Autism Spectrum Disorders: The Sixth Sense

Published: 07th September 2009
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The functional neurology and Hemispheric Integration Therapy model for Autism Spectrum Disorders views sensory input as a major factor affecting and influencing those with Autism. I often say that most people are aware of the fact that if you damage the brain you will see changes in the body. We are all familiar with someone that has a stroke and changes in his posture with regard to his arm and his legs when walking. Someone who has had a stroke may also have a drooping of the face. So, we see how the brain can affect the body. Many times people are not aware that the body also affects the brain. That is, we need input and stimulation from the environment in order to drive brain activity. Input comes by way of our senses. The five senses are sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. What is often referred to as the sixth sense is balance. However, balance and vestibular input is a major driving factor to the brain. An animal in the jungle, that cannot balance itself, will not live long. Ask someone who has had vertigo if he would rather be deaf or have vertigo. The answer will be that one can adapt to being deaf although this is limiting. However, if you are continuously out of balance and spinning, you cannot function in any way. Many patients with vertigo cannot get out of bed nor do something as simple as turn their head.

This relates to Autism Spectrum Disorders in that many children with autism in fact do have sensory integration issues with regard to their vestibular system. So, if we look at the fact that the senses feed the brain and we have sensory integration issues then as is often said in the computer world "garbage in, garbage out." I have many parents that when asked if the child has any vestibular issues respond "Oh no, he can spin and spin and spin and never get dizzy." They also tell me how they can go to amusement parks and never get dizzy. But is this a normal response? If I take a neuro typical child or adult and spin him in a chair should he not get dizzy and perhaps nauseous? The answer of course is yes. So, this is an actual weakness and not strength with regard to these children. If vestibular input is a strong input to the brain and these children are not getting any vestibular stimulation then it follows that their brains may not be functioning optimally.

Such is the case with a 10-year-old boy that I'm currently treating. The most obvious issues that the child has upon meeting him is that he scripts (repeats verbiage from movies and video games) as well as toe walks. This child has wonderful parents who are both hard-working and a great support system relating to their grandmother and aunt. My approach to functional neurology with regard to the nervous system is that the lower areas are cleared up first. That is we look at the nervous system from the outside in, for example, we ask the question, "Is it in the receptor, peripheral nerve, spinal cord, brain stem, etc?" So if you look at comparative anatomy between the species, we see that lower life forms have brain stems and vestibular systems while only humans have well developed prefrontal cortex. The vestibular system is really fairly low on the comparative anatomy scale, as I stated previously, all animals need to balance in order to survive. So, in my opinion in this child's case, his vestibular system was the starting point. In our office, we sometimes have parents tell us that they see changes after one visit. Perhaps after a couple of weeks or a couple of months. This particular child has been very difficult to treat. His response has clearly been slower than expected. This child has been treating for approximately 6 months. He has shown some small vague type signs of improvement, but has not really made the typical improvements that we are accustomed to seeing in the office. We have seen his scripting going from out of context to in context. That is to say, that previously he might have been scripting a happy birthday scene from a movie while we were doing therapy. More recently he has begun to script a scene where a cartoon character is scared of the dark if we shut the lights off in the treatment room. That's not what I call huge progress.

His mom is amazing with her compassion and dedication to her children. But what she does most well and is helpful to me, is that she knows when her child is just avoiding behavior and when he cannot do something. She has a great sense of how to motivate him to do the activities necessary to make him improve. She also has been very consistent with this treatment even though the progress has been less than expected. Consistency is a major factor with regard to making changes in the brain using the techniques of Hemispheric Integration Therapy.

Within the last few weeks after vestibular stimulation the child has been wanting to lay on the floor. This is a very typical vestibular response. That is, when you feel you are losing your balance or the world is spinning, you tend to want to get closer to the earth. Those that have had vertigo will be able to relate to this statement. But that was still vague in that we weren't sure if this was a new behavior or that if he was finally feeling the vestibular stimulation. More recently after his last three visits the child did not want any further vestibular stimulation and was nauseous even vomiting on one occasion. For me, this is a sign to celebrate. This signifies that we have finally reached a threshold with regard to his vestibular system and that our stimulation is finally getting through and registering in his brain.

Again, vestibular stimulation, proprioception (joint position sense) and balance are powerful stimulations to one's brain. And with this system now providing more appropriate stimulation to his brain, we hope to see more positive changes in the future. So yes, I am celebrating the fact that I was able to make a 10-year-old boy vomit. So if you have a child who is on the Autism Spectrum notice if he ever gets dizzy or if you can make him dizzy. If you cannot, this is not a normal response and is an important sign.

Dr Nelson Mane is a chiropractic physician certified in both chiropractic orthopedics and neurology. He has sub specialty training in childhood neurobehavioral disorders as well as vestibular disorders and electro diagnostics. He was one of 11 doctors out of 60,000 chosen by the American Chiropractic Association to start the first Chiropractic neurology board back in 1989.Dr Mane is a D.A.N (Defeat Autism Now) doctor. He is considered a pioneer in the use of Hemispheric Integration Therapy for the treatment of Autism Spectrum Disorders. For more information regarding Dr. Nelson Mane and his unique approach combining functional medicine with Hemispheric Integration Therapy go to

For more information about Dr. Nelson Mane, D.C. and his treatment approach for ASD go to

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