Ayurveda addresses the whole of human experience, and regards ‘health’ to be a concept which touches upon the individual’s physical, psychological; and spiritual selves.
There is much within ayurveda’s millennia-spanning experience that would be of help to the autism-affected individual and his or her family and circle of loved ones. Below are some insights we would like to share with you, in the form of questions often asked and in the hope of enkindling your interest in this ancient form of healing.
1. My child is not digesting properly and/or is allergic to a number of foods.
Eating in general is a difficult task for individuals affected by Autism. Autism is a sensory processing disorder, and given the combination of sensory processes involved with eating (sight, smell, taste, and touch along with the complicated mechanism of chewing, swallowing and subsequent digestion) this is to be expected. Ayurveda regards human nutritional requirements as being so highly individualized and at variance from one individual to another that the notion of a “one size fits all” dietary protocol runs directly counter to ayurvedic practice. On the basis of the individual’s psycho-physical constitution as determined by an ayurvedic physician or practitioner, a distinctive diet can be suggested that will both optimally nourish the autistic individual as well as make the process of eating and subsequent digestion more efficient. Impaired digestion, coupled with the presence of toxins (see the next question) contributes strongly to the presence of food-based allergies which seem to plague autistic individuals.
2. My child has excess toxins.
It is central to ayurvedic teaching that the accumulation of toxic material within the metabolism, chiefly in the forms of partially digested and undigested food matter, is a predominant cause of illness. The ingestion of inappropriate foods unsuited to an individual’s physiology, the reduction in digestive efficiency that follows, the and the accumulation and dispersal of toxins to vulnerable points within the body that necessarily follows that, is a process that invariably ends with the manifestation of disease. One of ayurveda’s greatest contributions to health is its ability to recognize this process of ‘intoxication’ at its very early stages before serious illness and secondary related pathologies can arise.
3. My child is hyperactive, has problems concentrating or focusing and is overly sensitive to touch and/or sound and/or color and can’t fall asleep at night.
Ayurveda holds autism to be a disorder of vata, a Sanskrit term denoting the totality of the body’s communicative and transportive mechanisms, in this case specifically the nervous system. Autism is a neurological disorder which makes it hard for one to understand his or her surrounding environment. Sometimes when they are touched unexpectedly, it might feel painful and make them want to run away from such contact. They may get easily frustrated while in company or when confronted with socially or sensorially ‘ambiguous’ information. Being with a group is – as one affected individual put it “like standing next to a moving freight train and trying to decide how and when to jump aboard.” They may feel frightened and confused and have difficulty communicating. For this reason – because autistic individuals can neither efficiently filter sensory stimuli nor calibrate their responses to it –problems in their ability to focus their activities or respond proportionately to their environment are common. For the same set of reasons, insomnia is often a problem. Ayurveda can make positive suggestions regarding the autistic individual’s environment so as to promote and maximize their level of self- and environmental integration.
4. My child is not responsive.
Confronted with situations wherein what appears to be conflicting or ambiguous sensory data, owing to the disregulation of vata the autistic individual experiences few options other than to become uncommunicative and to close off from what is perceived as a dangerous, chaotic environment. For this reason autistic individuals need to have their environments and routines vary as little as possible. Once they have learned how particular events and processes unfold, they can generally master their situation. But if something, anything changes, then they have to relearn the situation pattern anew! Often when one tries to communicate there is a lot of distraction in the “background” – sounds and sights – which make it difficult to impossible for the autistic individual to concentrate and understand one thing at a time. This lack of understanding gives rise to the autistic individual’s “shutting down.”
5. My child engages in ritualistic behavior, is obsessive, compulsive or controlling in nature.
Being controlling is one means by which autistic persons try to fit into their environment. Things have to be done in a way with which the individual is familiar, lest confusion, frustration and fear result. Persons with autism often have little things that they do to help themselves feel more comfortable – this is known as "self regulation." They may rock to and fro, hum, play with their fingers, flap their arms or any number of different repetitive body movements. This is calming for them, as their repetitive efforts introduce a note of order into what is for them a chaotic universe.
6. How can ayurveda help my autistic child?
In ayurveda’s view, autism is multi-factorially determined and may be the end result of the admixture of genetic predisposition coupled with systemic intoxication (and in some cases trauma) which together produce what is essentially a gross imbalance of the vata processes of the body, focusing particularly on a type of vata known as pran vata, which is the vata controlling all mental and neural functions such as speech, concentration, memory, learning and neurological response to stimuli. The ayurvedic treatment protocol for autism is focused on removing toxins from the system and at the same time nourishing and energizing the cells and tissues so that they may repair themselves. A variety of nutritional, herbal, physical and manipulative therapies are employed toward this end.