There are many types of disorders along the autistic spectrum. I frequently see these in my practice amongst children and adults alike, from very mild to quite severe. In our capacity as parents, teachers and practitioners we may have all come across people with some of the classic characteristics: difficulty with social interaction, challenges with verbal and non-verbal communication and repetitive behaviours.
Despite the vast differences in presentation of people with autism, the common factor is that the brain functions a little differently. During development, something spurs the neurological and physiological processes to reorganise themselves away from the norm.
American figures suggest a 10 fold increase in the number of cases diagnosed in the last four decades.
From my perspective, manual treatment can help the brain to make the connections it might be missing.
I have also begun to notice, in a significant number of autistic patients, the occurrence of lymphatic disturbances in and around the small and large intestines.
I have also read a large number of studies recently that are uncovering the gut/bacterial connection to the disorder. For those that are interested, I have listed several articles in the Paragon Health library. However, the one I would suggest starting with is:
Gastrointestinal Microflora Studies in Late-Onset Autism
I will also focus on the gut-brain link in an upcoming blog article.
There are some commonalities in the manual assessment of the brain in patients with autism. However, because we see a spectrum of disorder in autism, each person can also be different. This might be influenced by the type of presentation someone presents with? For example, perhaps the main issues are concentration and memory; language difficulties; movement and co-ordination; or perhaps social and emotional interaction. Each subset manifests in a different part of the brain. Although technically, I think it is more exact to say that the particular part of the brain affected determines the presentation. It is also common for the pathways of brain dysfunction to overlap, so that I may be treating several areas concurrently.
These parts of the brain can be affected in the absence of any noticeable physical trauma, as might be seen during the birth process, for example. Given this, it is pertinent to ask what may have a global affect on the brain other than trauma? It is extremely interesting to note the frequency with which these patients present with bowel and digestive dysfunction, and, as I mentioned, lymphatic disturbances in and around the intestines.
Back to the brain ...
One of the more common aspects I manually feel is the physical tightness of the cranium, the membranes lining the skull (which also attach to the brain), and the outer part (cortex/grey matter) of the brain itself.
Another aspect again involves the cortex of the brain, but more in relation to it's neurological aspects. Sometimes in an isolated area and sometimes in its entirety, the cortex can have a subtle but definite electrical hum or buzz to it's tissue. The thought that comes to mind is "a sea of electricity". This is happening at a cellular level in the grey matter.
When tissue becomes oxygen deprived, it also has a particular feel. This feel tends to coincide with the sea of electricity in cases of autism. This doesn't strictly mean that there is a lack of oxygen getting to the brain, but probably that the cells in the grey matter don't know how to use the oxygen available to them? The cells undergo "oxidative stress" which has been defined as: "an imbalance between the production of free radicals and the ability of the body to counteract or detoxify their harmful effects through neutralization by antioxidants." The oxidation process is essentially aerobic (utilising oxygen) and involves a cellular organelle called a mitochondrion which uses oxygen and has been said to act like a battery in the cell. We all know what happens when batteries go flat ...
Does this sound confusing? If so, forget all the information and imagine something we have all seen before ...
Now, this isn't meant to be dramatic and it doesn't mean the brain will look like this! The brain is so incredibly fined tuned that even the smallest changes can have consequences.
My process is to provide the brain and cells the opportunity and space to change (and recover) if they want to. Sometimes they will and sometimes they won't. In the cases where the tissue is reluctant, there may be concurrent factors at work that also need to be addressed? My job is to give the brain opportunity and help it to integrate changes that may involve treatment in other parts of the body, but nonetheless have an impact on the brain. This is where the gut may come in ...