Gianna Banish


Dr. McAllister



                                                The Effects of Acupuncture on Children with Autism

                According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in sixty-eight children in the United States have autism spectrum disorder. Every year the number of children diagnosed with ASD increases. Autism is a development disorder that weakens a person’s ability to interact and communicate with others. The children suffer with communication and interacting with others. How would you feel if you were not able to show your child affection? The disease affects families deeply, some cannot even touch their children without upsetting them. That’s why there are a variety of therapies used to help treat the disorder in children. Families may only know about the basic therapy options available for their children but there are so many more options that people should be educated about, like acupuncture and equestrianism. They may even provide better results than the rudimentary ones. Acupuncture is a technique that improves bodily functions by stimulating certain points on the body. It has been used in the treatment of illnesses like headaches and chronic joint inflammation more than four thousand years in China, but how can it be used to treat children with autism?

                Autism was first used as a term to describe a schizophrenic patient by Eugen Bleuler in 1908. He used autism to describe his patient’s habits of “morbid self-administration and withdrawal within self” Mandal, MD Dr Ananya. “Autism History.”) In 1943, Leo Kanner was a child psychiatrist that studied 11 children who had difficulties with things like routines, sensitivity to stimuli, echolalia, and difficulties in spontaneous activity. A year later, Hans Asperger studied a group of children who, oppositely from Kanner, did not have echolalia. The children that he examined spoke more like adults than children. Autism became more understood in the 1970’s, but it was still confused with mental retardation and psychosis and blamed on mother’s parenting skills. It wasn’t until the 1980’s that research deepened, and it was discovered that parenting skills had no role in the cause of children’s autism. Because of Kanner and Aspergers contradicting findings in their research, today’s society recognizes autism as a spectrum of disorders. The autism spectrum emphasizes that, “no two children with autism are the same,” and that, “each child will have their own individual strengths and challenges associated with autism” (“What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?”) A CDC surveillance study demonstrated that autism is four times more common in boys than girls, with statistics of “one in forty-two boys and one in one hundred and eighty-nine girls” having autism spectrum disorder. (“Autism Prevalence.”) Because so much of the country is affected by ASD, the are many treatment options available.

                Although there are many traditional medical treatments for autism like ABA therapy, some children do not respond to that. Every child with ASD has a different set of problems that accompany it. An ABA therapist named Mary Perrilloux has worked with special needs children her entire life. She has consulted many autistic children confirms that statement. She says that, “no two children I have counseled are the same. I have seen children who cannot interact with others verbally or physically. One child that I counseled scratched the skin off her face after her father kissed her on the cheek and had no recollection of it the following day.” She talks about another child she has helped, “he was extremely intelligent, but when it came to social interaction, he was awkward. I had to work with him twice a week on social interactions” (Perrilloux, Mary, Personal Interview.) Take it from a pro, autism is described as a spectrum for a reason. There is not one set way to help the children affected by it either. Acupuncture is something to be considered, based on what problems the child has and what outcome they want, there are treatments available that have great outcomes.

                Acupuncture has been used in Chinese culture as a healing technique for thousands of years, but it is more recently being used for the treatment of autism in children. According to the   National Health Interview Survey, 150,000 children used acupuncture in 2006. It involves piercing the skin with thin needles to stimulate specific points to ultimately relieve a person’s pain. According to Britannica, “Acupuncture grew out of ancient Chinese philosophy’s dualistic cosmic theory of the yin and the yang” (Encyclopædia Britannica, “Acupuncture.”). The Chinese believed that yin and yang act the same in the human body as they do in the natural universe. Diseases were viewed as an imbalance of the forces in the body and the goal of acupuncture was to bring the balance back. Although needles are used, acupuncture is a painless procedure. Some believe that acupuncture is plainly a placebo, but it can be very useful in many occasions like mental depression and autism. The types of acupuncture that are used in today’s society to treat autism are tongue, scalp, and electro-acupuncture.

