Craniosacral therapy and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):
Updated: Nov 8
One of the first and most dramatic effects of Craniosacral therapy upon individuals with autism is a shift in the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). A child who is on the spectrum experiences tremendous stress and anxiety. Anxiety results from the inability to process sensory input (sensitivity to external stimuli like loud noises, tactile, oral and vestibular hypersensitivity) which is overwhelming. They also experience internal stressors like gastrointestinal disorders, gut pathogens, and allergies or sensitivities to foods or the environment.
Stress alters neurological function. It places the ANS in Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) overdrive. The child is in a state of fight-flight-freeze. This creates a cascade of changes through the entire body — the heart beats faster, digestion slows or shuts down to allow blood flow to muscles for quick motor reaction and the brain becomes hyper-alert, making it difficult to focus on a task at hand or rest/sleep.
Craniosacral Therapy down-regulates the levels of anxiety and enables the child to achieve the greatest degree of social integration. It also has the following beneficial effects:
Grounding at the feet: Most patients with ASD are not adequately grounded which affects their ability to stay still and focus on learning.
Calming the central and peripheral nervous system: Turning down the volume of what is often a very wired nervous system can make a huge difference to an overwhelmed and agitated child.
Calming an overactive sympathetic drive (fight or flight) and helping to achieve a parasympathetic (rest and digest) state so the gut can function optimally: 80% of ASD sufferers have gut dysfunction which affects brain function.
Boosting immune system function: Recent studies link ASD with autoimmune disease.
Relieving inflammation: Inflammation within the brain and gut is a huge issue for ASD patients.
Supporting lymphatic drainage and detoxification: ASD patients often have impaired detoxification pathways and high levels of metals and toxins in their body.
Relieving membranous pressure in the brain or spinal chord: This can help to reduce hyperactivity and irritability.
Working with the pineal and pituitary glands: Research has linked autism symptoms to low levels of vasopressin, oxytocin, serotonin and melatonin.
Improving vagal tone: We know the importance of the vagus nerve in regulation of the central nervous system. Many of the markers for ASD such as hand-flapping or stimming are the child’s way of self-regulating when the vagus nerve is not functioning properly and the body is in an over-activated SNS state. Craniosacral therapy supports the optimal functioning of the ventral vagus, which results in better regulation and improved social engagement.
Children generally respond well to Auditory Integration Training (AIT) after receiving craniosacral therapy, since it addresses some structural issues and may help the sensory-defensive child to accept the headphones. Craniosacral therapy can also help reduce problems with chronic ear infections/fluid that may interfere with the AIT protocol.
Research studies: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28167177/