Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is another area where the healing system of Ayurveda shines. The lens with which Ayurveda views well-being enables a balanced approach toward some of the other issues that sometimes go along with ASD.
ASD is a spectrum of bio-neurological developmental differences and is characterized, in varying degrees, by difficulties with social interactions, verbal and nonverbal communication, repetitive behaviors and sensory sensitivity. Though there are definite strengths and unique abilities associated with ASD, it is often diagnosed based on several areas of neurological development. The National Autism Association lists the following developmental differences.
The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual, the DSM-V, reports there are many associated symptoms with both children and adults with ASD. There are high rates of chronic medical conditions including gastrointestinal disorders, metabolic syndrome, anxiety, depression, sleep disturbance and exposure to violence and abuse. Autism is associated with reduced life expectancy, especially when combined with chronic trauma and lack of support.
Females with ASD present differently than males and many are not diagnosed until later in life. Males with ASD tend to be extroverted and talkative while females with ASD can be introverted, intuitive, shy, struggle to fit in and often mimic other female behavior. Females with ASD tend to have higher burdens of stress as well, which leads to higher rates of chronic illness.
Many ASD adults have poor eating habits and suffer with indigestion, constipation and food intolerances. There is no specific diet recommended for ASD adults but many have sensitivities to flavors, textures, smells and chemicals in the food. Some ASD adults require support to remember to eat or to prepare meals. ASD adults have a higher-than-average prevalence of high blood pressure, cholesterol, obesity and diabetes.
Anxiety, depression and irritability is more common in adults with ASD than those without. Mental health issues are worsened by high stress environments, trauma and a lack of support.
According to Ayurveda, the tridosa (vata-pitta-kapha) is responsible for controlling and monitoring all of the bodily functions. Vata energy is responsible for movement, activity, cellular exchange, circulation, conduction, intellectual and memory processing, speech and sensory and motor action. Vata also controls the thought process like thinking, planning and decision-making. Pitta dosa is responsible for metabolism and digestion kapha dosa is responsible for nourishment and grounding.
In the classical texts there is no exact mention of neurological disorders like ASD, although Unmada is close to those with severe ASD. The long list of general symptoms points toward a vata-dominant disorder. An Ayurvedic protocol would be highly beneficial for people with ASD, as many have food and chemical sensitivities and would thrive from a holistic approach to their health.
ASD is perceived as a manifestation of bijadosa or genetic predisposition and therefore a lifelong condition. When thinking about an Ayurvedic protocol it’s important to remember each individual has specific neurological differences and will require a very personalized approach.
Both vata dosa and majja dhatu (bone marrow tissue) are factors in ASD. Majja dhatu has an impact on the nerve cells in the brain. The goal of Ayurvedic treatment is to balance vata dosa as well as nourish majja dhatu to enhance or maintain chemical balance within the nerve cells.
With ASD, the goal is to balance vata dosa which has an impact on the nervous system and mind. Balancing brain cells and their chemical composition improves the sensory and motor functions. It also improves focus, judgment, speech and an understanding between good and bad behavior. In Ayurveda the process of purifying is called the buddhi vishodhana (vijananamaya kosha).
Ayurveda believes in the power of shodhana chikitsa (purification therapy), which has an impact on the physical and mental level. There are certain therapies recommended during this procedure like shirodhara, nasya, shiroabhyanga, shirobasti, etc.
After purification therapy, shamana chikitsa (palliative therapy) it is recommended to pacify vata dosa and nourish the seven bodily tissues (saptadhatu). There are certain herbal medicines suggested during this program that enhances nerve cells.
For more information about Ayurveda and ASD, purchase this book by Ayurvedic experts from Kottakkal Arya Vaidya Sala, available on our online store.
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Vata is the force that drives and motivates all movement in the body. It is responsible for all input and output of sensory and motor functions. Vata controls the functions of the mind, sense organs, and the higher process of thought and emotion.
The other two dosas pitta and kapha are dependent on vata for normal or abnormal movement.