THE AUTISM VAGUS CONNECTION

No, I didn’t mean Las Vegas! If you clicked to read about Autism link to Las Vegas, then you will be disappointed! 


Actually, I want to discuss the similarities of Vagus Nerve dysfunction (or our parasympathetic nervous system) and Autism traits. Also, we will look at the possibilities the how proper stimulation of the vagal nerve could help children on the Autism Spectrum Disorder!


Autism is not one disorder! It is a complex spectrum of varied etiology which mostly manifest in neurodevelopmental challenges. Autism affects almost 1 in every 50 children in the world. So if we extrapolate the last few years data, by 2050, we may have at least half of the Millennial population diagnosed with a spectrum disorder. Even with the growing body of research in all avenues of science, the cause remains unknown. 

Autism may be of scientific interest and solving this conundrum may be exciting for scientists, however, parents and caregivers often feel that they are in flux, as no one seems to really know what to do.


INFORMATION OVERLOAD

Last few years of technological advances, with Google at our fingertips, have exploded information into our lives. There seems to be an overload of information available to parents. However, sorting through and making sense of this information is like finding a needle in a haystack, especially if you find the wrong needle after all the effort you put in!


The availability of abundant information does not necessarily transfer into a good treatment. The problem I have found with this overload of information is that most of the information seems to have little or no scientific basis nor has it been researched well. Almost everyone seems to be an “Autism Expert” by the virtue of having heard or read about the term “Autism”. And everything seems to be ‘Miracle Cure for Autism’ luring parents into the trap of thinking that their child will be cured magically and possibly overnight.

A Magical cure for Autism is as preposterous as ‘Refrigerator Mother’ theory was when scientists blamed mothers being cold enough to cause ‘Autism’.

Autism isn’t one disorder, hence in my theory, maybe wrong (only time will tell!), is like an evolutionary step to human development.

AUTISM OR EVOLUTION

In the last 30 years, we moved from being a community living to nuclear families. And now we have turned into reclusive individuals, and love spending time with our gadgets instead of family or friends. 


The evolution theory proves that the constant use or disuse for an organ or the processing of organs, can mutate and make the changes permanent over time. Evolution follows the ‘Use it or Lose it’ Law.

So use something consistently, we strengthen it, if we do not use it nor need it, eventually, we will lose it.  Sounds like something Nanny McPhee would say, Right?!

Before the advent of Mobile phones, people remembered everything. My dad still remembers all Birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, important dates, even calculates math mentally.  However, most people in “Mobile Generation” cannot remember their own schedules. To such an extent that many even needing a reminder for taking their pills and eating food on time!


OUR BRAIN ON SOCIAL MEDIA

According to Science, our body sends around 11 million pieces of information to our brain per second but our brain can only process 50 pieces of information every second!

So when we bombard it with irrelevant information from the latest social media craze,  you can only imagine what the brain’s processing center may look like! 

Coming back to our topic, in Autism, the Central Nervous System is definitely affected. Especially the amygdala, which is an important Vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) component of the neural network that underlies social cognition.

CAN THE POLYVAGAL THEORY BE RIGHT?

According to Neuroscientists and the Polyvagal Theory, “physiological mind-brain-viscera communication seems to be the road to affect regulation, hence we must also shift our therapeutic practice to help the dynamic changing interplay between sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system”


“Several psychiatric and neurological disorders are characterized by difficulties in establishing and maintaining relationships, including difficulty both in expressing social behavior and in reading social cues (i.e., social awareness). Several psychiatric diagnoses are associated with specific deficits in both the behavioral (e.g., poor gaze, low facial affect, lack of prosody) and visceral (difficulties in autonomic regulation resulting in cardiopulmonary and digestive problems) components of the social engagement system.” – Polyvagal Theory (book)

Some major challenges that children with Autism and those with Vagal nerve Dysfunction seem to share are:

  1. Being unable to Self Regulate (affecting sleep/wake cycle and the bowel movements) 

Emotional Regulation (fluctuating extremes: emotional outbursts or lack of emotions)

  1. Social Engagement (connection with other people or being able to understand social cues)

  2. Neurohormonal Pathway regulation (Chronic Stress/anxiety triggers)

  3. Unable to regulate the pattern of voice stress and intonation (prosody) 

  4. Verbal Communication (speech delay or inability to process information for outcome)

  5. Chronic Inflammation (Vagus nerve is directly responsible to reduce inflammation)

  6. Gut and or Digestive Regulation (Vagal Nerve is responsible for carrying info to and from the brain and gut microbiome)

  7. Immune Regulation (the vagus nerve is a major constituent of a neural reflex mechanism—the inflammatory reflex—that controls innate immune responses and inflammation during pathogen invasion and tissue injury.)

Sensory Regulation (Sensory functions of the vagus nerve include: providing somatic sensation information for the skin behind the ear, the external part of the ear canal, and certain parts of the throat. supplying visceral sensation information for the larynx, esophagus, lungs, trachea, heart, and most of the digestive tract.)

We @ BrainAbility International, understand that helping activate and stimulate the vagus nerve and increasing vagal tone may help relieve many of the ‘Autism Symptoms’.

At BrainAbility International, through our Intensive Holistic Therapy #BAI Protocol, we work at naturally stimulating the parasympathetic Nervous system through our exercises and stimulating techniques. The combination of our #BAI protocol with our BAI Nutrition and BAI Multisensory Integration Intervention, works best, giving consistent and relatively quick improvement.

For more information please read our blogs or contact any of our centers in Bangalore, Pune or Agartala.

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