always recommend (and often record podcasts) with only the top autism doctors in the world! Unfortunately, all of the top autism specialist doctors are international – but fortunately, they can and do consult remotely. I have an autism specialist and Bio-medical doctor in Italy who is my favourite doctor and there are a number of doctors in America I also refer to. All these doctors, successfully consult with parents internationally via Zoom. Therefore, when it comes to a young child, it’s often best for parents to consult with me first.  I will take down the detailed case history and then be able to make a referral to my expert colleagues who are internationally recognised autism doctors that specialise in treating autism in young children.

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Autism doctors for older children or children who are high functioning

If you are a parent of an older child with autism or a child who is higher functioning, I am also able to refer you to the best autism specialist.  Higher functioning children with autism often struggle to establish and maintain friendships and struggle to cope with classroom demands. They can also suffer from severe anxiety. Sometimes they have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder or tendencies). Or perhaps Oppositional Defiant Disorder or tendencies. I also have a number of colleagues (also internationally) who can assist parents.  These are doctors who I consider autism specialists and are particularly well suited to this type of situation and who will be able to direct a treatment protocol for older children or higher functioning children on the spectrum.

The real autism specialists

In truth however, the parents who have walked this journey before, are actually the top ‘autism specialists.’ The best advice, I can give any parent, is to learn from other parents who have walked this journey. Parents who have helped their children and achieved favourable outcomes are the REAL specialists. I place myself in that category. Not only have I walked this road with my own children, but I found my passion, helping other parents, navigate their autism journey. I have established a Facebook page called: “Autism: Now What?” (Find on Facebook) which is an international support group for autism. Parents are able to connect with other parents going through a similar situation and are also able to draw support from each other on this platform.  Over time, the parents who are looking for the answers ,are the ones who become the ‘autism specialists’. Many parents receive guidance and find the right autism specialist from participating in and being a part of Autism: Now What?

When my son David was diagnosed with autism, 18 years ago, my husband Martin flew to America to attend one of the largest autism conferences. At the conference, he attended presentations by immunologists, toxicologists, paediatricians and neurologists. They all offered a long list of treatment options and different explanations for autism symptoms. When Martin attended the conference, he also made friends with a group of moms. They called themselves “Doctor Moms”. This group of parents, landed up calling Martin: ‘Doctor Dad’. Martin has infamously received the title of ‘Doctor Dad – the autism specialist’. He has helped me, over many years, guide the treatment protocol for our own two boys who were diagnosed with autism. Many parents I consult with have drawn guidance from Martin’s experience in deciding on treatment options for autism. He’s a great example of a parent who is is a true  ‘autism expert’.

Who is Ilana Gerschlowitz the autism specialist?

• Leading Autism expert
• Mother of three boys – one recovered from autism and her oldest son with autism
• Autism advocate – Ilana is passionate about helping other parents gain access to services and information on autism treatment
• Author of Saving My Sons – A Journey With Autism (Available on Amazon & Takealot)
• Founding Director of the Star Academy –
• Founding Director of Catch Up Kids –
• Achieved Board Certified Autism Technician certification
• Guest speaker at International Conferences on Autism
• 2015 CEO Global award winner for Africa’s most influential woman in Business and Government in Education and Training Private Sector for Region, Country and Continent.
• 2018 Finalist the Europcar Jewish Woman in Leadership Award

Besides being the Founding and Managing Director of the Star Academy, which provides ABA services to children with autism or a related disorder not only in South Africa but also internationally, Ilana  offers a consulting service to empower parents to access the information they need to navigate their way through the maze of autism. She also supports many parents and helps them access the top autism specialists. With her support and guidance parents can begin to take the right action!

Worried about your child’s development?
Figure out what is affecting your child’s development so you can take action now.

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