Chiropractic Medicine and Autism

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The Autistic Spectrum

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Alternative cures for autism
Carmel Thomason

EVERY month, Susan Crisp takes her eight-year-old son, Daniel, for a 15-minute chiropractic treatment.
Daniel has autism and Susan and her husband, Gary, firmly believe that this complementary therapy has been key to the recent improvements they've seen in his development. "His communication has improved tremendously," says Susan.
"He has started putting three or four words together and it is not in response to questions from us.
"It's spontaneous. At one time, if he wanted something out of the fridge he would drag me to it and point. Now he'll say, `Mummy, I want'.
"He doesn't seem so closed in as he once was and is interacting more with his three older sisters."
Television presenter, Quentin Willson, has reported similar success from the treatment for his son, Max.
Indeed, it was after seeing Quentin talking about his son on TV two years ago that Susan first got the idea to try chiropractic for Daniel.
"It was a coincidence that I saw it. I had the TV on and it really caught my eye because there were so many similarities between what he was talking about with his son and Daniel," she remembers.
Worth a try
"It stayed on my mind. I told Gary about it and we felt we should give it a try.
"We thought, `If nothing happens, that's the worst that can happen'.
"At the time, Daniel was walking on his tip-toes and his feet were pointing inwards when he walked - which can be symptoms of autism. I was worried about it and we thought that the chiropractic might be able to help with his posture."
Susan took Daniel to see chiropractor Doug Clark at Dynamic Chiropractic in Sale. Chiropractic is a complementary therapy used to treat problems with joints, bones and muscles and the effects these have on the nervous system.
This is done by a chiropractor, using their hands to make often gentle, specific adjustments to joints, concentrating particularly on the spine, to improve the nervous system and release the body's natural healing ability.
Doug explains: "Daniel demonstrated quite striking spinal stiffness both in the left side of his lower back and his upper neck.
"From a chiropractic point of view, spinal movement problems, typically at the top of the neck, may contribute to distorted nerve function in the central nervous system.
Brain effects
"Typically, the left side of the upper neck communicates with the right side of the frontal brain and with the parts of the brain cortex that is involved with speech and language and co-ordination of movement.
"Whilst I treated Daniel's spine for mechanical problems, which we could be certain would benefit his health, we didn't know at this stage how his communication skills, speech and language might respond to treatment."
Initially, Daniel's treatment was once a week for the first month. This reduced to once a fortnight and now Daniel sees Doug once a month.
"Some parts of the treatment look uncomfortable, but it doesn't hurt Daniel at all," says mum, Susan.
"He loves it. Usually when Daniel comes in from school, that's it, he's in and it's really hard to get him to go anywhere, but when I say we are going to see Doug he wants to go.
"Every time Doug has a little chat to ask how Daniel has been getting on. Then Daniel sits in the chair - we call it the Thunderbird chair, and Doug doesn't have to tell him anything now, he knows what to do.
No bother
"Doug manipulates Daniel's neck. This part looks uncomfortable but Daniel smiles and mimics the clicking sound his neck makes when he has it done.
"After this Daniel lies flat on his tummy and Doug manipulates his spine in different ways. He finishes the treatment by massaging the back of his neck.
"Daniel loves this but when I've tried to do it at home he won't let me do it, only Doug - they've built up a really lovely relationship.
"But it's not just a matter of Daniel enjoying it. Within four to six weeks we noticed a huge improvement in his condition.
"We took him in June and by August people who don't see him regularly commented that his speech had come on tremendously. He started to initiate sentences - it was a real surprise, to us."
Daniel continues to make excellent progress and is now speaking and engaging with people on a regular basis.
As well as his chiropractic treatment he receives educational help through a specialist school, which includes seeing a speech therapist twice a week.
"I wouldn't want to diminish the input of the other treatments Daniel gets but I think the chiropractic complements this well," Susan adds. "Daniel is improving so much more and so much quicker.
"The chiropractic was like turning a key, opening the door and it all came out of him.
"It's not a cure but it can alleviate some of the difficulties."
National Autistic Society, 0845 070 4004, and British Chiropractic Association, 0118 950 5950. Dynamic Chiropractic offers free consultations - call 0800 6528854.

in the Care of Children with AUTISM
By Joan Fallon, D.C., FICCP

“…it has only been recently that I realized the magnitude of the difference between me and most other people.” ~  Temple Grandin, Author: "Thinking in Pictures"

Temple Grandin is a remarkable woman who has “emerged” from her autism. Her two books about being autistic coupled with her complete and total understanding of the differences in the world around her versus the world inside of her make her a remarkable study in autism. Her inner reflections and strong communication ability give us a view of autism as never before.

