Autism spectrum disorders (ASDs) are developmental disorders, which have four core characteristics: communication and social impairment, irritability, repetitive behaviour and limited range of interests. There is a wide variance in the type and severity of autism.
Medication is used to help support children with autism. However, the adverse reactions to drugs have led to the increasing popularity of complementary treatments for autism.
The research set out in this paper used body acupuncture and weekly treatments based on an individual diagnosis using an integrated TCM-Five Element style for each child, depending on their own specific symptoms. The study was conducted in one institute to minimise the variations in treatments.
This pilot control trial took place at a specialist residential school for children with ASD in East Sussex, UK, between September 2012 and July 2013. While 16 children (aged 9-16 years) accepted the invitation to participate, two withdrew. The remaining 14 students were allocated into two groups. Both groups received weekly treatments. The first group received treatment between September 28, 2012 and February 28, 2013, that made to a maximum of 14 possible sessions. The second group, a delayed control group, commenced treatment from March 1, 2013 and it continued till July 12, 2013, with a maximum of 15 possible session.
All diagnoses and treatments were undertaken by a single acupuncturist, who is the author of this study. The practitioner has 16-year experience, is fully qualified and registered with the British Acupuncture Council ( BAcC). The appointment duration was 30 minutes and parents were asked to attend the first session. The first four sessions consisted of massage and acupressure (pressing points with fingers, pressing with a metal probe, and progressing on to stimulating the point with the back of the needle in order to accustom children to the process). Needles were used from the fifth session depending on each participant’s acceptance of needles. Seirin 0.16x15mm needles were inserted to a depth of 0.3- 0.5 cun, and were retained for up to 20 minutes for the older and more compliant children. For the remaining participants, needles were not retained.
Children and their parents reported a variety of benefits, including feeling more relaxed, less anxious, less angry and improvement in social behaviour, all of which are common challenges that autistic children face. The majority of children were happy to receive acupuncture, provided they received support and a plenty of preparation and reassurance.
Eight of the 14 children were unable to communicate verbally. Of the six who could communicate, only three children could articulate how they felt. In addition, parents only gave their feedback at the end of the five-month treatment. Parents suggested that treatment had made a positive impact on kids’ social behaviour but it was also suggested that regular treatment was needed to maintain its efficacy.
(This study was done by Jonathan Pledger, licenced acupuncturist, UK) The author is Head of the Department of Acupuncture, Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Delhi. This treatment is now being made available in India