Estimated statistics released by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development show that autism occurs in one child in every 1,000 to one in every 500. Vaccines are thought to be the culprits for this tragic epidemic, as well as environmental pollution and toxins. Researchers suspect that antibiotics, immunizations, viral infections, and nutrition to be contributory factors, as well.
The Autism Society of America, on the other hand, based on current studies, has suggested that genetics is responsible for this disorder. Before a child affected by autism reaches the age of three, symptoms may already appear making it possible for a doctor to diagnose the condition. It is quite difficult to diagnose this illness before normal development of the cognition, communication, and social aspects of the patient occur.
Western conventional medicine sees autism as a spectrum disorder. What is a spectrum disorder? This is as a set of conditions that manifest similar features but may show itself as an autism symptom in various ways. Some examples of autism spectrum disorders include atypical autism (Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified), Rett syndrome, Asperger syndrome, and the classical type of autism. All these conditions come with several secondary autism symptoms that include obsessive-compulsive behavior, short attention span, temper tantrums, volatile emotions, negativism, hyperactivity, irritability, and aggression.
Chinese medicine has a completely different view of autism than Western medicine. Chinese medicine classifies this disorder under the Syndrome of 5 Delays. The “delays” in patient’s speech, teeth eruption, hair growth, walking, and standing are observed. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) sees these classical autism characteristics as signs of an imbalance of body functions. In TCM, disease is understood within the structure of energy balance based on the yin/yang theory.
TCM considers the mind and body as integral components of the same circular system along with the central nervous system and the organs. This is totally different to the viewpoint of Western medicine, which sees the brain as the most important aspect of the human body. TCM sees emotional influence on the organs as very important in attaining and understanding balance; Western medicine, on the other hand, sees this influence as merely secondary to the influence of the brain to the organs.
Autism impacts the awareness and reason of the sufferer in a severe way. TCM states that the Kidney, Spleen, and Heart govern awareness and reason. Kidney qi governs long-term memory, Spleen is connected to the capacity of the mind to concentrate, memorize, and study, while the Heart is where the Shen or Mind resides; it governs mental functions, as well, including the short-term memory and the emotional state of the person.
TCM treatment for autism focuses on the tonification of Kidney essence and Spleen qi, clearing heat in the Heart, tonifying Heart yin and qi, and removing phlegm.
Kidney essence deficiency and Spleen qi deficiency are crucial to the pathological development of autism. The former will lead to poor mental development while the latter will affect the intake of food (excessive hunger, no interest in eating).
Another important element is the balance in the heart because a deficiency in Heart yin or blood as well as Heart fire will lead to the development of autism symptoms on different extremes like aggressive behaviors, fidgety restlessness, quietness, and lethargy.
It is important to remove phlegm because it contributes to the two main TCM diagnoses of autism. Phlegm can cloud the mind resulting in limited attention to surroundings, lethargy, mental confusion, incoherent speech, and dull wit. Symptoms such as aggression, tendency toward constipation, short temper, uncontrolled laughing or crying, talking to oneself, and disturbed sleep can manifest when a patient suffers from a condition known as phlegm fire harassing the heart.
Nutrition and Diet for Autism
Autism treatment would never be successful if it does not integrate nutritional therapy into its treatment plan. The Autism Research Institute recommends a diet that excludes allergens, casein, glutens, and yeast. A TCM dietary therapy is determined by temperature (both energy and physical quality), flavor (salty, sweet, or pungent) and action on the body. Dietary therapy is a very important part of TCM because it is believed that most human health problems are connected to imbalances in people’s diet. The reason for autism is not sensitivity to foods, although there seems to be certain food factors that aggravate some of the symptoms of autism. By eating the proper autism diet, dietary therapy can assist in the proper maintenance of good health and in overcoming illness. Chinese dietary therapy has a general rule: “Balance can be restored by eating warm foods. Forget either extreme and just go to the center.” Some TCM dietary therapists recommend these practices for an autism diet.
Autistic individuals can benefit from eating warming foods that have been lightly steamed or cooked. In terms of benefits warming foods eliminate cold, open up the meridians, invigorate Blood, tonify yang, and warm the meridians. These types of food refer to the foods’ energetic characteristics and their physical temperature. Samples of energetic warming foods include garlic and dry ginger. They both generate warmth and heat in the digestive tract.