In her books Temple repeatedly discusses sensory integration difficulties as being the core of her autism. Not surprisingly, growing numbers of professionals also tout sensory difficulties as one of the hallmarks of autism.

Sensory integration is defined as the disorganization of the multisensory input into the body. People who experience sensory integration problems have profound and often debilitating difficulty with touch, taste, smell, sound or visual input. Non-autistics can often experience sensory issues as well, such as the irritation we feel from a band playing too loudly, or an immediate headache from a certain smell. While these may be bothersome to the typical person, such sensory stimuli can be “noxious” to the autistic child and often manifest in infancy as colic and in the older child as hyperactivity, the “inability to listen”, or unexplained behavior issues, especially in children who lack communication.

The senses help children make sense of the world and any impairment creates an imbalance, an inability to receive and process information from the environment as taken in through the nervous system. For this reason, proper sensory functioning is often referred to as a ‘foundation’ skill. As our knowledge of helping children and adults with autism has grown, an interdisciplinary approach to treatment appears to be the most beneficial. Especially within the realm of occupational therapy, various techniques have been developed to treat the sensory integration aspect of autism. Chiropractic, which can be highly effective with this population, is often overlooked.

Chiropractic care should be the cornerstone of the sensory integration treatment plan for the PDD child. While it has regularly been associated with back pain or headache, increasing numbers of parents are seeking chiropractors for children and especially for children with developmental issues. Chiropractic care differs from many of the other therapies used with autistics in that it is directed to the heart of the problem: the lack of homeostasis in the body, which can, in turn, produce a disease state. Treatments are directed to the imbalances in the nervous system which inhibit sensory processing. By directly affecting the nervous system, chiropractic care for the autistic child can begin to change the many sensory integration issues by facilitating input into the organs and areas of the body involved in sensory integration, including the skin and the nervous system.

The chiropractor administers an adjustment as the mainstream portion of care. An adjustment is applied to the spine, most often by the hand of the doctor. Occasionally an adjusting instrument is employed, but all chiropractors are taught to “adjust” with their hands. The adjustment is administered in areas where there is the presence of a SUBLUXATION. Subluxation occurs where a segment of the spine consisting of two vertebrae and a disc between them, has lost their juxtaposition. Proper juxtaposition is necessary to maintain the integrity of the various systems that are located there, not the least of which is the nervous system. The presence of SUBLUXATION can cause illness as well as a host of other problems for the child.

The adjustment will affect the child or adult in three ways.

Many autistic children who communicate verbally tell us that deep pressure is very important to them. The child may often be tactile defensive and shun any type of contact except deep pressure. The lateral spinothalamic tract of the nervous system, which is sensitive to pressure, can be activated in the child through the deep pressure applied in the adjustment. This aspect can significantly diminish tactile defensiveness, and has a remarkable effect on the child. Parents find it to be an effective alternative to traditional occupational therapy exercises, or using a squeeze machine to get a child to accept deep pressure treatments. Once the child becomes accustomed to the deep pressure, light touch appears less noxious to them.

Many children with autism have obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or OCD-like behaviors as part of their functioning. These repetitive actions not only impair their quality of life, but they can be injurious to the child. Tics, flapping, echolalia, head banging etc. can often prevent the child from learning and from participating in activities. In addition to being a self-soothing mechanism, OCD activity is done in order for the child to feel where his body ends and the rest of the world begins (proprioception). The chiropractic adjustment allows the child to receive input from the outside to the spine, then to the brain and again back to the spine. This feedback loop can begin to replace the OCD activity. An interesting note: in chiropractic literature there is ample history with respect to OCD activities, such as head banging on the crib, as being an attempt by the child to self-correct a subluxation which may have occurred at birth.

