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Living with Autism

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October 13, 2013

Autism and Agitation: Restless Leg Syndrome

Award Winning Non-Fiction Blogs - BlogCatalog Blog DirectoryAutism and Endless Walking

There are days my non-verbal, severely-autistic 24 yr old son walks 7-10 hours all day, with a few breaks in between.... 

One theory behind autistic children and adults walking non-stop for hours is the “behavior” is rooted in autism.

 What if it's driven by an underlying medical issue? 

While sometimes hours of walking is behaviorally motivated, we should consider the possibility that non-stop walking in autism, especially when it occurs both day and night, may require medical analysis and intervention. 

For example, there are cases where verbal autistic people have shared that their legs sometimes feel like as if ants are crawling up them. 

Imagine being non-verbal, and not being able to communicate this!

Research shows low-iron levels can cause restless legs. As can low levels of DOPAMINE. To test whether agitation is related to low dopamine, try 1000 mg of L-TRYOSINE, in divided doses.  L-tryosine is over the counter. Consult doctor if you aren't sure your child can take it.

A simple blood test can rule out or confirm iron deficiency. 

Another thing to rule out would be a dopamine related deficiency. 

A bit harder to detect, but nonetheless, worth examining is a build up of lactic acid, due to constant walking. How do you treat the lactic acidosis? (L-Glutamine is helpful, but consult with doctor, as this could also be sign of a more serious issue going on)

For example, ask your child’s doctor if for one week, you could ask doctor to try a 7mg. nicotine patch, which works on balancing dopamine and nicotinic receptor dysfunction indicated in some people with restless legs.


If that doesn’t work, the doctor can rule that out. Move on. Next, you could ask your doctor to check folate and other B-vitamin levels. Or simply increase foods high in folate and B-vitamins. (Asparagus, fortified cereals, eggs and spinach are high in folate). Lastly, low calcium and magnesium levels are linked to restless legs, so get those levels checked. Simple tests that can help people who otherwise can’t tell us what is going on may bring fast and effective relief.

Just like non-autistic people, people with autism have medical issues that need to be addressed. And what may be tolerable for us, is often intolerable for some autistic people. Don’t be afraid to ask medical professionals to do tests that could give insight into increased or new behaviors. 

Don’t allow others to blame every sign and symptom (i.e. anxiety, anorexia, constipation, insomnia or tantrums) on your child’s autistic behavior. 

Time and time again, we hear stories where parents of autistic children and adults say the autistic person isn’t being medically diagnosed or properly treated because everything they have is blamed on being autistic. Be your autistic child’s advocate. Communicate your concerns with your child's doctors. 

What else could cause non-stop walking rooted in restless legs? A study in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, examines possibility that gluten protein could spur Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS). In this study, RLS symptoms improved in 50 percent of participants who for six months were on a gluten-free diet. 



Clinical trials looking at restless leg syndrome in autistic children: