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Home > Newsletters > May 2008 > Autism Treatment by Scalp Acupuncture

Autism Treatment by Scalp Acupuncture

By Li Zhang, L.Ac., M.S., DiplOM.

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 acupuncture points.

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.

About the author:

Li Zhang, L.Ac., M.S., DiplOM is an acupuncturist and herbalist from China. He studied and received his degrees at 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.

This Month's Articles

May 2008
Volume 6, Number 5

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