Acupuncture for Children on the Autism Spectrum

Perhaps surprisingly, many studies have been done worldwide hoping to determine the efficacy of acupuncture to treat symptoms of autism.  Autism is a developmental disorder that primarily affects a child’s ability to form social bonds and communicate.  Children and adults with autism can have an inability to make friends with others or a dislike of social interaction, and an inability to read facial expressions and cues.  Unlike other children, who develop social knowledge naturally as they grow older and interact with groups, children with autism must be explicitly taught how to behave in many group situations.  Some children with autism also can have Intellectual Disability that holds them back from achieving in school.  This is not true for all children, however, and children that are considered to have “Asperger’s Syndrome” are autistic, but are very high functioning intellectually.

The symptoms of autism are pervasive and can make life difficult for both the person with autism and his or her friends and family.  There are many proposed lifestyle changes or additions for children and adults with autism and families are quick to jump on board, hoping for any improvements.  Many children and adults with autism undergo Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy to improve communication and self-sufficiency skills.  Some receive medications to help decrease repetitive behaviors or behaviors of self-harm.  Still others look for alternative interventions that can ease the challenges that come with autism.

This is where acupuncture comes in.  Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese practice that purports to balance the life-force, or “chi,” in the body by the placement of thin needles in key pressure points along the head and body.  Thought researchers aren’t entirely sure how the procedure works, acupuncture is an effective treatment for the symptoms of many ailments.  In fact, acupuncture can often be paid for by health insurance, if recommended by your doctor.

Since at least the early 2000’s, researchers have been interested to discover if acupuncture can be an effective treatment for people with autism.  There have been a number of studies done to test the behavior and autistic symptoms of people with autism before and after acupuncture treatment.  While some of these studies found statistically significant benefit with the introduction of acupuncture, a meta-analysis of many of these studies done in 2011 concluded that the evidence is still murky and needs further study.  Additionally, no randomized controlled trials have been carried out on adults with autism, so only children have been studied so far.

Though science is still inconclusive on whether acupuncture helps ease symptoms of autism, there are no reported downsides to trying the procedure.  If you or someone you love has autism and are considering new routes to treat symptoms, acupuncture is a good choice.  While many studies claim that children who received acupuncture didn’t fare any better than their counterparts who didn’t partake, there were no negative side effects to the treatment.  Furthermore, some children did experience relief from certain symptoms and were reported to make strides forward in behavior and social gains.  It might not work for everyone, but it’s possible it works for some people.

All in all, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of acupuncture for treating autism.  Many studies have been done on children with autism and the results are still inconclusive.  However, acupuncture is a healthy and effective treatment for the symptoms of many common ailments and diseases and so may help symptoms of autism for some, if not many, people.  If you are interested in pursuing acupuncture as a treatment for yourself or your child, consult your physician and do not suspend other treatment plans in favor of acupuncture without doctor approval.

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