What is autism?
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD), refers to a range of conditions characterized by development disorders with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communication. The cause for ASD remains unclear, but it is believed to relate to genetic and environmental influences. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates autism’s prevalence as 1 in 68 children in the United States. Around one third of people with autism have nonverbal or speech difficulty, and around one third of people with autism have an intellectual disability and/or a lack of self-care ability. Many people with autism also suffer from gastrointestinal (GI) disorders, seizures, sleep disturbances, attention deficit, and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and phobias.
Many clinical reports support the the effectiveness of different styles of acupuncture in autism relief. A research in 2011 with 40 cases of autism concluded that Scalp acupuncture can effectively relieve child autism symptoms and enhance the intelligence, language ability and social adaptive ability. Another research in 2009 concluded that both the JIN’s 3-needling acupuncture therapy and the behavior intervention therapy have therapeutic effects on severe child autism, but the therapeutic effect of JIN’s 3-needling acupuncture is much better.
How does Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) understand autism?
Autism belongs to the ‘five-delay’ category in Traditional Chinese Medicine theory. Its main cause is the qi of imbalanced channels in the brain due to the disharmony of organs (such as deficiency of kidney essence, heart ‘qi,’ and spleen ‘qi’; stagnation of liver ‘qi’; and disturbance of phlegm and fire). Traditional Chinese acupuncture is used to stimulate specific points, to adjust the channels and organs function, motivate ‘qi’ and blood to flow and nourish the brain, to remove the phlegm and fire that disturb the mind, and to eventually achieve physical and mental harmony.
How can acupuncture treat autism?
Among many acupuncture methods, Chinese scalp acupuncture, or neuro-acupuncture, has been shown to effectively improve conditions of children with autism and other central neurological diseases, such as ADHD and Cerebral Palsy. Research has found that the frontal and temporal lobes of brain of autistic children had significantly reduced blood flow. The frontal lobe of the brain is closely related to emotional activity, and the temporal lobe is close to the speech center. Neuro-Acupuncture selects specific areas at the scalp surface and delivers strong signals there to more strongly stimulate the underlying brain cells. More and more clinical observation have reported that after a series of scalp acupuncture treatments, many children with autism showed increased eye contact, enhanced awareness of environment, improved capability in language understanding and expression, reduction of anxiety and impulsive movement or abnormal behavior, and improved motor and balance function.
When can autistic children start acupuncture treatment?
Autistic children who begin scalp acupuncture treatment at earlier ages usually see rapid and significant effect because 2 to 8 years old is an important period for brain function development. Clinical evidence has showed that acupuncture treatment can greatly improve cognitive awareness and language communication, even for children up to the teenage years.
Can young children tolerate/accept acupuncture treatment?
The prospect of needles may be scary to some children. However, it is important to know that acupuncture needles are very, very thin. In fact, the scalp needles are about one fourth size of the smallest syringe needle used for vaccines. Therefore, you will barely feel it. It is suggested that children bring a favorite toy, blanket, or iPad to help distract themselves from the needles. After a few sessions, most children will become accustomed to the treatment. We have also developed several quick needle techniques which can make the treatment more smoothly.
What we do to help Autistic Children—the course for treatment
At Great wall Acupuncture clinic, we use neuro-acupuncture method supplemented with other acupuncture techniques and herbal medicine to stimulate cognitive/sensory/motor functions in multiple ways. This helps to equilibrate ‘qi’ in channels between organs and brain. Our doctors have over 20 years of experience in acupuncture, Chinese medicine, and integrated modern medicine knowledge. Dr. Zhang was specially trained in neuro-acupuncture method at Neuro-acupuncture Institute, where this special treatment has been offered to hundreds of thousands of patients with neurological disorders including autism. She also have many years of clinical and research experience in hearing and speech, which she has been using to formulate effective treatment plans.
Acupuncture for the treatment of autism is longer process than for the treatment of pain or other acute conditions. The first visit will start with a detailed consultation when you will fill forms of regarding medical history. We will evaluate and set up a personalized treatment plan for your child and provide first treatment. In many cases, parents will see improvement in 6—10 treatment, or even earlier. We may also suggest that your child take Chinese herbal medicine to supplement the acupuncture treatment when necessary.
For most recent reports, please refer to ‘What is new in Chinese Medicine’ under “Evidence for acupuncture” .