Sensory Processing Disorder
Have you heard that term?… What does it mean?
Sensory Processing Disorder also goes by the name Sensory Integration Dysfunction or Disorder and Neurosensory Dysfunction. Whatever the name the underlying causes are still the same. “Read and React” is the method by which our sensory system operates. Appropriate responses are reflexive or pre-programmed into our bodies to respond to environmental stimuli. This programming occurs throughout life…This is called “sensory learning” or sensory processing.
The best example of this is the first time a child puts their hand near a hot surface. Once is enough. The burning or painful sensation becomes fixed in our sensory memory and helps us to not make this mistake again. All sensory patterns in the body operate in a similar way.
Chiropractic Care and Autism
“Have you ever heard of a Pediatric Chiropractor?”
Chiropractic care for children is gaining popularity every day. Our practice has many areas of focus for helping children. One of those areas is autism and other related spectrum disorders. The answer to the question, “How can chiropractic care help with autism?” has some background and a little neurology. It’s easy though, you can get this…I know you can.
Hang in with me for this long explanation. We are going to cover a lot of information…and there will be a recurring concept throughout, that concept is a focus on the Central Nervous System.
The nervous system is greatly affected in a child with this disorder. The list of challenges that are linked in the child with autism include attention, sleep challenges, hyperactivity, behavior problems, social interaction issues, sensory processing challenges, and more. Even more, the nervous system is so closely connected to the digestive system and the immune system that commonly there are moderate to severe problems with appetite, digestion, bowel and bladder as well as immune and autoimmune challenges.
The Central Nervous System is intimately connected these other systems (those who analyze will separate the systems for purposes of study…but they are so closely connected that it is hard to define where one ends and the other begins). Let’s look at these systems as a three ring chain, with the Central Nervous System as the common / connecting link.
For the purpose of this article, we will focus on one major possibility, though there are many ways. Traumatic Birth Injury is the primary mode of injury that we see in our office. “Constraint” that happens in the uterus (breech positioning) and forceful movements that happen with the birth process are the most common causes of trauma.
Birth interventions are at “epidemic” levels in the United States according to the WHO, including, but not limited to cesarean delivery. The WHO states that C-section rates around 10% are necessary, while anything above 15-20% “likely does more harm than good” – the US has C-section rates in some parts of the country on excess of 33%.
In addition, many vaginal births use induction or other forms of augmentation that can increase the stress response of mother and baby. A recent study in the journal Pediatrics demonstrated an increase in autism diagnosis for births that included induction.
The most common area of injury during the birth process is the upper neck and skull. The possibility of the risk to these areas, and the resultant issues from it, can go up exponentially as the number of interventions rises. Induction, prolonged pushing, forceps, vacuum extraction can all lead to greater risk of traumatic injury to the infants head and neck.
Many don’t realize, no one in the medical system is really trained to check (or address) these sorts of injuries, so most of the time they go completely unmentioned to the parents. — If the injury were evaluated and addressed by a pediatric chiropractor shortly after it occurred, much of the neurological components of the injury could be prevented. Some of the best lessons to be learned about autism in this country is the concept of preventing additional cases.
If the injury occurs to the upper neck, it can put pressure on the spinal cord and brain stem, in addition to spinal and cranial nerves in the vicinity. The joint fixation (vertebral subluxation complex) in the area can lead to improper neurological “wiring” and “signaling”, both to and from the Central Nervous System. This disturbance to the communication system of the body is one of the primary reasons that man children with autism have real challenges with social interaction, behavior, learning and sensory processing.
The trauma and the resulting neurological changes can put the nervous system into a chronic state of stress. The name for this is the “Stress response” or fight / flight response. This response can be an important part of a valuable short term response. However, when this response becomes chronic, or is “stuck on” for long periods of time it can be detrimental. The nervous system of the child with autism has been in fight / flight, possibly from the very first moments of life. We commonly see on history forms that children with autism, also had colic, ear infections and digestive disorders.
These challenges are not routinely and immediately addressed in our current health care system. Instead, it waits for symptoms to appear before action is taken. There may be far fewer children suffering if we took action sooner. Many times it is so evident to see the “stress and fear” in the eyes of a child who struggles with autism. There are no words to describe the joy of watching that stress and fear dissolve as they move through care in our office.
