As the prevalence of autism continues to rise, more than doubling between 2002-2012*, so too does the number of parents turning to complementary and alternative therapies for their affected children. Whilst the diagnosis of autism, or an autism spectrum disorder, can be daunting and life-altering, there is increasing data that suggests some improvement can be gained. Featuring on this list, due to a number of case reports and a solid systemic review, is chiropractic care.
The Most Recent Case Report
A recent case report published in the Journal of Pediatric, Maternal and Family Health, covered the case of a 3-year old male with autism. His parents, who had been under care, presented at a chiropractic clinic and listed their primary health concerns as chronic constipation, fussy eating, easy gaging and vomiting, poor sleep, poor weight gain and hyper-sensitivity to touch .
The course of care, detailed in full in the case report, was vertebral subluxation based care and took place over 12 weeks . Initial examination revealed subluxations at “the left SI joint, L5, T10, T4, C5, C2 and C1.” Although the boy’s autism did present the chiropractor with some unique challenges, such as the boy’s refusal to lie prone and his agitation at being touched, the course of care was concomitant with some significant improvements. They weren’t obvious by the first three visits, but by the fourth visits the parents began to report some noteworthy changes. These included :
- No falls reported after the 3rd
- Changes in behaviour reported at the 5th
- A significant increase in vocabulary reported by the 6th visit, including speaking in full sentences more frequently.
- Behavioural changes also reported at the 6th visit included interacting well with others and showing compassion.
- By the 8th visit, positive changes in sleep patterns were noted. He was sleeping well and waking without anxiety.
At this point, he commenced a course behavioural therapy and begun accessing other complementary therapies.
At the 12-week re-examination, the attending chiropractor noted: “Significant changes, indicating improvement in dysautonomia, were recorded in thermography after the progress examination. Thermography findings normalised in all areas except C1, which had significantly reduced .”
Whilst this is a case study, meaning we can’t claim anything more than a concomitant improvement in symptoms, it is certainly noteworthy that the symptoms improved along the same timeline as a reduction in subluxations. Coincidence?
The Bigger Picture
As it turns out, this particular case report is far from an isolated incident. Prior evidence on chiropractic care and improvements in autism includes:
- A systemic review of the literature on chiropractic care of patients with autism spectrum disorder, authored by Dr Joel Alcantara. “At the heart of the core symptoms of ASD (ie, impaired social interactions, deficits in communication and repetitive or restricted behavioral patterns) is abnormal sensory processing. Preliminary studies indicate that the chiropractic adjustment may attenuate sensorimotor integration based on somatosensory evoked potentials studies,” wrote Alcantara et al in the 2011 review .
- A systemic review of the literature on the clinical effects of spinal manipulation of children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder, authored by Kronau et al and published in 2016 . The review indicated that “chiropractic care may have the potential to create a positive effect on the severity of symptoms related to autism in children and young adults .”
- A number of case reports covering autism and chiropractic care, including a 2013 case report detailing improvement in symptoms of a 3-year old girl with “autism, acid reflux, bilateral head pain, seizures and vomiting .” The chiropractic interventions noted in this case report were targeted at the reduction of vertebral subluxations.
- Another case report of a 3 and ½ year old autistic child whose symptoms improved following chiropractic intervention to reduce vertebral subluxations .
This is by no means an exhaustive list either. There are several other case reports detailing different children and young adults with autism spectrum disorder responding positively to chiropractic care . The big picture seems to indicate that there is a role for chiropractic care in supporting children and families dealing with autism. In fact, Russell (2018) comments that “current literature suggests that chiropractic care can improve symptoms relating to autism .”
Certainly, no one is claiming a cure here. But it is very clear that the symptoms of autism are many and varied, and any change for the positive is a change that can make life easier. There is still a clear need for clinical trials on the matter, but the preliminary indications show us that subluxation based care can indeed have a positive impact.
Time and further research will surely reveal why.
References and Terms
*The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention states that in 2000-2002, Autism cases in the USA accounted for 1 in 150 children. At 2010-2012, it was 1 in 68 .
 Centre for disease control and Prevention. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). March 10, 2017. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/data.html (accessed July 27, 2017)
 Russell, D (2018), “Improvement in Behaviour, Communication & Sociability in a Child with Autism Following Chiropractic Care for Vertebral Subluxation: A Case Report and Review of the Literature,” Journal of Pediatric, Maternal and Family Health,
 Alcantara, Joel et al, (2011) “A Systematic Review of the Literature on the Chiropractic Care of Patients with Autism Spectrum Disorder,” Explore: The Journal of Science and Healing, Volume 7 , Issue 6 , 384 – 390
 Kronau S, Thiel B, Jakel A, Liem T, “Clinical effects of spinal manipulation in the management of children and young adults diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder – a systematic review of the literature,” Journal Clinical Chiropractic Pediatrics 2016;13(3):1280-1291
 Zielenski E, et al. An Epidemiological Approach to the Effects Subluxation-Based Chiropractic Care had in Managing a Three Year Old Girl with Autism, Acid Reflux, Bilateral Head Pain, Seizures, and Vomiting: A Case Study and Review of the Literature. Annals of Vertebral Subluxation Research. September 12, 2013. Pp 51-65
 Hoffman N, Russel D. Improvement in a 3 1/2-year-old autistic child following chiropractic intervention to reduce vertebral subluxation. J Vert Sublux Res 2008; 7:1-4, https://www.torquerelease.com/pdf/012.pdf retrieved May 20, 2015