Autism and Chiropractic care
Often times when I am in the community and introduce myself as a Pediatric Chiropractor, I get quite a few puzzled looks as if I’d just made up a new profession.
Dr. Tony Ebel
The truth is, pediatric chiropractic is growing by leaps and bounds and the results we are getting are astounding.
One of the areas our practice focuses on is helping children with autism and other spectrum-related disorders. So, in order to better help explain my answer to the question “Well, how can chiropractic help with autism?” I thought I would write out a general summary and make it available on the website! So here goes…
Warning – this is a very lengthy explanation, but if there is one thing I have learned in my years of helping parents whose children suffer with autism, it is that “no amount of information or help is too much” for their children. So hopefully, this helps…
How can Pediatric Chiropractic Care Help with Autism?
Well, as is the case with so many questions, the response to this one is going to be multi-faceted. However, it will also have one recurring theme… and that recurring theme will be our focus on the Central Nervous System.
Anyone who knows anything about autism knows that the nervous system is greatly affected in this disorder and the challenges this brings about are responsible for many of the issues seen in children with autism, such as hyperactivity, attention issues, sleep challenges, behavior problems, social issues, sensory processing issues, and more. In addition, the nervous system is so intimately linked with the digestive and immune systems (the other two systems most commonly affected in autism) that it can also contribute to things such as bowel and bladder problems, autoimmune challenges, and more. From here on out we will look at these systems in a “triangular” sort of approach with the nervous system being the link between them.
Possible ways the Nervous System can be Damaged or Injured
There are numerous ways to discuss, so we will focus on the major one for purpose of this article. The primary mode of injury we see in our office is what we would term Traumatic Birth Injury. For many of these children their nervous systems have been damaged right from the outset due to this birth injury, or even prior to that due to in-utero constraint issues (i.e. breech positioning).
Unfortunately, in the United States we have levels of birth intervention that even the WHO has termed to be at “epidemic” levels, especially the use of Cesarean delivery. The WHO states that C-section rates around 10% are normal and necessary, while anything above 15-20% “likely does more harm than good” – in the US 33-50% C-section rates are the norm for most hospitals.
It must also be realized, that even most vaginal deliveries are now induced or “augmented” as well. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics showed an increase in autism later on in life for induced births, confirming what we’ve been talking about in pediatric chiropractic for a long, long time.
The area that is most commonly injured during the birth process is the upper neck and skull. The risk of injury to these areas, and the resultant issues from it, go up exponentially as intervention levels go up. C-sections, forceps, vacuum extraction, and prolonged pushing all lead to greater risk of traumatic birth injury to the infants head and neck.
Unfortunately, no one in the medical system is really trained to check (or address) these sorts of injuries, so most of the time they go completely unmentioned to the parents… If the injury were addressed by a pediatric chiropractor shortly after it occurred, most of the neurological injuries associated with it could be prevented. If we are truly going to win the battle for autism in this country, we must learn how to prevent it, not cure it. This area would be a vital first step.
Effects of these Injuries
Once that injury occurs, it can put pressure on the brain stem and spinal cord, as well as the spinal nerves in the vicinity. What is more, by creating a misalignment and joint fixation complex (subluxation) in the area, it leads to improper neurological “signaling” or “communication” into and out of the central nervous system. This challenge to the communication system of the body is one of the primary reasons so many children with autism have challenges with sensory processing, social interaction and behavior, and learning.
All of this eventually puts the nervous system into a chronic or permanent state of stress. This is often referred to as the stress response, or fight/flight response. It is a response that is vital for short term reactions, but detrimental when “stuck on” for extended periods of time. Most children with autism have been in fight/flight from their first moments. This is why we see such a high correlation with infantile colic, ear infections, digestive disorders, and autism.
Again, if our health care system were designed to address these challenges immediately, rather than waiting for the symptoms to appear, far fewer children would be suffering with autism and related disorders. One can simply observe a child with autism and see the “stress and fear” in their eyes. It is such a joy to see this look change in their eyes as they progress through care in our office.
Getting back to our triangle example, this chronic state of stress wreaks havoc on the immune and digestive systems as both of them are “down-regulated” during chronic states of stress. Speaking specifically about the digestive system, sustained neurological stress responses can lead to an increase in decreased motility, constriction, cramping, and inflammation. When the digestive system is in this state it does a very poor job of breaking down foods and other substances, leading to even further inflammation and irritation that can spill over into the bloodstream and cause an immune response.
The immune system faces the same challenges… when we are in a constant state of neurological stress the immune system dysfunctions and leaves a child susceptible to allergies, asthma, eczema, and other inflammatory type reactions. All of this leads to more and more inflammation and irritation, and the cycle continues. This is why so many of these reactions and challenges are what we refer to as “viscous cycles” that essentially continue to feed each other and lead to greater and greater challenges. Somewhere, this cycle must be broken, and that is where chiropractic adjustments come into play.
Getting to the Root of the Problem
By addressing the injury and resultant subluxation, a specific chiropractic adjustment restores proper balance and alignment to the neuro-spinal system, and thus can help restore balance and function to the central nervous system. Depending on the severity and duration these injuries have been present, sometimes repeated adjustments can create positive change in a step-by-step process that leads to an improvement in behavior, digestion, immunity, learning, sleep, and more. As I have stated many times before, the sooner we start, the better our chances of having success with such care.