Root vegetables, in particular and all vegetables, in general are deemed warming foods. Scallions, button mushrooms, carrots, radishes, turnips, yams, sweet potatoes, mustard greens, collard greens, Swiss chard, spinach, kale, pumpkins, butternut squash, spaghetti squash, and acorn squash are all highly recommended warming foods for autism. Beans that are good for autism include lentil, kidney beans, adzuki, navy, and lima beans. Recommended grains include quinoa, barley, millet, amaranth, white rice, and brown rice. Suggested animal proteins include turkey and chicken that should be free of any antibiotics, hormone, or additive.
Autistic patients should not be given raw and cold foods. The digestive system functions much more properly with foods rich in energy or heat. Cold foods can, however, have the ability to eliminate toxins although they tend to slow down the digestive process which leads to poor digestion. You need to avoid or at least limit consumption of physically cold food such as most fruits, soy products, heavy iced drinks, ice cream, and popsicles.
Avoiding damp producing foods is also important in the dietary treatment of autism. Too much consumption of these kinds of foods will result in the accumulation of phlegm in the body. damp-producing foods that need to be avoided include dairy products (ice cream, yogurt, cheese, milk, butter), foods with too much amount of soy in them, all frozen or chilled foods, greasy and fried foods, wheat, eggs, fruits (especially bananas and citrus), peanut butter, peanuts, and sugar.
Autistic people are more sensitive to food and allergies according to the Study of Autism, and so people with this disorder should avoid substances and products that can potentially cause an allergic reaction. These include emulsifiers, artificial flavorings, food coloring, and preservatives.
TCM practitioners and medical doctors recommend taking out one food item at a time from the diet. Observing the behavior of the patient after the removal of suspected foods may be helpful in determining the best nutritional plan for the patient.
Acupuncture and Massage
Treating autism with massage and acupuncture can take a really long time for the results to be seen. It may also be a difficult treatment for a child. The benefits, however, if you review the studies for these treatments, may be well worth the patience and time required for those treatment to take effect.
In the treatment of autism, acupuncture has indeed made significant positive leaps. Its effectiveness may be explained through the belief that autism is partially a dysfunction of the neuroendocrine system which leads to the improper production of opioids in the body. Opioids are affected in a large way by acupuncture as stated in the book Scientific Bases of Acupuncture. The book also says that acupuncture also impacts the function of the neuroendocrine and central nervous systems of the body.
As a rule, the patient’s signs and symptoms determine what acupoints are to be stimulated. There are, however, a number of systems and points that can be helpful in treating specific symptoms of autism. The acupoints Ren 12, Hsusanli (St 36) and Sp6 strengthen the abdomen and Spleen, Du 20 clears the mind, St 40 removes phlegm, and the Neiguan or P6 opens the orifices of the mind.
According to new studies, acupuncture of the Tongue has also shown promise in the healing of autism-related dysfunctions. Tongue acupuncture is currently being researched to see if it if effective in treating children’s brain disorders such as autism, cerebral palsy, and blindness.
TCM diagnostic tools include the observation of the tongue. Tongue observation is a central part of the Chinese medical diagnostic system because this body organ is the only organ that can be externally observed. The tongue’s characteristics, its superficial growth, smell, dryness, thickness, and color aid in determining the doctor’s treatment approach to a certain malady.
It was seen in a study of 30 children all suffering from autism that tongue acupuncture helps improve the cognition, social communication, and language skill as well as improves the functional independence, sleep, temper, aggressive behavior, attention span, and hyperactivity of the children. Tongue acupuncture, through the stimulation of the brain, can enhance the function and cognition abilities of autistic patients.
Although tongue acupuncture and other alternative autism treatments are still seen as complementary therapies for the treatment of autism, the above study and studies similar to that can be signs that a new system of autism treatment can be implemented in the near future.
As mentioned before, acupuncture and massage can benefit autism patients. With regards to massage therapy, the Touch Research Institute did a study back in 1991 testing the benefits of massage therapy for the improvement of social relatedness and social-task behavior of autistic children. The participants were children 20 all suffering from autism with ages ranging from three to six years old. They were divided into two groups with one group as the control group that was assigned to reading attention and observed at home and at school, while the other group was treated with massage therapy. The outcomes showed that the group given massage therapy experienced fewer sleep problems and manifested lesser stereotypic autistic behavior than the children in the control group.
The number of autistic patients who improved after being treated with Chinese medicine is growing each passing day. The exact cause of this disorder is still unknown and so its cure may be still beyond the horizon at this point in time. Chinese medicine treatment options are many. Their effectiveness warrant more studies and if more studies are done more parents will be willing to consider this safe and natural alternative form of treatment for their suffering child. From dozens of anecdotal cases proving the effectiveness of Chinese medicine, this modality is worth considering for the treatment of autistic symptoms.
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