There is evidence within chiropractic that performing an adjustment will increase the neurotransmission within the body. Increased neurotransmission can help the child perform higher cortical functions, including executive function activities. This increase in neurotransmission also can elevate the immunoglobulin levels in the child, which can give the child immunological protection from illness. While these results are presently being noted and explored within chiropractic, the evidence is strong that these changes do occur.

Chiropractic is far more than a simple skeletal adjustment; chiropractic theory is based on the body’s inherent desire for wholeness and proper functioning. The changes in the neurological system alone that chiropractic can bring to the child with autism are tremendously important. Even a slight reduction in OCD behaviors, for example, can give children a better quality of life and improve their ability to learn.

Each child is unique and no one strategy will be effective for all individuals on the autism spectrum. If your child has sensory integration challenges, chiropractic has proven to be an effective treatment method to help  these children make sense of their sensory world. Take your child to a doctor of chiropractic and see for yourself the changes that the adjustment can bring.

NOTE: All chiropractors are trained in child adjusting. However, there are specialists in the field who have extensive training in pediatric development and autism. They are graduates of a three-year postgraduate program leading to Diplomate status. If you are interested in finding a doctor of chiropractic for your child, or you would like to speak to a doctor of chiropractic about your child’s condition, contact the International Chiropractors Association at (800) 423-4690 for a referral.

"CHIROPRACTIC is a holistic or natural healing art, which is used to improve the overall function of the body.It is not a treatment for disease or any one condition.
It does not stimulate or inhibit or turn things on and off in the body (as do many drugs).It is not a means of pain control.CHIROPRACTIC helps the body function to ITS maximum capability by allowing the nervous system to have better control over all the tissues of the body.It may take a person days, months or years of care to regain this balance. Please do not expect an instant cure. Time is vital."
-Joseph LaBarbera, Chiropractor

Joan Fallon is a Fellow of the International Council on Chiropractic Pediatrics. She is a former Assistant Professor at Yeshiva University in New York, NY and is the author of numerous professional papers and texts on a variety of subjects pertinent to the autism community.

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Chiropractic and autism

by Larry Webster, D.C., Chairman of the Board and Founder of I.C.P.A.

Autism is a disorder in which children have an inability to develop relationships with people, delayed speech acquisition, non-communicative use of speech, repetitive mannerisms, and marked distress during changes of normal conditions that they are accustomed to. Generally, autistic people have a normal physical appearance.

For years, the etiology of autism was thought to be related only to physiological factors. Recently it has become apparent that many of these children have neurological deficits.

Although much is yet to be understood about autism, the possible link to neurological deficits indicates that chiropractic may hold an answer.

Right now, though, autistic children tend to be at the mercy of medical research, most of which is predicated on the theory that autism is a single condition such as Down's Syndrome or phenylketonuria.

However, it has already been shown that autism can arise on the basis of conditions as pathologically diverse as congenital rubella, congenital syphilis, and tuberous sclerosis. The findings demonstrate that the behavioral syndrome autism can develop in children with heterogenous disease states.

It is not known whether autism is a single disease entity or a behavioral syndrome with several causes. It remains uncertain whether autism should be sub-classified, and, if it should, how it should be divided. Knowledge is lacking on whether autism in children of normal intelligence is the same thing in those children who have mental retardation.

Disagreement continues on how best to classify children who show some, but not all, features of autism. It is unclear which symptoms are primary and which are secondary. Finally, the cause or causes of autism and the psychological mechanisms which underline its development have not been established.

However, there are a number of case studies showing that autistic children may respond to chiropractic adjustments.

Case history

One of our more dramatic cases of autism was a seven-year-old boy with an evaluated physical age of one and a half years old and mental age of a one year old.

The child was classed as "normal" until the age of three years, when he received a DPT vaccination shot and he immediately lost his three-year-old capacity.

The child regressed, and at age five, all vocabulary ceased. He suffered rapid physical decline and, at age seven, was brought in for chiropractic care.

His bowels and kidney function were completely erratic and uncontrollable. After two months of care, the child's vocabulary returned. The teacher at his special education school asked the child's mother if he had been placed on stronger medication, as he was behaving better.

The mother told the teach that she was taking her son to the chiropractor. Before seeing a doctor of chiropractic, the mother had been told her son would never get any better and would probably get worse.

