Autism, Chiropractic and the Neurodevelopmental Connection

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is an early neurodevelopmental disorder characterized by deficits in social communication with restricted and repetitive behaviours. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control reported that 1 in 68 children are classified as having Autism Spectrum Disorder, up from 1 in 110 in 2006. The number of children with Autism is rising exponentially and following similar trends by the year 2032, 1 in 2 children will be diagnosed with Autism…What is causing this childhood epidemic?

Epidemic is defined as, ‘a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.’ Autism is not caused by an infection but the predominant thinking used to be that it was due to genetics. It certainly is possible and some studies do show that genetics likely play a role in Autism, which is why it is more common in boys, however genetics alone do not cause exponential or epidemic-like changes in populations. Our genetics have not changed for thousands of years so there must be other factors at work.

As is the case with most neurodevelopmental disorders, the causes are often multi-faceted but there is one re-occurring theme and that is the central nervous system. With Autism the nervous system is greatly affected and the challenges this brings are responsible for many of the issues seen in Autism such as hyperactivity, attention issues, sleep challenges, poor behaviour, social issues, sensory processing issues and the list goes on. Because the nervous system is so intimately related to the digestive and immune systems (the other 2 systems most commonly affected in autism) it can also contribute to bowel and bladder issues and autoimmune challenges.

Possible Ways the Nervous System can be Damaged or Injured

There are numerous ways that could be discussed but the primary mode of injury we see in our office is what we would term Traumatic Birth Injury. Most children have damage to their nervous system right from the outset of birth or even prior due to in uterine constraint (i.e. breech positioning). In Canada, we have ‘epidemic’ levels of intervention at birth especially Cesarean sections. The World Health Organization states that C-section rates around 10% are normal and necessary but above 15-20% ‘likely does more harm than good.’ In Canada, C-section rates in most hospitals are between 33-50%.

Most vaginal deliveries are now induced or ‘augmented’ as well. A recent study in the Journal of Pediatrics showed that augmented births lead to a greater risk of developing Autism later in life.

The area that is most commonly injured is the upper neck and skull. As the number of interventions goes up, like C-section, vacuum extraction, forceps, etc, the risk of Traumatic Birth Injury goes up as well. The most unfortunate part is that no one in the medical system is really trained to check (or address) these sorts of problems. If the injury were addressed by a pediatric chiropractor shortly after it occurred, most of the neurological damage associated with it could be prevented. To truly make an impact on Autism in this country we must learn how to prevent it, not cure it. This area would be a vital first step.

Effects of these Injuries

Once injured, it can put pressure on the brainstem and spinal cord as well as the spinal nerves in the vicinity. This creates a misalignment and joint fixation (subluxation) in the spinal joints which affects neurological signaling in and out of the central nervous system. This poor communication or road block is the reason why many children with Autism have issues with sensory processing, social interaction, behaviour and learning.

This damage puts stress on the developing brain and spinal cord and causes the child to be stuck in a state of fight/flight. This chronic state of stress causes down regulation of the digestive and immune systems and is why it is common to see infantile colic, ear infections, digestive issues all associated with Autism.

Getting to the Root of the Problem

By addressing the injury and resultant subluxation, a proper chiropractic adjustment restores balance and alignment to the neuro-spinal system and thus can restore balance and function to the central nervous system. Depending on the severity and duration of the damage, adjustments can create positive change in a step by step process that can lead to an improvement in behaviour, digestion, immunity, sleep and more. The sooner we start, the better the chances for having success with care or preventing further neurodevelopmental problems.

In summary, children with neurodevelopmental disorders such as Autism have 2 major issues: an overstressed central nervous system that is stuck in fight/flight from birth or even before and protection. Dr. Bruce Lipton summarizes both the cause behind the problem and the solution, “You can’t be in growth and protection at the same time.”

Translated to our analogy here, a child’s nervous system cannot be on the “gas pedal” (stress/protection) at the same time as it’s on the “brake pedal” (growth/development/organization/healing). A subluxation, specifically to the upper neck and brainstem area “locks in” the nervous system to that stress mode. A specifically trained pediatric chiropractor is the only provider on the planet trained to find and locate that subluxation, and if found, correct and resolve it. Doing so is analogous to “pumping the brakes” and getting the growth, relaxation, and healing system working again!

We believe that when a family has a child who is challenged by something like spectrum disorders, the number one thing they need is someone who can support them and help them make the proper decisions. Unfortunately, despite the enormous growth in this disorder, many are lacking in their understanding of spectrum disorders and how neurology, nutrition, and toxicity play a role in it. Thankfully, Pediatric Chiropractors are experts in this area, and you can be rest assured that you will get the support and care your child needs to overcome these challenges and lead a bright and promising life!