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Benefits of Chiropractic Care and Autism: the Untold Story

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Chiropractic care and autism - Dr. Axe

by Dr. Brent Wells, DC

Millions of parents are seeking answers and assistance when their children are diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD. Parents are not often told that chiropractic care offer benefits for autism, even as autism rates continue to increase. Can a holistic chiropractor help autism? In short, yes, it can!

As you most likely know, the spectrum of cognitive issues and symptoms for those diagnosed with autism is a big area. There is no easily definable one plan helps most or even one description fits most!

Most parents looking for answers are told to not expect too much from their child and to see a therapist.

It’s true that early intervention can help tremendously, and those early measures should include chiropractic care, but often parents don’t hear about this choice until much later.


Common Signs of Autism

Most parents notice changes in early childhood, often by 6 months of age. Common signs of autism are:

  • speech delay or speech regression
  • sensitivity to sound or to certain noises
  • a delay in normal childhood markers, such as walking
  • no reciprocal gestures, such as not responding to peek-a-boo games
  • an infant 6 months of age or older that does not smile or has stopped smiling

These are just a few examples of some early signs of autism. 


What Causes Autism?

This can be a very volatile subject, but the fact remains that scientists don’t know the exact cause of this disorder.

Some believe this issue it is genetic, others that it is caused by toxins in the environment that the mother is exposed to while pregnant, while other researchers state it is a combination of reasons.

Scientists know that autism involves the brain and nervous system. Since chiropractic care involves uniting both, including relief from stress and pain, it only makes sense that a chiropractic care can improve quality of life for their patients.

Some doctors are quick to point out that almost every child with autism has digestive issues. Could it be that a mix-up or imbalance in the bacteria in the digestive tract plays a role? Is this the cause or another symptom? This is also an area that needs to be investigated and studied.

Most parents with autistic children have tried various diets, including restrictions on certain types of foods (such as the ketogenic diet, which puts strict limits on the consumption of carbohydrates, or gluten-free diets), vegan diets, all-natural diets, the removal of sugar, food dyes and dairy products. Almost all parents also report some type of improvement, regardless of which diet they have tried.   


Why Chiropractors Are Ignored in This Area

Chiropractors are generally ignored when it comes to children with autism for the same reasons some parents don’t bring their children to a chiropractor; most parents believe children don’t need or won’t benefit from chiropractic care. 

A great many people believe chiropractors only work with back and neck pain. They don’t understand how a holistic chiropractor can help any child, let alone help one with autism.(Read what Dr. Axe has to say about the researched benefits of chiropractic adjustments.) What does “cracking your back” have to do with children or autistic children?

The National Academy of Science suggested in one chapter that children would benefit from a minimum of 25 hours a week of therapy as soon as they are diagnosed with autism. (1) As stated in their report, starting therapeutic programs as early as 3 years of age have an immense benefit to children.

The Academy notes in their 2016 report that 80 percent of autistic patients are speaking by age 9. Compare this to 20 years ago when the number of autistic children able to speak and communicate effectively was less than 50 percent.


A Chiropractor’s Role in the Natural Treatment of Autism

You might still ask yourself what this has to do with chiropractic care and how can a chiropractor help a child with autism.

First, let’s talk for a minute about the what chiropractic work is. Most people think of “cracking” a back or popping your neck “back into place.” While this is partially true, it’s like saying that the only thing surgeons do is cut you open and stitch the wound closed.

Chiropractic care looks at the importance of the central nervous system and the spine that the nervous system runs through. Like a giant freeway system, the nervous system of the body controls every organ, every feeling and every thought process.

To give you a better idea of how this works, imagine that your brain is a warehouse and that all other parts of your body are stores that need supplies. Your nervous system is the roadway that trucks (electrical impulses) travel on. When one store is empty or is damaged, it sends the information down the road. The warehouse responds with proper action.

When the road is damaged, the information cannot be sent, or it cannot be understood and there is no response from the warehouse (the brain) or the signal is ignored because the brain does not understand.

Chiropractic care aligns the spine and joints so that proper communication can take place. Chiropractors are doctors, going to school for a minimum of eight years, and must pass several exams before they get a license. (Read “What Is a Chiropractor?” for more information.) Their specialized training allows them to find and correct spinal dysfunction.


