Acupuncture for Autism PDF Print E-mail

By Dr. Barbara Briner

The CDC estimates that about one in every one hundred and ten children have autism in the United States. There are three recognized categories within in the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autistic Disorders, Asperger Syndrome and Pervasive Development Disorders. This differentiation roughly follows the degree of the severity of symptoms.

Autistic Disorders refers to the full spectrum of social and behavioral anomalies, including the language challenges that we usually think of when the term autism is mentioned. Asperger Syndrome is a milder, or borderline, version of the autism. With Aspergers there might be some notable behavioral and social challenges, but they are usually not severe enough to cause crucial problems for the affected individual in their attempts to integrate into their psycho-social environment. The third category is a miscellaneous syndrome of symptoms belonging to Asperger and/or autism without clear categorization. Of the three, the last usually presents with the mildest symptoms.


The autistic spectrum disorders usually start to become apparent before the age of three with some children showing signs within their first year. Usually speech development is delayed and/or altered with these children. In addition, their relationship with the outside world is delayed or diminished (activities such as pointing to things or talking about feelings: sad or happy). Certain obsessive repetitive movements and or interests usually start to become apparent during these early years and the baby developmental markers, or baby mile stones, are increasingly not reached. The CDC states that there is currently no cure or treatment for ASD. However, professionals now agree that it is of crucial importance that children with ASD receive special social and behavioral schooling early on to help them reach their potential competence level within the disorder which will enable them to move through life later as independently as possible despite the ASD diagnosis.

In light of the limited treatment options available in the western medical community, it is interesting to see what other modalities might offer. In 2010 the department of Pediatrics at the Queens Mary Hospital in Hong Kong undertook a randomized controlled, double blind and sham controlled clinical trial of electro-acupuncture on 30 children suffering from ASD. They administered a total of 12 sessions spanning four weeks. They measured the patient progress with multiple tools: Functional Independence Measure for Children (WeeFIM), Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI), and several other common scales in pediatric disability spectrum. They also included a standardized parental report into the outcome evaluation. The study found significant improvements in areas such as language comprehension skills, social behavior, motor skills, and attention span and self care with the children receiving acupuncture. The outcome of this study not only intriguing, but perhaps crucial in a field where there are limited options for treatment of ASD diagnosed children. As the researches point out, it is notable that such significant improvement were seen in the children at such a short (4 week) treatment interval. Acupuncture, it seems, has much to offer in the treatment of autism spectrum disorder.


Wong VC, Chen WX. (2010) Randomized controlled trial of electro-acupuncture for autism spectrum disorder. Department of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, Queen Mary Hospital, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong, China. PubMed


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