Reiki and Autism Spectrum Disorders
Reiki is a Japanese healing technique utilized by people for wellness and for stress reduction when facing a variety of different issues, from everyday stress to terminal cancer. Some people have also explored the idea of using Reiki to help people with autism spectrum disorders. Very little research exists on the use of Reiki for autism spectrum disorders specifically, but more general studies have indicated that Reiki may be effective for this purpose.
Autism Spectrum Disorders Defined
We would prefer to term it simply autism spectrum but it is scientifically known as ASD so we will use that term for this article. Autism Spectrum Disorders, or ASD, are a group of disorders that affect an individual’s ability to function normally in social settings. These disorders usually appear in the first two years of life.
Some of the symptoms of autism spectrum disorders include:
- Unwillingness to make or maintain eye contact.
- Highly focused interests in specific topics or objects.
- Repetitive behaviors.
- Problems with two-way conversation.
- Unusual responses to others’ emotions or affection.
- Unusual attachment to routines or specific settings.
- Repeating words or phrases.
- Difficulty understanding others’ points of view.
- Unusual tone of voice.
Most affected people are diagnosed with ASD during their childhood and will continue to struggle with the disorder throughout their lives. The severity of ASD varies considerably. While some people have only a mild version of the disorder and are able to live a full, productive life as an adult, others are completely disabled and may require full-time care and supervision.
Autism spectrum disorders are extremely difficult to treat, and no one full cure has been found as of yet. When medications are prescribed to individuals with ASD, they are typically aimed at treating one or more of the symptoms of the disorder. Medications that may be prescribed include antidepressants, ADHD medications and drugs designed to control irritability or aggression. People with ASD may also participate in special therapeutic or educational programs intended to help them cope with their disorder and live as normally as possible.
Unfortunately, some of the medications prescribed to people with ASD may cause other side effects. In addition, many people with ASD may continue to experience problems even with treatment. For this reason, it is common for ASD sufferers and/or their parents to explore integrative treatment options and therapies to use as a complement to their traditional care. One of these is Reiki.
How Can Reiki Help with ASD?
Studies and anecdotal reports indicate that Reiki may provide a number of different benefits to people who participate in sessions on a regular basis.
Some of the benefits that may be helpful for people with ASD may include:
A chance to connect with another person in a different way.
One of the hallmarks of ASD is difficulty with social interaction. Children and adults with ASD may find it difficult to make a connection with the people around them, whether they are family members or classmates. During Reiki sessions, an individual with ASD will have the chance to connect with his or her practitioner in a unique way.
Reduced stress and anxiety.
People with ASD are often fidgety and hyperactive. Studies have shown that exposure to Reiki may reduce feelings of stress and anxiety, which may in turn have a calming effect on individuals with ASD.
Healthier sleep patterns.
ASD can disturb sleep patterns significantly, which leads to exacerbated symptoms and more stress. Reiki may improve these sleep patterns, allowing the client to get a more restful, restorative sleep.
More control over the disorder.
The parents of children with ASD, as well as the children themselves, often feel that they are at the mercy of a disorder they cannot control. Reiki sessions allow both children and their caregivers to be proactive about dealing with symptoms and improving quality of life.
Although some studies and reports indicate that Reiki may be helpful for people with ASD, performing Reiki on a client with this condition can be challenging for the practitioner. Especially in the case of young children, ASD makes it difficult to remain still and calm for extended periods of time. Because Reiki sessions require the client to be still, this can present a problem. Some parents of children with ASD have found that Reiki sessions are more successful when the child is drowsy or asleep. Other parents report that beginning with a shorter Reiki session and gradually working up to a longer one is effective for children with ASD. Make sure that your practitioner is aware of the diagnosis and the potential challenges before the first session so that he or she can prepare properly. A short initial 15 to 30 minute session may be appropriate.
Reiki for Caregivers
The effects of Autism Spectrum Disorders aren’t restricted to the person with the diagnosis. Parents and other caregivers of children with ASD also deal with significant worry, fatigue and emotional turmoil as they attempt to care for the affected individual. In many cases, these caregivers even experience physical problems as a result of the ongoing stress. Reiki may help caregivers to deal with some of these issues so that they can provide better care for their child. Specifically, caregivers who participate in Reiki sessions may benefit from lower stress levels, less anxiety and better quality of sleep. Participating in Reiki sessions may also help the caregiver to improve his or her understanding of the purpose of these sessions, the procedure used and the nature of the results.
Finding a Practitioner
Reiki is not a substitute for medical treatment. However, some of its effects may be beneficial to children and adults with ASD. Because Reiki produces no side effects and poses no risk of complications, it can be used in conjunction with medication and other therapies. Reiki’s role is as an adjunct therapy to support traditional care and is used with many symptomatic illnesses and disorders as a complementary therapy.
If you or your child is struggling with ASD and you would like to learn more about Reiki, you can begin by making an appointment with an experienced practitioner. To find a Reiki Professional in your area, you can utilize the IARP website at https://iarp.org for additional information on Reiki and to find a registered Reiki practitioner in your area, anywhere in the world.
**This article appeared in The Reiki Times, the official magazine of the International Association of Reiki Professionals.