Scalp acupuncture is an effective way of helping autistic children improve their speech and cope with their peers, a Hong Kong university has found.
The study, at Baptist University in Kowloon Tong, tested a total of 68 autistic children aged between two and 10. They each received needle treatment, which proved effective in alleviating problems of impaired social interaction and delayed verbal communication.
The children were also less likely to have behavioural problems and be abnormally sensitive to noise, as well as being less picky towards food.
“Autism is related to a disorder with brain function … scalp acupuncture could strengthen the links between nerve cells and improve their functions,” said Ann Yau Chuen-heung, a lecturer from the university’s school of Chinese medicine, which was responsible for the study.
Yau stressed the treatment could not completely cure autism, but could make the symptoms less severe.
Between May 2010 and June 2013, each child received the treatment twice a week for 15 weeks. It was found to be effective on 66 of the patients – a rate at 97 per cent. Patients with effective outcomes were found to show marked reduction in scores measuring different symptoms on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale – a tool used to help diagnose autism.
Those whose autistic symptoms developed within two years of birth had a 37.9 per cent drop in the score measuring social interaction problems. The score for speech delay also decreased by 34.8 per cent.
Yau said those below three years old could benefit more from the treatment, as the brain develops at its fastest speed at that age.
Pong Cheuk-wai, an autistic boy aged 5½, started to receive scalp acupuncture two years ago. His mother, Cherry Low, said her son, who also received speech and occupational therapies, had spoken more since the treatment.
“My son was not keen on playing with toys or talking in the past … but now he knows how to answer short questions,” Low said, adding that her son was transferred from a special school to a mainstream school last month.