                If a child has a problem with self-care or apprehension, then tongue acupuncture could help them improve those problems. It is a central piece of the diagnostic system in Chinese medicine because it is the only viewable external organ. In 2010, Wong and Sun conducted a trial that involved twenty-seven children between the ages of three to sixteen. They were divided into two groups, the control group (C) and the Tongue Acupuncture Treatment group (TAC), by “computer generation of C or TAC groups performed by independent statistician” (Wong, Yiu-Ming. “Tongue Acupuncture and Autism Spectrum Disorder.”) The method was forty sessions of tongue acupuncture for each child, five sessions were performed daily per week over the course of two months. The control group did not attend the acupuncture clinic, they only had to continue their normal program. The acupuncture process lasted for less than fifteen seconds for five acupoints on the tongue. The results were significant improvements in speech, self-care, and cognition. In 2002, a nine-year-old autistic boy named Lau Wai-shun could not express himself, greet others by their names, and he was so afraid of thunderstorms that nothing was able to calm him. No doctors, western or traditional Chinese doctors, could do anything to help the young boy. The boy was treated with tongue acupuncture that was developed by Dr. Sun Jie Guang in the 1980’s. His treatment started with two needle insertions a day for forty days that year. His family makes an annual trip to Hong Kong for the treatment. After receiving the treatment for three years, he is now able to express himself openly, greet his relatives by their names, and was no longer afraid of storms. The overcoming of his disease is credited to tongue acupuncture. Although the results were not instant, it is worth a try if you are desperate for the child to have the skills for an easier, more normal life.

Do you know a child that struggles with speech and social interactions? If you answered yes, then this alternative treatment could work for them! This method is called scalp acupuncture. Practitioners insert the needles into a thin layer of tissue beneath the scalp surface, then they rapidly manipulate them. It is suitable for autistic children because they cannot see the needles and that makes them more comfortable and less nervous. In 2008, a study in which twenty children with autism, ranging from ages four to seven, were divided into two groups and tested. One group received scalp acupuncture biweekly in addition to language therapy, while the other group only received language therapy. The points used for acupuncture treatment were, “Du 20, 26, GV 17, three temple needles and two Yamamoto YSNA points [which are the] cerebrum and aphasia” (“Scalp Acupuncture May Help Children with Autism.”) The study was conducted over a period of nine months and the treatment was given two months at a time followed by two weeks of rest. There was no electric stimulation used, and needles were retained for twenty minutes. Patients were tested in areas like, “overall attention, ability to recognize different semantic groups as body parts, animals, food utensils, colors, ability to utter speech sounds, ability to understand a short and a long sentence,” and more. (“Scalp Acupuncture May Help Children with Autism.”) When the nine months ended, the group who received acupuncture along with the language therapy showed the most improvement in cognitive and expressive language skills. The findings were published in the March 2008 issue of The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. Another study in 2010, confirmed that scalp acupuncture is a useful therapy for autistic children. The study divided seventy children with the disease into two groups, thirty cases were treated with scalp acupuncture group and the rest were part of the structured control group. Treatment that was used in that group was, “activating brain and opening orifices scalp acupuncture therapy,” in addition to Nordoff-Robbins therapy and structured teaching. Both groups received therapy for the same amount of time, but the treated group had significantly better language scores. The results of both therapy sessions prompt that scalp acupuncture can significantly improve language functions in autistic children. If your child has problems with language functions, this could be the solution for them.

