When Italian doctor Nicola Antonucci realised that his daughter was autistic, four years ago, he started looking for answers to address the mysterious disorder.
Frustrated by the lack of answers offered by traditional medicine, he set off to the Autism Research Institute in the US to learn more about the condition.
The insight offered there was enough to convince him to leave his career in psychiatry and dedicate his life to helping autistic children improve their condition through a proven biomedical approach.
He witnessed how the method used through the institute's Defeat Autism Now (DAN) project, set up over a decade ago, led to 90 per cent of autistic children showing improvements and another 15 per cent being completely cured.
"You can see the improvement in their eyes. They become more present and attentive, their language and social skills improve. You see the child step out of the shadows," Dr Antonucci said.
Autism is a developmental disorder characterised by the inability to interact socially and behaviour that is different from that of typical children.
The traditional medical approach mainly uses behavioural therapy and psychiatric medications to reduce seizures and behavioural problems.
DAN doctors like Dr Antonucci believe autistic behaviour can be the manifestation of substance imbalances in the child's body that can be tested for and treated.
Causes may include a combination of lowered immune response, external toxins from vaccines and other sources, and problems caused by certain foods, among other factors.
"The fact that a cause of autism is identified means that something can be done to help these children," said Dr Antonucci who visited Malta following a request by a number of members of the Autism Parent's Association.
"The DAN method is not a one-size-fits-all system and not all children respond to it. The reason why is still a mystery, which is why the DAN method needs to work together with current behavioural rehabilitative methods. However, the large majority of children do show considerable improvement and the DAN method should not be brushed aside," he insisted.
Through this approach, once the child's history is examined, a series of tests are carried out to determine potential areas of concern. Symptoms can then be controlled by removing these causes.
Tests, for example, frequently show that autistic children have leaky gut syndrome. Damage to the membrane that separates the intestines from the blood allows toxins into the bloodstream. These toxins make their way to the brain and can be the cause of behavioural problems typical in autistic children.
There may be various causes to this leaky gut ranging from yeast overgrowth to the interference caused by gluten (found in wheat, barley, rye and possibly oats) and casein (from dairy products such as milk, ice cream, yogurt).
Gluten and casein are the sources of opium, a numbing drug, in the brain which may cause a child to be detached from reality. Removing them from the diet is a simple exercise that may yield incredible results without harming the child, Dr Antonucci said.
Although the child may experience withdrawal symptoms, due to the lack of opium, long-term results may include improved eye contact and interaction and better language skills.
Another DAN approach includes removing heavy metals, such as mercury, from the child's diet by avoiding additives and preservatives, for example.
Heavy metals, also present in vaccines, affect nerves, hormones, digestion and immune function. Research has shown that there are higher levels of heavy metal toxicity in autistic children because of an inability to excrete them. When they become lodged in the brain it does not function normally, causing autistic symptoms and learning disorders.
Dr Antonucci added that traditional medicine does not recognise the DAN method. However, he believes that this is due to vested interests within the pharmaceutical industry. Ultimately DAN preached treatment through natural methods, like controlling diet, and medicine companies did not benefit from this, he said.
However, he insisted, results spoke for themselves as children treated biomedically, including his daughter, showed considerable improvements.