What Benefits Can a Chiropractor Offer the Child with Autism?

Chiropractic care works by improving the function or communication between the spine and the central nervous system, thereby rectifying the function of every single organ and every single aspect of the entire body.

A chiropractor can help children with autism by improving neurological function. The autonomic nervous system of the body is designed to protect people with certain automatic responses. A common response is the “fight or flight” mode. When sensing danger, the body locks out all other stimuli to make the decision to fight or flee. Sometimes, due to a misaligned spine, the mind gets stuck in this mode, frozen, if you will, leaving the person unable to respond. 

Most sensory activity is located along the spinal column. Chiropractic care improves the processing of information, like the highway we mentioned earlier, by allowing communication to flow freely.

When you adjust the structure of the body, it often leads to very real, long-lasting results without drugs, without surgery. It’s why chiropractic adjustments are considered part of a natural treatment regimen for autism.

Coordination and balance are also sensory systems that are found in the inner ear and spine. Adjustments improve motor skills by allowing the body and mind to connect through improved pathways of communication.

Scientists note children with autism suffer from some type of neurological interference, which prevents the pathways from communicating. Chiropractic care isn’t so much about recovery, but more about improving the quality of life for these children. Chiropractic adjustments offer them an added source of release from pent-up frustrations and stress autistic children feel from their inability to communicate with others.

There is a wide variety of issues for which chiropractic care has been beneficial for children, including stopping recurrent ear infections, headaches, immune system improvement, nursing problems, migraines and asthma. A diagnosis of autism is simply another mind/health issue that chiropractors can treat.

At Anchorage Chiropractic, we don’t treat autism, per se. Chiropractic care cannot reverse autism. We do, however, treat children who have autism as a part of an overall holistic health program.

Other natural treatments that have helped autistic children involve a gluten-free diet, an all-natural diet high in fruits and vegetables, probiotics, Ayurvedic massage and acupressure

You can also speak with your chiropractor about detoxification and nutritional information and how it might benefit your child.


Chiropractic Autism Success Stories

Dr. Matthew McCoy published a study in 2013 in the Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research about a three-year-old girl with autism who suffered from a variety of symptoms, including headaches, vomiting, insomnia and delayed motor skills. (2) After one month of chiropractic care, this child had vast improvements in most areas, including autism-related issues, such as making eye contact and improved development.

The Journal of Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics systematically reviewed literature involving 11 case studies that involved autistic children. (3) In their remarks, it was stated that chiropractic care had a positive impact on all subjects. This review was published in December 2016.

In May 2001, a study was discussed at the World Federation of Chiropractic Congress where a 5-year-old male child with autism was given chiropractic care. (4) The parents stated that they saw a tremendous improvement in their child after only two weeks.

Most success stories are anecdotal and can be found on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Reddit, and Twitter, or in news stories, such as this blog featured in the Chicago Tribune.

How Long Before Results Show?

Everyone is different, including those with autism. Some children show improvement after just one adjustment. Other children, such as the 3-year-old listed above, took about 30 days. The 5-year-old listed in success stories? A mere two weeks.


Assisting Your Chiropractor

If you decide to try chiropractic care for your child, you can help the doctor by speaking with them first, without your child being present, so you can explain your concerns and ask questions without being worried about your child becoming upset.

You and the doctor should agree on some verbal cues or hand signals so you know what to expect and can have the doctor end the session if your child is becoming overly stressed.

Most autistic children thrive on routine, so it’s best to make appointments at the same time of day and at regular intervals.

Almost all children like the way they feel after an adjustment, which should make a return appointment an easy situation.

Only you can decide if chiropractic care is right for your child. If you are still unsure or have questions that this article did not answer, please do not hesitate to make an appointment and speak with a chiropractor.  

Dr. Brent Wells, DCDr. Brent Wells is one of the leading chiropractors in Anchorage who believes in treating people the way he would want to be treated. Born and raised in Southern California, Dr. Wells received his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Nevada and his Doctor of Chiropractic Medicine degree from Western States Chiropractic College. He, his wife Coni, and their three children live in and enjoy the great outdoors in Alaska. Dr. Wells volunteers for Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy Foundation and can be found hiking or rollerblading when he isn’t playing his guitar.

Read Next: Why Autism Rates Are Rising


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