I was recently asked which organ in Chinese acupuncture would be treated in patients with autism. I have so far not had the opportunity of treating a patient with autism, so this article represents my purely academic observations. On first glance, it appears that all the classic symptoms of autism can be attributed to the malfunction of a single organ. The main symptoms are:
- problems with the person’s interactions with other people, which might include:
- the inability to make eye contact;
- not having an awareness of other people’s feelings;
- not having the normal feeling of being socially connected with family members, friends, or even strangers;
- and hence behaving inappropriately socially, or making inappropriate comments;
- not instinctively knowing what to say or do in social situations;
- having difficulties with speech or language, including being unable to understand written or spoken words in the same way that other people do.
In Chinese medicine, without fail, every one of the above symptoms are due to the mental and emotional functions of the heart being impeded (which also implies that the heart’s physical function is impeded). It would therefore seem that Chinese acupuncture ought to be able to treat this condition. Ordinarily it is a routine matter for acupuncture to normalize a person’s heart function. Of course, I have experienced this countless times in clinic. With most patients (non-autistic), this would often improve their speech (stammering or stuttering), their ability to read words properly (dyslexia), would enable them to emotionally connect more readily with the people around them; increase their empathy with other people, making them more likely to want to help others; increase their tendency to make eye contact; and improve all aspects of their interactions with other people.
If any of these symptoms were to appear in an adult who had not been born with them, then I would expect the condition to be treatable with acupuncture. However, since autism usually exists from birth, there may be an underlying physiological abnormality that would inhibit the condition’s treatment with acupuncture.
The acupuncture treatment of our heart and of its mental and emotional functions (just as with the treatment of such functions of our other main organs), would depend upon the presence of the normal modes of communication between our heart and brain (nervous, hormonal and chemical, as well as any other mode that has not yet been discovered by contemporary medical science). It is such communication that enables our abdominal organs to produce our thoughts and emotions. If there were a developmental fault in the foetus or child which produced some physiological damage that permanently impeded the heart function, or impeded the communication between our heart and brain, then this alone would explain the production of the symptoms of autism. And if the condition were due to such physiological damage, then it is unlikely that acupuncture’s ability to normalize our heart function could heal the condition. Instead, Chinese medicine could only explain the production of the symptoms.
On the other hand, it is possible (even with the apparently severe symptoms of autism), that there is no such fault in these communication mechanisms. In Chinese medicine, we are used to seeing strong psychological symptoms (such as depression, anxiety, paranoia, rage, and so on) resulting due to slight imbalances in the interactions of our main organs (which imbalances can often be triggered by environmental or social factors, such as family relationships and so on); and in these cases, it is often straightforward for acupuncture to remedy the problem by simply normalizing the function of those organs. If autism is also similarly caused, and is the result of the patient’s heart function being impeded due to these “natural” factors, then Chinese acupuncture ought to be able to have some impact on the symptoms.
There are many other inherited conditions which acupuncture routinely treats, such as hay fever and asthma, where the child inherited poor kidney function from their parents. It is possible to imagine that a similar scenario could account for autism. In this case, the “natural” causative factors could have been present in either or both of the child’s parents; and perhaps the child was of an unusually sensitive nature, so that their reaction to these factors impeded their heart function (more so than it would have in a less sensitive child), which produced the symptoms.
In Chinese medicine, it is also recognised that such disease mechanisms are usually self-perpetuating. In this case, when the sensitive child is aware of their poor social connections, this awareness would only tend to further impede their heart function, which would then only worsen their symptoms, since when the heart’s physical function is further impeded, its mental and emotional functions would also be further impeded, hence worsening the autism-like symptoms. Acupuncture is also adept at breaking such cycles, so that if there is no physiological fault in the communication between the patient’s heart and brain or a similar fault which impeded the heart function, then acupuncture treatment ought to be able to treat the condition. But if there is an underlying physiological anomaly (due to some developmental fault—of unknown cause), it’s difficult to see how any natural healing system could be of help, since such systems rely on the patient’s organs and systems being physically normal.
I would also add the usual caveat that strong pharmaceutials tend to inhibit all natural healing. Most strong pharmaceutical remedies are designed to attempt to take control of a particular aspect of our body’s chemistry. But the normal functioning of our organs relies on their ability to constantly vary the complex chemistry of our body, and acupuncture achieves its results by using a natural method to prompt our organs to resume their normal function. The healing therefore relies on our body’s command of its own chemistry to effect the healing, but because our organs no longer have chemical autonomy, they cannot make the necessary adjustments.
7 March 2016
Further details of the author's acupuncture research project.