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:: DECEMBER 2007 / JANUARY 2008 Volume 6/Number 10

Research Review:
Complementary Therapies for Children on the Autistic Spectrum

By Kari Kassir, M.D.

Part Two of Two; (Part one appeared in November)
November’s LA YOGA looked at the Traditional Chinese Medicine and Craniosacral therapy approaches to treatments for children on the autistic spectrum. This segment discusses yoga, Ayurveda and Reiki.

Yoga
Yoga, including the practice of asana (posture), pranayama and meditation, is used with children on the autistic spectrum. Although no evidence-based studies have been published, yoga has been utilized successfully in a number of venues to facilitate relaxation and bring about improvement in symptoms.

Integrated Movement Therapy is the yoga-based approach used with children on the autistic spectrum (as well as those with ADHD, learning disabilities, sensory processing dysfunction and dyspraxia) at the Samarya Center in Seattle, Washington. Yoga is incorporated into each of six core principles identified in Integrated Movement Therapy: structure and continuity, physical stimulation, social interaction, language stimulation, self-calming and direct self-esteem building.

Louise Goldberg, a registered yoga teacher and licensed massage therapist, has developed and studied relaxation skills training, including yoga postures, with autistic children. She has reported lower stress levels, as demonstrated by reduced heart rate, improved ability to adjust breathing and muscle tone and increased alertness in the classroom.

Shakta Kaur Khalsa, author of Fly Like a Butterfly, uses all aspects of yoga practice when working with children, including those on the autistic spectrum. Mantra (repeating sacred syllable) helps focus attention and establish interaction and encourages language development; pranayama is calming and helps support speech and postural stability; asana facilitates development of gross motor skills, including body awareness in space; savasana provides all the benefits of deep relaxation; and meditation improves attention span and ability to concentrate, in addition to relieving anxiety.

Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Dion and Stacey Betts, is a book that presents a sequence of yoga poses chosen specifically for children on the autistic spectrum.

Ayurveda
Ayurveda is a system of healing originating in India over 5,000 years ago that provides an integrated approach to health and wellness, stressing a return to balance between the three doshas, or energetic humors of the body: vata (air/ether), pitta (fire) and kapha (water/earth). Ayurveda practitioners provide a comprehensive approach to nutrition, detoxification and nourishment for all layers of the body.

Ayurvedic physician Dr. Jay Apte has this to say about autistic spectrum disorders: “In the case of autism, communication, social interaction, and repetitive behavior and related symptoms are mainly due to a vata imbalance. Vata is energy of motion, action and communication (nervous control). The vata dosha is clearly understood in terms of its component parts, subdoshas, which are the five types of vata. Each subdosha defines a direction of movement and governs specific actions in the body. From among these five, imbalances in prana, udana and apana vayu are responsible for the symptoms.” In Dr. Apte’s approach, the main treatment of vata imbalance involves snehana (oleation, external oil massage and intake of oils) and swedana (heat treatment, moist heat in this case). A vata-balancing diet includes warm and moist foods such as grains, root vegetables, nuts, oatmeal, soups, stews, steamed or sautéed vegetables, warm water and warm drinks. A balancing lifestyle involves maintaining a warm environment, getting adequate rest and limiting TV and video games. Nervine herbs (e.g. brahmi, jatamansi, jyotishmati and calamus), and rejuvenative herbs (e.g. triphala, licorice and ashwagandha) may also be beneficial.

Dr. Marianne Teitelbaum, an Ayurvedic practitioner on the East Coast, and long-time student of Vaidya Mishra, has treated a number of children on the autistic spectrum. She has identified exposure to a number of agents, either in utero or in the first months of life, that result in imbalance. “The recent rise in the incidence of autism,” says Dr. Teitelbaum, “is symptomatic of our imbalanced way of life. Until we understand the consequences of exposing a developing brain to more toxins than it can handle — in the food, air, water, pharmaceuticals, immunizations — this current rate of autism will continue.” According to Dr. Teitelbaum, chemical or toxin exposure affects the functions of the developing brain, impacting acquisition of knowledge, storage of information and retrieval of information. In addition, these chemical exposures affect gut flora, decreasing enzyme availability, decreasing pH and encouraging yeast overgrowth.

