According to the Centers for Disease Control, as of 2018, approximately 1 in 44 children in the U.S. are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD), including 1 in every 27 boys, and about 1 in every 116 girls.
A 2017 study estimated that about 1.5% of the population—114 million people—in developed countries worldwide were on the autism spectrum.
Autism, or autism spectrum disorder, refers to a broad range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.
Ages and severity of signs vary between people—particularly in the first two years of life—some signs that can be observed during this time include:
– Limited or no eye contact (6 months)
– Little or no babbling (6 months)
– Little or not interaction back-and-forth verbally, with facial expressions, or gestures (12 months)
– Very few or no words (16 months)
– Very few or no two-word phrases (24 months)
Signs that can be observed at any age include:
– Loss of previously acquired speech, babbling or social skills
– Avoidance of eye contact
– Persistent preference for solitude
– Difficulty understanding other people’s feelings
– Delayed language development
– Persistent repetition of words or phrases (echolalia)
– Resistance to minor changes in routine or surroundings
– Restricted interests
– Repetitive behaviors (flapping, rocking, spinning, etc.)
– Unusual and intense reactions to sounds, smells, tastes, textures, lights and/or colors
Prior to 2013—when The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM)-5 criteria was published—various diagnoses were given including autistic disorder, Asperger’s Syndrome, and Pervasive Developmental Disabilities – Not Otherwise Specified, which now all fall under ASD.
What causes Autism?
There is no one known cause of autism. Research suggests that autism can develop from genetics, environmental factors, or a combination of both.
There are several environmental factors that are thought to potentially increase the chances of a child developing autism:
– Several studies provide evidence for the link between the health of the gut microbiome and the expression of ASD symptoms.   
– One meta-analysis which included a total of 61 studies comprising 67 independent samples and 20,607,935 deliveries concluded that babies delivered via cesarean section had 33% increased odds of developing ASD. With research showing that the mode of delivery has an affect on the microbiome of a newborn, there is rational to consider a potential link between how a baby is delivered,how delivery affects the microbiome, and how the microbiome seems to play a role in the expression of ASD symptoms.
– One study of over 70,000 children found a 19% higher likelihood of a child having ASD if prenatally exposed to acetaminophen (Tylenol), with another study of 996 children showing a significantly increased risk of the development of ASD with prenatal use of acetaminophen.
– An evaluation considering the possible relationship between thimerosal used in childhood vaccines and autism using U.S. Department of Education datasets showed a 600% increase in the prevalence of autism between 1981 and 1996 which correlated with increasing doses of mercury from thimerosal-containing vaccines.
– Another study showed that babies exposed to thimerosal via vaccines between birth and 7 months were 287% times more likely to develop autism.
– Other environmental factors that have been considered as possible contributors to the likelihood of autism spectrum disorders include parental ages, maternal obesity, maternal infections during pregnancy, use of the anti-epileptic drug Valoprate, use of antidepressants, maternal Vitamin D deficiency, exposure to heavy metals such as lead and mercury, prenatal exposure to pesticides, and maternal stress during pregnancy.
Can chiropractic help those with autism?
One major aspect of autism is autonomic dysfunction, particularly hyperarousal caused by an overstimulation of the sympathetic nervous system.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into two parts: the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the fight or flight response, and the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the state of the nervous system which we refer to as rest, digest, and heal.
In 2009, Steven Porges published his work on The Polyvagal Theory, which proposes a third type of nervous system response—social engagement—which is controlled by the vagus nerve. The social engagement system includes control of facial muscles, middle ear muscles, muscles of mastication, laryngeal muscles, and pharyngeal muscles. Together these muscles and the neural pathways that lead to them control several aspects of social engagement such as facial expressions, vocalization and language, observation of the facial features of others, and being able to listen specifically to another person against background noise. When we look at the signs, we observe that the components of this social engagement system are compromised in those with ASD.
Other observations about those with ASD include areas of less connectivity between various parts of the brain, as well as imbalances in the processing of these regions, possibly contributing to the challenges with social interactions, repetitive behaviors, and speech.
Chiropractic adjustments remove interference from the nervous system, promoting an environment for proper balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the nervous system. Research has also shown chiropractic adjustments to have an effect on the brain’s ability to form new connections—called neuroplasticity—including in the prefrontal cortex, which controls functions including as the sensory integration, autonomic function, motor control, eye movements, some aspects of emotional regulation, and other functions found to be atypical in those with ASD.
If you have a child with autism, or know a family that has a child with autism, have them call our office in the month of April for a complementary neurological assessment. If they don’t live in the area, they can still reach out out us, and we can help connect them with a chiropractic office that focuses on serving people with autism.