By Li Zhang, L.Ac.,
Autism is considered a spectrum disorder and lifelong disorder of the
brain by Western medicine. Spectrum disorders are defined as a group of
conditions that have similar features, but may present as 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 is usually accompanied by a secondary autistic characteristic
such as aggression, irritability, stereotypies, hyperactivity,
negativism, volatile emotions, temper tantrums, short attention span, and
obsessive-compulsive behavior. Autism affects at least 1-2 per 1000
children. It is estimated that the annual cost of care for autism is $13
billion in United States alone. There is an increasing trend of autism worldwide.
However, to date, there is still no cure for this devastating childhood
disease by Western medicine.
Autism in Traditional Chinese Medicine belongs to the Five Delay symptoms.
According to the understanding of Chinese Medicine, it is caused whenever
the parental Qi is not strong enough, the internal Qi, the
body-mind complex, is not in harmony, or if the Qi of the
external environment, such as one's home, relationships, weather,
environment is disturbed.
TCM also believes that the universe is suffused
with bio-energy, and its presence or absence within our system is the
measure of our well being. Body energy Qi has twin polarities that
are at once in conflict and interdependent. Balancing Qi is
essentially a question of balancing the Yin and Yang, and autistic
patients generally have a strong disorder in Yin and Yang. Therefore, the purpose of
acupuncture is to ensure the smooth and harmonious flow of Qi and
regulate Yin and Yang. Healing is, therefore, a combination of correcting
our outer environment (for instance, by moderating lifestyle,
diet, or mental attitudes), tonifying internal Qi. and by stimulating
Since autistic patients can have a difficult time following directions
and being cooperative, body acupuncture is not always an ideal method.
However, during scalp acupuncture procedure, children do not need to lie
down and stay motionless. While the needles are in place on their head, they can
play, learn to read, speech and walk. So scalp acupuncture is a safe
and easy way to needle autistic children.
How does scalp acupuncture work? Scalp acupuncture is also known as head
acupuncture. All meridians will reach the head, so the head is also
called the Sea of Meridians. In TCM,
nearly 365 acupuncture points on the body surface (approximal 18% on the
head) are interrelated to various zang and fu (organs or viscera) functions.
Except the connections with meridians based on the foundation of
Traditional Chinese acupuncture, scalp acupuncture also has developed on
modern anatomy, neurophysiology and bioholography theory. Acupuncture is
applied to specific areas of the head, using a precise needling
technique, to deal with various diseases. Scalp acupuncture has been
proven to be the most effective technique for treating central nerve
damage. In recent studies, the effect of acupuncture was hypothesized
and proven in animal and human studies to be due to direct neural
stimulation, changes in neurotransmitters such as endorphin,
immunological markers and endocrinological signals, including autism.
Traditional acupuncture treatments for autism have shown some good
results, although they do not suggest that complete cures are possible.
Some cases have shown that patients have improved to such a degree
that a fairly normal life is possible. The recommended scalp acupuncture
areas to be used for autism are: sensory area, speech area,
Vertigo-auditory area, reproduction area, Gallbladder meridian points
and Du meridian points. Body points are sometimes used as an adjunct to
the scalp acupuncture therapy. Proper manipulation techniques are
crucial for obtaining the desired results. The needles are usually
retained for 15 to 30 minutes with stimulation every one to two minutes
using a rotational technique every 5 to 10 minutes. Patients are often
treated two to three times a week (at least once a week).
Although there certainly are other acupuncture techniques that can be
effective, such as ear acupuncture and body acupuncture, scalp
acupuncture is a more effective and safe model that brings out quicker
progress for autism.
Li Zhang, L.Ac., M.S., DiplOM is an
acupuncturist and herbalist from China. He studied and received his
Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Chendu
University of Traditional Chinese Medicine in China at 1991. He is now a
licensed acupuncturist in Tennessee, USA and a medical research
scientist at Vanderbilt University, TN.