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  • Dr. Kenn O'Connor

Oriental Medicine and Autism (Part 1:Introduction)

Autism diagnoses are on the rise, with the most recent statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimating that one in fifty-nine children are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Parents see their child struggling in one or more areas of their lives and look for therapies that can support their child. Typical treatments consist of pharmaceuticals, behavioral therapy, communication therapy, sensory integration therapy, and motor therapy, but did you know that Oriental Medicine can help your child cope with autism as well?


Oriental Medicine is often associated with helping those with chronic pain through acupuncture, but its capabilities span far further than that. Oriental Medicine views autism as an imbalance in the body that is a result of a weakness in one or more systems. Some of these deficiencies may be present from birth, while others may occur after trauma, frequent illness, improper nutrition, or other stresses the child encounters.

The treatment principle is to reduce or eliminate any strain on the body while strengthening the entire body so that the child can adapt better to changes in their environment. There are four categories in Oriental Medicine that correspond to autistic symptoms. We will cover these topics in more depth as this blog series continues, but for now, we are going to give you an overview of each. The four categories are too much heat in the body, exhaustion, blockages, and dormant illnesses.

1) Too much heat in the body

Oriental Medicine’s concept of heat does not mean an objective heat such as a fever, but rather an increase in energy and metabolic rate. The child with heat is the red-faced child in the grocery store who is jumping on and off the cart, picking items off the shelf, and poking their sibling. Their senses are extremely sensitive, and they may get overstimulated with the bright fluorescent lights, multitudes of people talking, and all the smells wafting by them. With so much stimulation in public places like a grocery store, these children tend to have a meltdown very quickly. The increase in energy from the heat pattern also applies to the child’s mind, which will flit from one topic to another, making it challenging to concentrate both in school and at home.


2) Exhaustion

Growing and developing takes a lot of energy to accomplish. A lack of sleep, often being sick, or not getting the correct nutrition can deplete the child. These are the children who want to stay in bed in the morning and fight getting ready for the day. Once they are out of bed, the next battle tends to be breakfast. They typically either do not want to eat or only want to eat the same foods every day. The rest of the morning routine can be difficult as well because the child tends to daydream and thus repeatedly needs to be told what to do. Getting them out the door in the morning is exhausting for both the parents and the child. Any sort of interaction can be overwhelming for these children as they don’t have the energy to engage with others.


3) Blockages

Our bodies rely on many systems operating correctly and communicating with each other for proper function. Sometimes, blockages keep these parts from working together properly and cause pain and discomfort. As young children, these are the colicky types that typically wake up in the middle of the night crying. The exhausted parents will try anything to get them back to sleep, but just as the child settles down and starts to fall asleep, they jolt awake and start crying again. As they get older, these children often soothe themselves by rocking or swinging as the constant motion gets things moving in their bodies and diminishes the blockages.


4) Dormant illnesses

A person can overcome an illness to the point they are no longer symptomatic, yet the disease is not entirely eliminated from the body. These are the children that get sick every time they get run down. Parents find themselves saying things like “this seems like the same cold we dealt with last year,” or “every time they get sick, it goes right to their chest.” These children never seem entirely healthy and are often in a foggy state in which it is difficult to communicate with them. Almost always, the child’s speech will be affected, either lacking expression altogether, slurring words, or making incoherent noises.

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