Electroacupuncture may be very helpful to children that suffer from a lack of communication and have trouble interacting socially. It can result in positive changes in sensory motor skills, social relatedness, communication, and stereotypy behavior. A study from October 2008’s objective was to observe the “efficacy, safety, and compliance of electroacupuncture for autism spectrum disorder” (Chen, Wen-Xiong. “Electroacupuncture for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Pilot Study of 2 Cases.”) The methods of this study were that two children with ASD received twenty-four sessions of electroacupuncture over the span of eight weeks. They are assessed before and after the treatment, the results were based of Aberrant Behavioral Checklist, the Ritvo-Freeman Real Life Scale, WeeFIM, and the Clinical Global Impression- Improvemnent (CGI-I). It was shown that a short intensive course could possibly improve some core problems with the children. People believe that acupuncture is simply a placebo, but research from 2010 tests that theory. Children with ASD were randomly assigned to an electro-acupuncture (EA) group or a sham (SEA) group. The EA group was given electro-acupuncture in specific acupoints and the SEA group received “sham electro-acupuncture to sham acupoints over the four weeks” (Wong, VC, and X Chen, “Randomized Controlled Trial of Electro-Acupuncture for Autism Spectrum Disorder.”) Parents reported that their children had better receptive language, motor skills, coordination, and more after the treatment. It shows that over four weeks and twelve acupuncture sessions using electro-acupuncture improve functions like social initiation and attention spans significantly in children with autism. Over seventy percent of them were acquiescent to the therapy and adapted easily while eight percent were not. Some side effects were superficial bleeding and irritability during the acupuncture sessions. It is another great alternative treatment for a child with ASD, and has a high turn-out rate.

Acupuncture is proven to be helpful in children with autism, each type helping with different issues that are caused by the disease. After receiving tongue acupuncture, children from ages three to sixteen had improvements in speech, self-care, and cognition. Children receiving scalp acupuncture in addition to their normal therapy had significant breakthroughs in improvement of language functions and overall attention. Lastly, electroacupuncture improves communication and social anxiety. Side effects were increased irritability and superficial bleeding. More problems can be nervousness, less comfortability in their surroundings, being unable to voice their concerns, and more. Some children do not respond well to the needles, and some do not like to sit still for long periods of time. Although these are common characteristics of a child with autism, each study had high success rates with ages ranging to three to sixteen depending on the type of acupuncture. Every year the number of children with autism increases, therefore nearly everyone will know a child affected by ASD. The more educated about treatments, whether they are practical or alternative, the less the growing population of autistic children suffer from the problems that accompany ASD.














Works Cited

“Autism Prevalence.” Autism Speaks, Autism Speaks, 24 July 2014, Web Accessed 13 Nov 2017.

Chen, Wen-Xiong. “Electroacupuncture for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder: Pilot Study of 2 Cases.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 14, no. 8, 2008, pp. 1057–1065., Web Accessed 12 Nov 2017.

Editorial Staff. “Scalp Acupuncture May Help Children with Autism.” Acupuncture Today, July 2008, Web Accessed 10 Nov 2017.

Kootenay Columbia College Staff. “Ancient Chinese Acupuncture.” Kootenay Columbia College, 2010, Web Accessed 9 Nov 2017

Mandal, MD Dr Ananya. “Autism History.”, 30 Oct. 2017, Web Accessed 10 Nov 2017

Perrilloux, Mary. “Personal interview” 10 Nov 2017.

Reporter, Staff. “Tongue Acupuncture Treatment Helps Autistic Boy Find His Voice.” South China Morning Post, South China Morning Post, 13 Aug. 2004, Web Accessed 10 Nov 2017.

The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Acupuncture.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 3 Nov. 2017,

Thomas, Alison Jean. “Autism Spectrum Disorders.” LoveToKnow. LoveToKnow. Web Accessed 15 Nov 2017.

“What Is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?” Alpine Learning Group: Autism Treatment Center, Bergen County, NJ, Alpine Learning Group,

Wong, VC, and X Chen. “Randomized Controlled Trial of Electro-Acupuncture for Autism Spectrum Disorder.” Abstract, Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapy, July 2010, Web Accessed 9 Nov 2017.

Wong, Virginia Chun-Nei, et al. “Randomized Control Trial of Using Tongue Acupuncture in Autism Spectrum Disorder.”Journal of Traditional Chinese Medical Sciences, vol. 1, no. 1, 2014, pp. 62–72., doi:10.1016/j.jtcms.2014.11.005.

Wong, Yiu-Ming. “Tongue Acupuncture and Autism Spectrum Disorder.” The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, vol. 16, no. 12, 2010, pp. 1247–1248., doi:10.1089/acm.2010.0615.