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Dr. Nageena Akhtar at work

Autism: A chiropractic perspective

  • By Nageena

How can a chiropractor help an austic child

Chiropractors, as with other primary healthcare clinicians, are often faced with a child whom they suspect may have symptoms of autism, often previously undiagnosed. As such, it is important that there is familiarity with the symptoms, primary of which are difficulties in communicating or relating to other people. Although there is no known cause for autism, various potential aetiologies are under investigation. A number of abnormalities are found in multiple systems and functions in the autistic individual who presents a number of management challenges. Some researchers have discovered a laterality of the atlas in children with autism and there are various suggestions as to why removing upper cervical dysfunction may have a positive effect on the symptoms of autism. This paper offers a systematic review of the condition with emphasis on the elements pertinent to the manual therapist.

Autism is a life-long developmental disability, which, in the United Kingdom, affects approximately 90 people in every 10,000. Put into clinical perspective, this means that the average general practitioner (GP) will have 18 people with autism on their list. Individuals with autism are affected in different ways, but all seem to suffer from a triad of impairments: difficulty in interacting with others, impairments in social communication and difficulty thinking imaginatively. An absence of play is often one of the first obvious signs of autism.

Autism is a life-long developmental disability characterised by impairments in social interaction, communication and imagination. There is still no agreement regarding the causes of autism, in spite of the many years of research. The areas currently under investigation include anatomy and neurology, as well as the neurochemical and genetic aspects of the condition. There are no medications licensed to treat autism; drugs are used to treat symptoms such as aggression and hyperactivity and special educational techniques are used to help autistic individuals to realise their potential. Many chiropractors and other manipulative therapists report symptomatic improvements in behaviour following treatment, particularly upper cervical adjusting. However, whilst case studies and anecdotal reports are encouraging, further research in the form of larger, controlled trials are needed to establish the role of manipulative care in the treatment of autism.

Elder cites a possible nutritional cause, where gluten and casein may cause increased intestinal permeability to opiod proteins, which, when metabolized by the brain, may effect the endogenous opiate system and neurotransmission of the brain. It has also been suggested that the rise in autism is somehow linked to vaccinations containing Thimerosal, which is an organic compound used as a preservative that contains mercury. According to the FDA, as of 2005, multiple vaccines, including those generally given to children 6 years of age and younger, contain traces of Thimerosal.

  • Treatment guidelines for children with autism.
  • Establish consistent treatment routines. Since many of these children are disturbed by change, it is best to maintain a general consistency in the way each child is greeted, treated and sent home from visit to visit.
  • Avoid any loud disturbances during treatment. Hypersensitivity to a sound is a common problem and may even interfere with therapy. A relaxed quiet environment will promote effective care.
  • Distraction is key. Having an assistant distract the child with finger puppets or story books for instance, may allow the clinician to work more effectively.
  • Be alert for non-verbal cues of discomfort from the child; these may be areas in need of attention.
  • Question parents about changes in behaviour patterns. Significant changes for a child with autism may include the cessation of curious behaviours such as headstands, spinning objects and tugging at clothing. Positive change may also be indicated by an increase in the repertoire of foods the child will eat or an improved use of vocabulary.