According to the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, current estimated cases of autism range from one in every 1,000 to one in every 500. Theories suggest vaccines are responsible, but there is growing concern that environmental toxins and pollution may be contributing factors. It is also theorized that nutrition, viral infections, immunizations, and antibiotics may be causal aspects as well.
People speak in terms of children “developing” autism, but new research cited by the Autism Society of America suggest genetic ties — that the disorder is present prenatal. An autism symptom will usually appear before the age of three, at which age a formal diagnosis can be made. Because an autism characteristic can be any combination of insufficiencies in language, social communication, and cognition, autism is difficult to diagnose before normal development in these areas would usually occur.
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder by standard medicine. Spectrum disorders are defined as a group of conditions that have similar features but may present an autism symptom in different ways. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) includes “classic” autism, Asperger syndrome, Rett syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (atypical autism). Each of these conditions usually is accompanied by a secondary autism characteristic such as aggression, irritability, stereotypies (involuntary but seemingly purposeful movement), hyperactivity, negativism, volatile emotions, temper tantrums, short attention span, and obsessive-compulsive behavior.
Autism in the Western medical sense does not exist in Chinese medicine. Instead, it is classified under the Syndrome of 5 Delays. The “delays” are observed in the areas of standing, walking, hair growth, teeth eruption and speech. This type of brain dysfunction in children, classic autism characteristic, is seen in traditional Chinese medicine as an imbalance of body functions. Based in the yin/yang theory, TCM views disease within the framework of energy balance.
Unlike Western medicine, which rates the brain the most important factor of the human physique, Chinese medicine sees the body and mind as part of the same circular system with the organs and the central nervous system. Western medicine has traditionally considered emotional influence on the organs as secondary, while Chinese medicine has always seen it as a key to understanding and achieving balance.
In Chinese medicine, reason and awareness, which are strongly affected by autism, are primarily ruled by three organ systems: the Heart, Spleen and Kidney. The Heart holds the Mind or Shen and rules the mental functions, including the emotional state of the individual and short-term memory. The Spleen is linked to the mind’s ability to study, memorize, and concentrate. Kidney qi rules over long-term memory. A disturbance in these areas can lead to displays of any autism characteristic.
According to Mary Cissy Majebe’s, “Chinese Medicine and Autism An Introduction for Parents, Teachers and Allopathic Physicians,” autism treatment includes eliminating phlegm; tonifying Heart blood, qi and yin; clearing Heart heat; and tonifying Spleen qi and Kidney essence.
Eliminating phlegm is crucial because it is involved with the two primary Chinese medicine diagnoses of autism. Phlegm misting the mind leads to dull wit and incoherent speech, mental confusion, lethargy and limited attention to surroundings. The condition of Phlegm fire harassing the heart presents as disturbed sleep, talking to oneself, uncontrolled laughing or crying, short temper and tendency toward constipation and aggression.
Balance in the heart is another key element because Heart blood or yin deficiency, as well as Heart fire will prompt an autism symptom on different extremes such as lethargy and quietness, fidgety restlessness, or aggressive behaviors.
Spleen qi deficiency and Kidney essence deficiency are central to the pathology of autism, the former affecting food intake (no interest in food, or an excessive hunger), while the latter will result in poor mental development.
The Autism Research Institute asserts that nutritional treatments have shown great success in autism treatment. They suggest for an autism diet avoiding yeast, glutens, casein, and any allergens. The Chinese medical diet is determined by flavor (pungent, sweet, salty), temperature (both physical and energy quality) and action on the body. Central to the philosophy and practice of Chinese medicine, it is thought that many, if not most, of our health problems are related to imbalances in our diet. Sensitivity to foods is not the cause of autism, but it does appear that certain components of foods exacerbate some of autism’s symptoms. Dietary therapy, by creating a healthy autism diet, helps patients treat illness and maintain health. The general rule in Chinese diet therapy is, “Warm foods restore balance. Just go to the center and forget either extreme.”
Autism has also been treated with acupuncture and massage. These two methods can be a difficult undertaking. It can take time for a child to adjust to touch treatments, but the benefits that have been discovered through studies and by practitioners may well be worth any required patience.
Acupuncture has made incredible strides in treating autism. Its efficacy can possibly be explained through the medical theory that autism is in part a neuroendocrine dysfunction and a result of the incorrect production of opioids. According to the book Scientific Bases of Acupuncture, acupuncture affects opioids, the central nervous system and neuroendocrine function.
Tongue acupuncture is also showing remarkable headway healing dysfunctions related to autism, according to recent studies. It is being studied for treating a number of brain disorders in children, including blindness, cerebral palsy and autism.
Tongue diagnosis is a central piece of the Chinese medical diagnostic system because the tongue is the only organ that can be seen externally. Its condition – color, thickness, dryness, smell and superficial growth reflects the condition of the heart and helps doctors determine treatment.
Although alternative autism treatment such as tongue acupuncture and dietary changes should still be viewed as a complementary approach, these exciting early findings stand as an innovative starting point for a new system of autism treatment.