Each year, millions of children receive a diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. The condition manifests an incredible variety of symptoms at varying levels of severity, with researchers unable to pinpoint either a cause or a cure.
With no known cure, doctors focus on treating the symptoms of autism, which, again, manifest differently in each child diagnosed with the disorder. Some experience physical impairments, such as vomiting, extreme headaches, insomnia, and seizures. Others experience cognitive issues and/or delayed language and social development. Medical treatment often includes psychotropic drugs and other medications to control symptoms.
As society learns more about the disorder, researchers explore alternative treatment options. One of these is chiropractic care.
The Causes of Autism are Unclear
Many people believe that changes in American’s everyday lives, from food to medication, led to a rise in autism diagnoses. In the medical community, however, most experts agree that the percentage of people with autism spectrum disorder hasn’t risen. Rather, research and discovery simply gave a name to many behaviors previously ascribed as “difficult” or “inappropriate,” not realizing that these behaviors had a physical origin.
Most researchers agree that autism likely has a genetic cause. Brain scans of children with autism demonstrate “differences in shape and structure of the brain” when compared to children without autism.
Possible genetic factors include congenital rubella syndrome (which occurs during fetal development), fragile X syndrome (affecting the X chromosome), and tuberous sclerosis (which causes benign tumors). Environmental factors include exposure to chemicals, viral infections, and the mother ingesting harmful substances during pregnancy.
How Autism Spectrum Disorder Manifests
Autistic conditions range from severe disability to mild developmental delays. According to the Autism Society, five behaviors warrant evaluation by a medical professional:
- Not babbling or cooing by 12 months old
- Not gesturing, such as pointing or waving, by 12 months old
- Not speaking single words by 16 months old
- Not speaking two-word phrases by 24 months old
- Losing language or social skills at any age
If you notice these behaviors in your child, that does not automatically mean he or she has autism spectrum disorder. Experts recommend evaluation, though, due to the wide range of symptoms and conditions within the autism spectrum.
Treating Symptoms of Autism
With no cure for autism, medical providers are left with treating its symptoms. Typically, this involves prescription drug therapy, and often requires a variety of medications, especially for children manifesting numerous symptoms. The challenge then becomes finding which medication works best, and which medications work well together, as not all prescriptions play well with others.
In addition to drug therapy, numerous studies on the effectiveness of chiropractic care show promise in treating the symptoms of autism. More research must occur, but studies of small samples show a variety of improvements, including speech, hyperactivity, range of motion, bladder control, and aggressive behaviors. Parents and teachers provided the behavioral data that demonstrated improvement in most children undergoing chiropractic treatment.
At this time, no one is claiming that chiropractic care offers a potential cure for autism. Rather, it offers a valid option for palliative care, in support of the child’s ongoing medical treatment.
How Does Chiropractic Care Help?
One of the few things doctors agree on as regards autism spectrum disorder is the presence of abnormal brain function. Vertebra misalignment may exacerbate this, and chiropractic adjustments help repair these subluxations, improving neurological function.
Improved function of the central nervous system offers an enormous array of benefits, which vary depending on the patient’s complaint. Decreases in nausea and vomiting, hyperactivity and aggression, improved cognitive abilities and more result when the patient’s nervous system begins functioning correctly.
Treating Children with Autism
Chiropractors treating children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder should follow certain guidelines.
First of all, be consistent in your interactions with the child, as many react negatively to change. This means greeting, treating, and ending each visit with the same routine.
While treating the child, pay attention to non-verbal cues indicating discomfort or distress. It may help to have an assistant present to distract the child, such as by reading a story.
For some autistic children, sound sensitivity is a symptom. Create a relaxed environment with soothing music, avoiding loud noises.
Ask the child’s parent or caregiver to monitor the child for behavioral changes, and discuss these at each appointment. Positive changes include improved vocabulary, increased appetite, and ceasing or lessening repetitive behaviors.
Much more research is required into autism, of its causes and potential cures. Studies into alternative treatments are promising, though hardly conclusive, as sample sizes have been too small to offer definitive answers. However, as more research comes in, we expect to see chiropractic care play a greater role in treating the symptoms of autism.