Traditional Chinese Medicine Helps Those With Developmental Disorders

In both America and China, a variety of studies have shown that traditional Chinese medicine (TCM)-acupuncture, supplemented with herbs and special exercises-may be effective in the treatment of cerebral palsy. What is equally important is that the sooner treatments begin, the better the results.

Some studies have shown that acupuncture improved physical function or resulted in a notable therapeutic effect in people with cerebral palsy. In one particular study, 75 children were treated with a comprehensive meridian therapy. This included functional training, scalp and body acupuncture, acu-point injection and auriculo-point stimulation supplemented with acu-pressure and massage. Treatments ranged from 10 sessions within twenty days to 120 sessions within a year. The children’s physical abilities and social adaptability were evaluated. This comprehensive treatment yielded improvement in the children’s physical capability and also raised their IQ. Another study even suggested that acupuncture could be useful in managing pain associated with muscle spasms in Athetoid cerebral palsy.

So how do TCM and its complementary therapies work?  What is the underlying mechanism that produces these observable results? Simply put, it is TCM’s “holistic” approach, firmly rooted in yin-yang theory, which regards disease as an imbalance of energy. Acupuncture stimulates a body’s acupoints, linked through a system of 14 meridians, to create neural signaling, enhanced electromagnetic energy, and neuro-immunomodulatory and neurochemical-hormonal effects. Stimulating the traditional acupoints on the scalp and body by massage and electrical means has shown some effectiveness in treating children with brain dysfunction. This stimulation may also improve a child’s overall functional abilities.

TCM has even been shown to be effective in treating autism, a complex developmental disability that can severely affect a child’s social interactions and communication skills. Here, acupuncture may improve the dysfunction by activating vital connections in the brain. The technique involves repetitive stimulation of specific tongue acupoints, which may re-signal neural circuits through the body’s neurotransmitters. This works much like serotonin/5-HT, dopamine, and neurochemicals like cortisol. Applying these repetitive stimulation techniques may reverse the basic dysfunctional pathways in autism. The result may improve a patient’s attention, emotion, or hyperactivity levels, and also allow communicative or cognitive skills to be introduced. An interdisciplinary approach-one involving Western and Chinese medicine-may provide an exciting new framework for the treatment of autism and cerebral palsy.

For more information on TCM for developmental disorders, please contact Pacific College of Oriental Medicine at (800) 729-0941, or visit



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