After one year of chiropractic care, the child no longer had frequent bowel accidents, he could now communicate his wishes and most of the autistic type behavior had diminished. The child is still under care and the changes are extremely slow. However, there is a positive change. All of the child's teachers and his parents are astounded at the results obtained when they had originally been told nothing more could be done.

When neurological deficits are present, we can rightfully assume that the nervous system is not functioning properly. Subluxations present during childhood created this disease process and chiropractic can be the solution.

Autism is just one of the many clinical conditions that the International Pediatric Association is researching at its Atlanta facility. At the annual convention, May 5 - 7 in Atlanta, participants will hear about other similar cases by many of the speakers on the program.

For more information on the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association and/or the annual convention, call (800) 670-KIDS

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Chiropractor works to reconnect signals in the brain; specializes in treating children and young adults with attention deficit and autism-related disorders.
By EMILY CHRISTENSEN, Courier Staff Writer
WATERLOO --- Joe Culbertson once suffered from migraines that kept him out of school for 29 days.
At his lowest point, doctors had diagnosed him with attention deficit disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, depression and Tourette's syndrome. He was on as many as six medications to stabilize his medical and mental conditions.
Administrators at Expo High School told his family it would take six years for him to graduate.
That was three years ago. Culbertson, now 17, will graduate next month --- a year ahead of his former classmates at East High School.
He credits his success to Dr. Kurt Kuhn, a Waterloo neurochiropractor who specializes in treating children and young adults with attention deficit and autism-related disorders. Kuhn said the symptoms from these diagnoses manifest because of a condition recently coined functional disconnection syndrome. The condition results in a functional breakdown in the neurological pathways, which in turn causes the brain to perform at a level below what is required for higher cognitive function. The human brain's efficiency depends on a seamless transition of signals from one area of the brain to another.
Culbertson said the treatment he received at Kuhn's office has made him a changed man.
"Now I am not afraid of anything," Culbertson says. "I want to get the word out so people can know, I pretty much hit the bottom rung and have climbed back up."
Kuhn has offered the specialized treatment for about two years, though technology continually changes his methods. He is one of only three neurochiropractors in the state. There are only about 600 such chiropractors in the world. In general, neurochiropractors use standard neurological tests and chiropractic adjustments to increase the brain's capacity.
Twirling a drum stick is just one of the many exercises Dr. Kurt Kuhn used to help Joe Culbertson better manage ADD and ADHD. The motion helps build brain capacity and repair neurological pathways.
After an initial consultation, Kuhn starts a rigorous program using neurological tests to determine each patient's cognitive capacity.
The first, called a go or no-go test, measures a person's ability to pay attention. The 22-minute test gives Kuhn an insight into how fast a person's brain fatigues. On Culbertson's first visit, it took just five minutes for him to lose interest.
"Too many times we find kids with five-minute attention spans who are stuck in 55-minute classes," Kuhn says.
Another test, the interactive metronome, works by challenging the patient to synchronize a range of hand and foot exercises to a computer-generated tone. Studies have shown that over the course of care, patients learn to focus for longer periods of time, increase their physical endurance and filter out internal and external distractions.
Once the tests are completed, Kuhn begins therapy sessions, which can continue include both tests and a series of other exercises. One of Culbertson's favorites to master was drumstick twirling. Kuhn has an entire book that outlines dozens of spins. The repetitive activity builds brain capacity slowly, allowing Kuhn's patients to repair their neurological pathways.
"Every kid, well almost every kid, wants to be a rock 'n' roll star," Kuhn says. "We know this is something every kid will actually do."
But as soon as Culbertson learns a new spin, he must move on.
"These activities are only useful as long as it is a challenge," Kuhn notes.
Other activities, like the "whack-a-mole" game often found at carnivals, are also used to build brain capacity.
But Kuhn must start small. In the beginning, he often sees a patient daily, though for a very short visit.
"They only have a small brain capacity. It would be like going to a gym --- if you are a 98-pound weakling you will need to spend a lot more time at the gym than someone who is already fit," Kuhn says. "We are always trying to build up more brain power, but there has to be the fuel to support it."
The same types of treatments can also work for children with autism. Kuhn said results aren't always as profound and may take longer, but many parents have seen improvement in their children.
"I have seen many autistic children who were locked in when they came to me," Kuhn says. "Now they are talking."
Contact Emily Christensen at (319) 291-1482 or
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