Autism is a small label for a large array of symptoms and degrees of symptoms.
Diagnosis for autism rests on a set of behavioural criteria comprising communication, social interaction, and behavioural deficits. It’s not like you get a blood test to see if your child has autism or not. It depends on the observation skills of the doctor.
Some of the standard behavioural indicators for autism are:
- Lack of emotion.
- Lack of responsiveness.
- Obsessive behaviour.
- No eye contact.
- Lack of bonding with parents or siblings.
There are varying degrees of autism which are all classified as Autistic Spectrum Disorders.
From a cranio sacral perspective autism can be caused by a number of different causes.
During birth a baby withstands enormous pressure. With each contraction, it’s body adjusts as needed, the membranes and small plates of bone in the cranium moving to accommodate the pressure. Even with the easiest of births the membranes of the skull can be restricted, setting the mould for growing bones to follow.
Not all births are easy. Sometimes, while still in the birth canal, the baby can feel the steely grip of forceps pulling it into the world before it is ready, or a suction cap dragging the soft head forward.
The umbilical cord can be wrapped around the neck, choking and tightening with the baby stuck and unable to do anything. Babies can strain for hours, head locked into the pelvis but unable to go any further, before their world is punctured by the Caesarean scalpel, causing sudden depressurisation, like a deep sea diver catapulted to the surface.
Blood is pumped into the head by the heart but it relies on clear channels of drainage to leave the head freely. If the channels of drainage are restricted, the head is continually overfull. This leads to a build up of pressure in the head which, in turn, puts pressure on the brain. Many conditions can be alleviated by releasing the drainage channels for blood and cerebro spinal fluid from the head.
There are varying degrees of autism. The length of time needed for treatment and the degree to which Cranio Sacral Therapy can help these varies with each individual.
To read South african cranio sacral therapist Jeanne van der Merwea’s report on the Autistic Children’s School Project in Cape Town Click here . . .
Below is an article written by author Chris Bray about a case in Brisbane in 2002. It is about a boy I treated with autism and is a good demonstration of what is possible with cranio sacral therapy.
When he was a baby, Leanne told me, Tyson didn’t sleep at all. He cried. But he was at least tiny. And when he was a toddler, because he was still small, the volcanic anger was controllable in the dimensional sense – though people in the queue at the supermarket checkout had begun to tell Leanne that her son had quite a temper.
Like she didn’t know. But later, when he could trash a whole room, when he’d learnt the swear words, when he’d tell a doctor he was going to ‘flick his (doctor’s) eyes out’ and tell his mother when he was old enough he’d kill her, that was something else again.
After he was born there was no rest for Leanne. She had an older daughter. Samantha, who’d done everything right. And here was Tyson, doing everything wrong. She took him for two weeks to a Centre for Controlled Crying. It didn’t help. When he was fourteen months old, feeling like she hadn’t slept since he was born, she took him to a paediatrician and said, ‘if you don’t do something, I’m going to kill him.’
Tyson knocked over the paediatrician’s blackboard, wiped her desk, overturned chairs. She diagnosed him autistic, put him on Tofrinol. It was after that, home again, that for the first time ever he sat down and gave his attention to something, anything. It was – ‘Bananas In Pyjamas’ on the TV. Leanne went ‘Hallelujah?’
It didn’t last. They tried him on Anfrinol. Then Prozac, Risperdal, Ritalin. Once Leanne woke up in the dead of night to find him sitting on the kitchen floor, fridge open, contents spread around him, opening yoghurts. Another time she woke to find him on the garden swing. Another time, at two in the morning, she heard him calling, distant. When she ran into his bedroom she found the window smashed and Tyson sitting in the garden outside – fallen through. Every night after that she gave him sleeping pills.
The doctors tried him on combinations of drugs, or put him on one, Leanne told me, and added another later. Some drugs he’d be on for just seven days and she’d have to stop giving them to him because of the side-effects. More and more often, in some unavoidable public situation, Leanne would ‘want the earth to swallow her up’.
