Autism and Acupuncture

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Dr. Julian Scott MA, PhD, Cert Ac (China)

This book is for parents and practitioners. Parents will find a clear explanation of the many factors which contribute to autism, while the practitioner will find enough detail to enable effective support and treatment, together with an understanding of likely outcomes.

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Autism, and its seeming exponential rise in prevalence, is a condition that baffles many, medical and lay people alike. Although there is much speculation as to its causes, and much controversy about how to treat it (or even whether it needs treating), Western medicine is a long way from having any definitive answers. Yet many acupuncturists, especially those who treat autistic children, feel that the Chinese medicine way of understanding patterns of pathology lends itself particularly well to autism, and is a framework which can make more sense of it than any other.

Autism and Acupuncture is not, however, just a book about acupuncture and autism. Written for both parents and practitioners, the introduction is a precis of some of the greatest strengths of Chinese medicine and a response to some of the criticisms most often thrown at it. Julian has a background in physics and is therefore in a strong position to be able to convey a broad vision of Chinese medicine in a way that may be palatable to sceptics. He also includes here, and in other chapters, many personal anecdotes of some of the defining moments in his forty years of practice. These serve not only to illustrate important concepts but also to significantly enhance the enjoyment for the reader.

The first chapter explains some basic principles of Chinese medicine for the lay person. One of Julian's gifts is his ability to explain profound concepts and capture their essence with beautiful simplicity. As someone who has read more descriptions of wu xing, yin yang, etc, than I care to remember, I found that Julian's take on them still added to my knowledge and I wanted to keep reading. Although they are brief descriptions and are presumably included for the benefit of the non-practitioner, practitioners are advised not to skim over them.

Chapter 1 also contains a description of the patterns that Julian describes as being commonly seen in autistic children, namely heat, exhaustion, qi blocked in the head, 'echo disease', brain damage and fear. These are patterns that anyone who has read Julian and Teresa's seminal book Acupuncture in the Treatment of Children will be familiar with, albeit perhaps by different names (i.e Kidney deficiency for exhaustion and lingering pathogenic factor for echo disease). The descriptions connect these patterns with traits which are common in autistic children, such as how qi stagnation in the head may cause a child to be detached from their feelings, or excess heat may lead to a child being hyperactive, fidgety and unable to sleep. It would have been useful to have a more thorough discussion of fear, which Julian describes as a pattern of imbalance but which, in my experience of treating autistic children, can also be a result of a different pattern of imbalance (e.g. Kidney deficiency, or fire harassing the Heart).

Chapter 2 is called 'The Mind, Shen and its Working'. It is a short chapter which contains a brief description of each of the wu xing. It is full of allusions to aspects of art, music and nature, which makes a refreshing change from the rather intellectual descriptions one often encounters of the wu xing. Although this chapter will be of benefit mainly to parents who are unfamiliar with the wu xing, once again, Julian's ability to leave out anything superfluous to the subject in hand means that these pithy descriptions will also be of value for practitioners. Chapter 3 describes ways of identifying the patterns first laid out in Chapter 1. I was hoping for a fuller explanation of the pattern of fear here, but unfortunately it does not feature at all.

Chapter 4 discusses the possible causes of the patterns seen in autism. Of course, many children have these causes of disease in their lives and yet are not autistic. Julian makes the point that it is when these causes of disease are particularly strong, and when many occur together, that autism may result. He does not mention a congenital tendency, which most researchers regard as a common factor and which explains why autism often runs in families. It would not be possible to write a book on autism without bringing up the thorny issue of vaccination and Julian manages to do this whilst sidestepping the emotion which so often clouds the debate. He avoids quoting endless studies which can be used to support both sides of the debate, and keeps his focus on explaining the link between vaccination and 'echo diseases' from the perspective of Chinese medicine.

One of the difficulties of writing a book for both parents and practitioners is deciding at what level to pitch it, so as not to overwhelm parents nor to leave practitioners with unanswered questions. Julian has judged this well and found a good balance. Chapter 5 'Help at Hand' and Chapter 6 'Some Common Symptoms' are primarily for practitioners. They contain a brief summary of some of the methods of treatment that are particularly useful when treating autistic children who may be too fearful of needles. Of particular interest is a brief discussion of Yamamoto New Scalp Acupuncture, which since reading the book, I have already begun to use with some of my autistic patients. There is also a mention of Low Level Laser Treatment, an effective innovation for the treatment of children, and autistic children in particular. There were a few moments when I would have liked a little more explanation (for example, as to why he suggests that Dazhui DU-14 is an especially good point for children who dislike touch and contact). However, this is not meant to be a textbook, and the benefits of Julian's concise and clear style outweigh the few moments where there could have been more detail.

Chapter 5 includes brief discussions of non-Chinese medicine therapies, such as nutritional supplements, cranial osteopathy and homeopathy. The clinical reality of treating autistic children is that a multi-disciplinary approach is often necessary, and that every autistic child needs and/or accepts a different method of treatment. It is useful to make practitioners aware of other therapies to which they may refer children. So many autistic children, living in a largely neuro-typical world, are in dire need of support. If, as acupuncture practitioners, we are not able to do as much as we would like in this respect, it is important to guide parents in the direction of other potentially suitable therapies. The breadth of information in this chapter is therefore of great value.

The final chapter of the book is entitled 'Self Help'. One of the (many) difficulties for parents of autistic children is how to sift through the mass of information available and find what suits their child. One autistic child may benefit from excluding gluten from their diet. For another it may make no difference whatsoever, yet at the same time be extraordinarily difficult to implement. The beauty of this chapter is that, having identified which patterns a particular child has, it is then possible to create a 'bespoke' package of advice. This avoids parents having to struggle to implement changes that are not relevant to their child.

I began by saying that this book is not just about acupuncture and autism. By the end, I realised that it is actually the 'essence of Julian'. It feels like an encapsulation of all the most pertinent aspects of his approach to understanding and treating children. Much of what he writes about here can be applied to the treatment of all children, whether autistic or neuro-typical. This book does not say much that Julian has not said before but that is not remotely a criticism. On the contrary, a book that makes Julian's core ideas accessible to a wider audience can only be a good thing.

Ultimately, this book shows that Julian is ahead of his time. The ideas that he first wrote about over twenty years ago have since become even more relevant. Today's children are in dire need of Julian's approach. In the current political and financial climate, autistic children and their parents are increasingly looking outside the NHS for sources of support. Parents who are lucky enough to find this book will resonate with what it says, and with luck will mean some of them seek out acupuncture treatment for their child. For the practitioner, it will enable them to approach the treatment of autistic children with greater clarity and confidence.

I urge every practitioner to put a copy in their waiting room and have copies to hand. Many of us know someone who is struggling with an autistic child and who would therefore benefit from reading this timely and excellent book.

Rebecca Avern

More Information
Author Dr. Julian Scott MA, PhD, Cert Ac (China)
Publication Date 30 Oct 2017
Publisher Portway Press
Number of Pages 139
Book Format Softback
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