Let’s now return to our three-ring chain example with the nervous system, immune system and digestive system. A chronic state of stress will “down-regulate” both the immune and digestive systems causing altered functioning. If we look at the digestive system, a chronic state of stress can lead to decreased motility of the bowel and inflammation. Now the bowel is doing a very poor job of breaking down and “digesting” foods, which leads to further inflammation and irritation that can leak into the bloodstream and trigger a response by the immune system.
The challenges of neurologic stress will also affect the immune system. Opening the possibilty that the immune system will dysfunction and the child my suffer with inflammatory reactions, eczema, asthma and allergies. As inflammation increases, the cycle continues. With this positive feedback cycle continuing, symptoms keep getting worse and worse.
The injury and resulting subluxation are the main issues we address. A gentle and specific chiropractic adjustment restores the balance to the neuro-spinal system. The central nervous system can now find ease and balance. Consideration is given to the length of time the problem has been present as well as the severity of the subluxation. Usually repeated adjustments combined with the “learning” ability or Neuroplasticity of the Central Nervous System will begin to create positive change. This “unlocking” and developmental process usually includes improved behavior, better digestion, more robust immunity, restful sleep, and more.
Two major challenges are at the root of most problems that are faced by a child with spectrum issues. A nervous system that is overstressed is in constant “protection mode”, like a car with the “gas pedal” stuck on there is no slowing down for repairs. This can be from birth or even before birth if there is a stressful pregnancy. These two challenges become one concept rolled into a quote by Dr. Bruce Lipton, “You can’t be in growth and protection at the same time.”
The concept is as easy as this, a child’s nervous system cannot be on the “gas pedal” (stress/protection) at the same time as it is on the “brake pedal” (growth/development/organization/healing). That injury, a subluxation, especially to the upper neck near the brainstem area puts the nervous system into stress mode. A chiropractor who is specifically trained in pediatric care is the only provider who can locate that subluxation and make an adjustment to correct it. Making that adjustment is just like “pumping the brakes” – getting the growth, relaxation and healing system working correctly again.
We feel strongly that when a family is challenged by something like sensory and spectrum disorders, the most important thing they need is a community who will support them and help them pursue avenues for improvement. It is unfortunate that despite tremendous growth on the subject of this disorder, many primary healthcare providers are lacking in their understanding of the neurology of spectrum disorders as well as the role of nutrition and toxicity. Thankfully, Pediatric Chiropractors have a lot of training in this area. You can be assured that in our office you and your child will be supported, loved and will receive excellent chiropractic care designed to allow the nervous system to balance and heal.
ADHD / ADD
We do not “treat” Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
Since ADHD appears as a neurodevelopmental disorder and chiropractic care can help reduce nervous system disturbances, parents who want a non-drug solution for their children have found chiropractic care very helpful.
ADHD is one of the most common diagnoses given to our children today. This is both unfortunate and may be unnecessary for the pediatric population. Parents are given little to no information about where this condition came from, what they can do about it, or other options besides drugs.
Dr. Angela’s education includes many additional courses and training in chiropractic care for children with an emphasis on spinal conditions that can worsen the symptoms of ADHD, ADD, and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
Neurodevelopmental issues, such as ADHD and ADD can be characterized by an imbalance in the child or adult nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system is like the “gas pedal” in a car, it revs up the engine and makes things go faster. The parasympathetic nervous system is like the “brake pedal” it slows things down, like a using the brake pedal in a car.
Here is a simple graph of the two systems:
Adrenal Glands Activated
Rest / Digest / Repair Mode
Growth and Repair
Digestion, Rest & Repair
This imbalance in nervous system function may start as early as birth. Or it may even start during pregnancy if the mother experiences a lot of stress during the pregnancy.
Let’s face it… Birth can be stressful for the baby too!
Even in a C-section birth, extra tension & pressure may be placed on the baby’s head and neck. This may cause the tiny structures in the neck to be stressed or subluxated. This is where chiropractic care can help.