None of the drugs worked for long. Some not at all. Risperdal, Leanne was informed, was meant to be the wonder drug for autism. Tyson was put on this when the family tried to make a new start in the little town of Proserpine, over a thousand kilometres north of Brisbane. But the first day at his new school, Leanne said, he ‘totalled the classroom, all the kids ran out, he abused the Principal.’ Later on he broke the Deputy’s toe. He was seven years old.
When Leanne said the drug seemed to make Tyson stutter, she was told this was a ‘mild’ reaction and should be tolerated. But the stutter had the knock-on effect of aggravating his anger and the school asked Leanne to ‘get him off it.’ It was the same with other drugs. On Prozac he’d be in the corner crying one moment and the next attacking you with whatever came handy. He told his mother he wanted to kill himself. Leanne said he’d had these thoughts all the time in the last few years, that he said it ‘wasn’t fair and wished he wasn’t here, on earth’.
As well as the drugs, for four years Leanne took Tyson to a Speech Therapist, to Occupational Therapy, to Behaviour Management classes. Then finally a Guidance Officer came to her house, observing how she handled Tyson over a number of hours. She told Leanne, ‘There’s nothing I can tell you, you’re doing everything right,’ and then Leanne thought to herself, ‘Oh my God! I’m still in the same position I was when he was 14 months old. But things are now getting totally out of control.’
She went back to the paediatrician. She said ‘He’s going to be kicked out of school. I can’t do anything with him at home. We can’t go to a shop without him abusing somebody. We can’t be in the car without him opening the door up as you’re driving along. You have got to do something!’
The doctor arranged a second appointment and two weeks later told her Tyson had been on all the medication they could possibly put him on and that he should see the autistic specialist at the Royal Brisbane Hospital. Leanne said, of course, anything, when? The doctor told her there was an eighteen month waiting list.
There’s no reward for the courage mothers at times need to call on, no generals handing out medals for uncommon valour. We’re all of us foot soldiers. That’s the way it is. In the frontline trenches of Go to Woah. No reward except the occasional gold of love.
In these terms Leanne and her son were bankrupt. Never, in all the tortured years of his life, had he ever shown her the remotest sign of affection. The reverse, in fact, had too often been the case. For six and a half years, she’d done everything she could for him. Her reward, with her son growing stronger, had been an inexorably worsening situation as she juggled the conflicting demands of Tyson and her now teenage daughter, Samantha.
Finding herself on an eighteen month waiting list, she wondered how many other autistic children there must be out there in Queensland. She had no idea how she was going to survive the one and a half years in front of her. Nor did she hold out much hope for Tyson when the wait was over. She’d been down that road too many times before, she told me. She was at the end of her tether.
It’s in the nature of a crossroads that it doesn’t reveal where the sign’s pointing until we’re there, close enough to read it, always at the last possible moment. And then, not a moment before, just in time, we know. So it was with Leanne. She happened now to remember a leaflet her sister had given her. She found herself phoning the number. She heard the offer of an appointment in two weeks’ time. And she accepted.
Better than eighteen months, she thought to herself, putting down the phone. And anyway, what did she have to lose? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.
Tyson’s reputation had preceded him. John Dalton told me he was all too aware that the boy was on a non-existent fuse – one wrong move on his part and the kid was off and out the door. Or worse. But though he never once made eye contact, Tyson seemed patient enough as John made notes on his case history. Then John asked him to lie down on the treatment table. Tyson did this, too, but lying on his side rather than on his back as John had asked, and slightly curled up. Leanne made a move to get Tyson to lie on his back. But John said, no, it was OK – whatever was comfortable for Tyson.
He moved to the end of the table, sat in the chair, took Tyson’s feet in his hands. Held them. Closed his eyes. And that was all. That was it.
