Autism is a well-defined neuro-behavioral and neurodevelopmental disorder, which results in a broad range of behaviors and often lifelong impairments. It is characterized by a triad of qualitative impairment in verbal and non-verbal communication, imaginative play, and reciprocal social interaction. Other features seen in autistic children are obsessive behavior, reduced muscle tone, compromised digestive system, etc: Autism is a complex developmental disability appearing in infancy or early childhood which has been increased in its prevalence and incidence since the last two decades.
The Three Main Therapeutic Streams Promoted by Ayurveda
The nearest similarity of autism with Ayurvedic diagnosis is Unmada (Insanity). The Lakshanas (features) described in Unmada which are a mixture of features of Vata, Pitta & Kapha singularly or collectively are even seen in Autism. The exact cause of autism is still not known, genetic factors (Beeja Dosha) and pre and post-natal insult to the brain seem to be important. The other possible suspected causes include diet (Ahara Dosha), digestive tract changes, poisoning (Dushi Visha), the inability of the body to properly use vitamins and minerals, vaccine sensitivity, etc.
Srotas are the channels that are responsible for Dosha Gaman (movement of doshas), Dhatu Pusti (nourishment of all body tissue), and Mana Sudhi (purity in psychological feelings). Dushti (impairment) in these channels causes derangements and is responsible for various physiological and neurological disabilities. A possible cause of autism may be Khavaigunya (divergence in channels) as a consequence of many Agantuja (epigenetic toxic insults & postnatal environmental factors) and Sahaja (genetic) factors. Further vitiated Doshas (physical and mental humors) may exacerbate the Khavaigunya leading to various core features of autism. Prajnaparadha (actions against one's self-consciousness) at various stages of pregnancy by the pregnant mother is another cause that may lead to Manovikara (dysfunction of mind) in the neonate which results in the appearance of the signs of autistic spectrum disorders at a later period. Behavioral symptoms are the result of Manovaha Srotas Dushti. Mana is the one that connects Jnanendriyas (sensory system), Karmendriyas (motor system), and Budhi (Atama). Hence disruption in the Manovha Srotas leads to the abnormal and under-functioning of sensory perception and motor responses.
Vata Dosha is a prime factor responsible for the neurological as well physiological functions of the body. All the above-observed causes lead to Dushti of Vata which is the most important reason in developing the features of autism.
The treatment protocols implemented in Ayurveda are according to the dosha predominance of the disease. The preventive measures are more appreciated than the treatment protocols. Ayurveda indicates that the prevention of psychological disorders starts from birth and continues till the prenatal period.
For the proper correction of all these pathological factors, Agni (digestive fire) should be managed. To stabilize Agni, certain medications and therapies are described in Ayurvedic texts viz. Agni Deepanam i.e augmentation of Agni through Deepana and Pachana drugs and procedure. Panchkarma therapy, the protocol for autism, is focused on removing toxins from the system, nourishing and energizing the cells. Panchakarma is helpful in the mobilization of the toxin layer and excreting them from the body. Basti (enema), Snehana (oleation therapy), Sirodhara (pouring liquids over the forehead ), and Nasya (nasal drops) are a few of the therapies applicable in children. However appropriate procedures should be selected based on the intellect of the physician. The administration of Medhya drugs in autistic patients is to maintain and restore the body's harmony, improving the balance between the brain and nervous system.
Yoga therapy, Pranayam (breathing technique), Asanas (postures), Bandhas, and Mudras (relaxation and meditation) promotes physiological and psychological processes which can induce a calm state of mind.