Monday, November 30, 2009

Autism, Acupuncture, and the Denver Model

Autism is not just a challenge for the autistic child, but also for the entire family. In my practice I focus on treating the family -- the parents and siblings, particularly the primary caregiver -- because family support is so vital for good quality of life and social progress for the autistic child.

Here is some good news from: The Denver Model: An Integrated Approach to Intervention for Young Children with Autism. A recent study shows that an autistic child can make significant progress towards a normal life with strong social intervention from an early age. Here are a couple of their core principles:

Families should be at the helm of their children’s treatment.
Children with autism are capable of becoming intentional, effective, symbolic communicators and most children with autism can have useful, communicative speech when provided with appropriate interventions of sufficient intensity during the preschool years.
Successful intervention for young children with autism requires that most of their waking hours are spent in socially oriented activities. Providing more than 20 hours per week of structured intervention is necessary for optimum progress.

"When done in this fashion, many children are able to learn and make remarkable progress," said Geraldine Dawson, lead author of the study, published online Nov. 30 in Pediatrics, and chief science officer of Autism Speaks. "Some of the kids at the end of the study were going into regular preschool and had developed language and friendships with their peers." USNews

Keeping the family unit strong and in good mental and physical health becomes key to this type of social intervention training. Stress reduction and health-supportive techniques like acupuncture and meditation can be very helpful.

As for the treatment of autism with Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), in my practice, I have found the combination of acupuncture and herbal medicine with psychotherapy to be profoundly helpful. TCM does not distinguish between the mind and the body, but believes the clearing energetic disorders in the body can help relieve psychological problems. And, many of my patients have found it so. I suspect that adding acupuncture treatments to the Denver Model protocol would show increased benefits.

Of course, the prospect of getting any child to sit still for half an hour with acupuncture needles is unpromising. Adding ADHD or autism to the mix makes it much more difficult. However, pediatric acupuncture offers alternatives to the traditional form used for adults and older children. Quick insertion and removal of the needles is nearly as effective as retaining the needles for 20 minutes to an hour. Another option is scalp acupuncture. In this technique needles are inserted along the scalp -- a technique particularly effective for autism treatment -- and can be left in while the child plays normally with occasional stimulation.

Autism does not exist as a concept in TCM, but behavioral and social disorders do, and they usually relate to a strong imbalance in Yin and Yang, and deficiencies of constitutional Qi. The goal of the acupuncture treatment thus is to balance Yin and Yang, to normalize qi and blood flow in the brain, and to support the essential constitution. Of course, every child is different and an experienced TCM practitioner devises a treatment protocol specific to each child treated.

Byron Russell

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