Leanne couldn’t help herself. Weary and cynical from far too many battles with wonder drugs and dead-end roads, she stared at this man sitting there with his eyes shut, doing nothing and saying nothing, and thought, ‘Here we go, up the garden path again.’
And then something extraordinary happened.
Tyson fell asleep.
Moments later he was snoring. Loudly. John glanced at Leanne. Her jaw had dropped. She was doing her best not to look impressed. He thought to himself, ‘She’s thinking, here we go up the garden path again – snoring.’
He got up, moved the chair to the other end of the table, sat down, took Tyson’s head in his hands. And closed his eyes again. Tyson faltered for a moment, then rallied strongly and got down to the snoring with, as they say, renewed vigour. This abandoned noise seemed, strangely, to emanate naturally from the stillness and silence of John’s intent.
John glanced again at Leanne and thought, ‘She’s thinking, OK, we’re definitely up the garden path again but the medication’s kicked in by some freak mistake.’ And Leanne was thinking ‘He’s not doing anything. He’s not saying anything. If I knew where to put my hands I could do that at home by myself. Easy”
After thirty minutes John eased his hands from Tyson’s head and, talking quietly, showed Leanne, on a printed model, where the “pattern of restriction” was in her son’s skull. He advised her to wean him off the drugs gradually, following his doctor’s advice, to avoid any sudden transition. And then asked her, because he was a stranger, to wake her son herself. The session was over.
Leanne woke her son, abruptly, it seemed to John. Tyson was startled by this and also freaked out, John guessed, by the way he’d fallen asleep. Normally it took pills to get him to sleep. Now he began pacing the floor, avoiding all eye contact. John opened the door, followed mother and son to the reception area. Leanne asked how long the treatment would take. John told her probably ten to twelve weeks, once a week. They made another appointment – which Leanne told me she had little intention of keeping.
And the first thing she decided to do when she got home was ignore John’s advice. For the first time since her son was fourteen months old, she took him off all medication, sleeping pills included. And he changed. He seemed better. That week his school noticed the improvement. And Leanne took her son back for his second appointment.
The second week at school he lost his temper, began to go ballistic as only he could. The other kids in the class dived under their desks, waiting for the explosion. It was like someone had rolled a live hand grenade into the classroom. But Tyson walked from the classroom. Came back a while later. And apologised.
The third week his grandparents told Leanne, ‘We don’t know what you’re doing but whatever it is, don’t stop. We’ll pay for it if you can’t manage.’ And the fourth week there was a meeting with his doctors.
They spoke to Leanne about him, as they always spoke, as if he wasn’t there. He began to rock to and fro on his chair, dangerously. The doctors became apprehensive. They knew the warning signs. This was a kid who had wiped their desks, cursed them, thrown chairs at them. They could get hurt. Tyson rose to his feet. There was silence. “Sesame Street” was on in the Waiting Room. You could hear it though the door. He told the doctors it was a programme he liked. Could he go and watch it? There was a rapid and collective nodding of heads.
After Tyson left the room, Leanne told me proudly, the doctors were ‘totally gobsmacked.’ And in the fifth week she felt confident enough with Tyson to take him to a large family gathering – something that wouldn’t have been possible before, ever. The treatment lasted a month and a half.
I had met Leanne a month after the treatment had finished. Three weeks after that I phoned to ask how everything was going. She told me, ‘Tyson has a personality now. His personality comes through. He’s still got some of the autistic tendencies but the violence is so much less I’ve been able to return to full-time work. And now he’s not taking the drugs he’s not like a zombie anymore. He actually comes up for kisses and hugs’.
We talked some more. She sounded happy. I thanked her, told her I thought she was wonderful. After we said goodbye I sat there for a while, in some kind of shock, feeling, surprisingly, like I wanted to cry.
Then I called John, asked if he’d mind telling me how he treated Tyson. He said he treated him just like he treats any other kid – though he knew mayhem might erupt. But Tyson had been quiet from the start, as in fact he was for every one of the following sessions.
