Complementary approaches to autism

This journal examines and critiques selected complementary therapies that a used in cases of autism.

You should consult a medical practitioner before embarking on any program that is potentially harmful.

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Join the discussion on breakthroughs in approaches to helping those on the autism spectrum, to realise their potential.


Dogs & Autism

Therapy dogs for autism can assist with emotional and physical support. Having a solid and reassuring companion is meant to help ease sensory overload and help the autistic child focus and learn to filter out sensory input.

The child can use the therapy dog to learn to self-soothe through touch and pressure intervention and a trained autism therapy dog can also help with personal safety if the child is tethered to the dog’s harness.

From a vagal perspective, the dog can have a soothing and calming effect on the ‘old vagus’, allowing the child to learn to put the ‘vagal brake’ on and a parasympathetic state to ensue, which can enable a greater capacity for learning and communication.


Oxygen therapy & autism

Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is thought to improve certain traits of autism such as communication, social skills and eye contact. It involves breathing in up to 100% oxygen in a pressurized chamber to boost oxygen in the brain and reduce brain inflammation. An increase in oxygen may promote a parasympathetic state which in turn promotes a stronger connection between the social engagement and the vagal system.

However the dramatic nature of the autism oxygen therapy may have an opposite effect as it may be threatening and disturbing to the child and does not include any integrated learning so that the child cannot learn to develop an awareness and ability to reduce their own heightened vagal state.

There are many dangers thought to be associated with of autism hyperbaric oxygen therapy which can include seizures, fatigue, claustrophobia and headaches.

In rare circumstances there have been reports of ear and eye issues such as middle ear fluid and barotraumas, transitory shortsightedness and sinus problems.

There is no evidence for this as a therapy for ASD and the distress and dangers to the patient make it not worth the risk. There are many safer ways to calm the vagal system and reinvigorate the social engagement system.


Stem cells & autism

A stem cell is a ‘master cell’ in the human body that has the ability to regenerate and to develop itself into many other cells in the human body. A stem cell can take on the form of more than two hundred other cell types in the body and so contributes to the repair and regeneration of body tissue. Stem cells replace cells that die or are damaged and can differentiate into whatever tissue they attach to.

Stem cell therapy uses the transformative capacity of stem cells to treat and prevent disease. Stem cells are injected into the body and work to reintroduce functional cells, improve metabolism, replace lost cells and generate an immune response.

Stem cell therapy and autism is the application of donated stem cells taken from the umbilical cord of new mothers to attempt to address the physical aspects of autism – the inflammation of the gut and the diminished oxygenation in certain parts of the brain (which is supported by some studies). In autism and stem cell therapy, the focus is to try to regulate the immune system and to decrease intestinal inflammation, thereby reducing the main effects of autism.

Great caution needs to be taken when assessing the merits of such new and invasive therapies; the risks are not yet fully understood, nor are the rationale for using them. Stem cell therapy is still in its infancy and stem cell therapy and autism is still only in clinical trial.

*It is interesting to note that although the physical aspects of autism are being addressed with autism and stem cell therapy, still there is no understanding of the connection as to why the gut inflammation and poor immune response have such a marked influence on autistic traits. The Polyvagal Theory is the only theory that can succinctly describe why these issues have such a deleterious effect on the autist and why they can produce autistic characteristics such as lack of eye contact and poor social skills.


Vitamins & autism

Vitamins play a vital role in our health and wellbeing. They help us to make skin and teeth and bones and to repair and replenish. We need a regular intake of vitamins to stay healthy and we do this through the food we eat and sometimes with vitamin supplements.

People who suffer from autism can often have vitamin deficiencies. Often this is due to the delicate nature of their digestive system and their narrow eating habits. A lot of children will eat only certain ‘white’ foods like chips, bread or cheese and over time can mean that they can develop vitamin deficiencies which can lead to a number of health issues.

Parents often add vitamin supplements to the diet of their children, but this needs to be done with the supervision of a health professional so that the correct dosage is given. An excess of certain vitamins can be as damaging as a deficiency.

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