Dr. Teitelbaum recommends a variety of foods that remove heavy metals and other toxins, as well as naturally reintroducing digestive enzymes. Foods that support prana, or life force, such as fresh, organic, whole, freshly cooked and minimally processed foods are encouraged. Those which lack prana or which are overly acidic should be avoided. Foods that block the natural channels which remove toxins should also be avoided. The brain is nourished by adding ghee (clarified butter) and olive oil to the diet. The brain is further nourished and tonified during the process of abhyanga, oil massage of the scalp and spine.

Specific to Dr. Teitelbaum’s and Vaidya Mishra’s practice is the use of creams, applied to marma points on the body, to facilitate flow of prana and promote healing. Three formulations are used for children on the autistic spectrum: diglycyrrhizinated licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) cream to reduce inflammation, brahmi (Bacopa moniera and gotu kola) cream to detoxify and balance the brain, and autism transdermal cream, specially formulated by Dr. Mishra.

As with many complementary therapies used with children on the autistic spectrum, evidence-based studies are lacking. However, Dr. Apte and Dr. Teitelbaum have helped many children on the autistic spectrum and both have gratifying success stories.

Reiki
Reiki is a natural vibrational healing practice that gently encourages balance and supports wellness and self-healing. Brought to the United States from Japan in the 1930s, Reiki practice is passed from a master to a student following a prescribed oral tradition. The practice itself involves gently placing hands in various positions on a clothed person. Reiki is now being offered in many outpatient and hospital settings, including obstetrics and surgery. People of all ages can learn to practice and benefit from daily Reiki self-treatment.

Research on Reiki is just beginning, and a number of small studies indicate that Reiki can be particularly useful for reducing anxiety and pain. Many children on the autistic spectrum experience anxiety over social situations, transitions, and/or sensory experiences. Parents interested in non-pharmacologic methods to relieve their children’s anxiety have a number of ways to access Reiki. The child can receive treatment from a Reiki professional or from a friend or family member who has learned to practice. Pamela Miles, Reiki master and author of REIKI: A Comprehensive Guide, has trained families addressing autistic spectrum disorders: parents, children and siblings. According to Miles, the empowerment of Reiki can be valuable in building the children’s self-esteem and helping them self-regulate. “Parents and children enjoy practicing Reiki on themselves and one another,” says Miles, “and their shared practice engages the family in a culture of health and healing even in the midst of daily challenges.”

In Conclusion
In conclusion, there are a number of complementary therapies that have been used with children on the autistic spectrum. Evidence-based studies are, for the most part, lacking. However, there are a number of anecdotal reports of successful intervention. As I discussed in the last segment, intelligent inquiry into these modalities and thoughtful choice of a qualified practitioner may yield improvement when used in conjunction with the more traditional interventions.

 

 

References

Yoga

1. M Kenny. Integrated movement therapy: Yoga-based therapy as a viable and effective intervention for autism spectrum and related disorders. International J Yoga Therapy 2002; 12:71-79.
2. L Goldberg. Creative relaxation: A yoga-based program for regular and exceptional student education. International J Yoga Therapy 2004; 14:68-78.
3. Shakta Kaur Khalsa. Yoga for children with autism and DSI: A natural match. www.childrensyoga.com.
4. DE Betts, SW Betts. Yoga for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders. Jessica Kingsley Publishers, Philadelphia PA, 2006.

Ayurveda

1. The Ayurveda Clinic. www.theayurvedaclinic.com.
2. Dr. Vaidya Mishra. www.vaidyamishra.com.

Reiki

1. L Barnett, M Chambers, with S Davidson. Reiki Energy Medicine: Bringing Healing Touch into Home, Hospital, and Hospice. Healing Arts Press, 1996.
2. The Reiki Alliance. www.reikialliance.com.
3. P Miles. Reiki: A Comprehensive Guide. Tarcher/Penguin Press, 2006.

Dr. Kari Kassir is a pediatrician and pediatric intensivist with Children’s Hospital of Orange County. She received her training at UCLA, UCI College of Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Orange County, and Harbor-UCLA Medical Center. kkassir@choc.org

The suggestions given here are not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you or someone who know is experiencing anxiety that interferes with everyday life, be sure to consult with a medical professional.



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Copyright 2002-2007
LA Yoga Ayurveda & Health Magazine

 

 
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