I asked what he’d thought when Leanne told him she’d taken Tyson off all his medication. ‘!!?!*#*?!!*!!’ he said. ‘She made my job ten times harder!’ Because he thought that Tyson, suddenly deprived of drugs, would ‘go off the chart.’ He was also aware, because she told him, that Leanne’s relatives were saying, ‘What’s happening? What’s going on?’ and that Leanne herself was thinking the same thing. Because John still didn’t appear to be doing anything at all, or saying much either, for that matter. But she kept coming back.
And there was one thing that John said he’d never forget.
At the end of the first session, just as Tyson and his Mum were walking out again into the street, he had turned, looked back, looked directly at John for the first time and …
‘And that,’ John told me, ‘just about made my day.’
I was impressed, I must admit.
‘OK,’ I said. ‘But… what was it you actually did?’ ‘Well,’ he said. ‘He had a pattern of trauma in his skull that made his skull flattened. Putting minute pressure. – probably around four microns – on his brain. The floor of his cranium was compressed. Yeah. Felt like it was from his birth and…’
‘Sorry. Did you say four microns?’
‘Around four microns, yes.’
‘How could you possibly know that?’
‘Four microns is based on a percentage of the known forty micron movement of skull bones.’
I let it pass. ‘So then what did you do?’
‘I followed the pattern of restriction,’ he told me, ‘to the point where it released.’ ‘Right,’ I said. ‘I don’t really…’
‘I had a sense of things releasing in his system’, John went on, ‘but I didn’t want to release too much, given the drugs he was taking.’
What he was telling me was like something out of a foreign country. A place where a stranger might be forgiven bad manners. I made some excuse to end the conversation and put down the phone. I wished, fervently, that I’d never set eyes on the Vet from Bellbowrie (as I called him). But I had. So I’d do the next best thing. Get on with my life. Forget the whole thing.
Four microns, I thought.
Give me a break!
A few days later I was watching the television News. It had reached the end part, where they give the financial news. The announcer had come to the FTSE-100 index – they call it the ‘Footsy.’ It had finished, the announcer said, at four thousand and forty eight – ‘down four points for the day.’
Now it’s my understanding of traps that you don’t know you’re caught till they’ve got you. And suddenly, and all at once, there I was, caught. It was the mention of those ‘four points’ that did it for me. It was like a cross between a Eureka moment and being pinned by the neck with an iron bar.
‘But what about Tyson’s ‘Cranial Index’?’ I found myself thinking. ‘The share index in London falls four points and it’s trumpeted round the world. A little kid’s skull has a pressure of four microns released (which the Encyclopedia Britannica says is impossible) and no one hears a word. Wall Street ‘recovers’ and the whole globe takes note. But a little kid hugs his mother for the first time in eight years, for the first time in his life, in fact, and the great world is silent.
I felt like Zarathustra. I wanted to climb to the rooftop and shout. Because if Tyson’s story was not some freak event, then why wasn’t there a cranial sacral therapist in every maternity hospital in the world? Even the birth of a mouse is awesome, but few human births are easy. No woman should have to go through even a part of the suffering Leanne had endured.
Then the reaction set in.
I pulled against the quick entrapment, the sudden conversion. Made myself remember the chuckle of the surgeon, the conclusion of the Encyclopedia Britannica, my own disbelief.
But in the end it was no use. In that snare of the ‘Footsy,’ I was well and truly caught. And when at last I accepted this and, as it were, stopped struggling, then the flood gates opened. I was swept away in the deluge of possibilities of this wonderful new “impossible”.
So I decided something. I’d find out everything I could about cranio sacral therapy. I’d write a book about it. And if ever I felt the need for inspiration I’d call to mind a kid named Tyson, mutilated from birth, zombified from drugs, throwing his arms round his mother and at long last telling her he loved her.