Acupuncture Continuing Education

Acupuncture and Herbs Benefit Autistic Children


Acupuncture combined with herbal medicine benefits children with autism. Hebei Province researchers conducted a clinical trial and determined that acupuncture and herbal medicine treatments produce significant clinical benefits. The researches conclude that acupuncture improves communication, language, physical movement, and sensory perception. In addition, the children in the study demonstrated improvements in self-care. Based on the data, the researchers conclude that the addition of acupuncture and herbal medicine to a standard rehabilitation protocol improves positive patient outcomes. 

The Hebei Province research was conducted through two local medical centers. A total of 92 children with autism were randomly assigned to receive either standard rehabilitation (n=46) or treatment with acupuncture and herbs (n=46). Ages in the rehabilitation group prior to the investigation ranged between 2–10 years, with a mean age of 5.58. Ages in the acupuncture group ranged between 3–14 years, with a mean age of 5.72.

The two groups were statistically similar in terms of gender and severity of symptoms prior to implementing the prescribed treatment regimens in the clinical investigation. Patients in the acupuncture and herbs group received functional training but the standard rehabilitation group did not receive acupuncture and herbal medicine treatment.

Inclusion criteria for the study were a biomedical diagnosis of autism combined with any of the following Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) diagnoses: phlegm misting the heart orifice, heart and spleen deficiency, kidney jing-essence deficiency, heart and liver fire blazing. All patients were required to have an informed consent signed by a parent or guardian. Exclusion criteria were the following: schizophrenia, exceptional language disability, Rett syndrome, physical dysfunction of the sensory organs.


Standard Rehabilitation
Patients in the rehabilitation group received therapy with a rehabilitation doctor specialist in the areas of behavior, communication, and mental function. Modern techniques such as speech and language training, behavioural correction, cognitive therapy, and sensory therapy were employed. Treatment was given for a total of six months.


Acupuncture and Herbs
Acupuncture and herbs were prescribed on an individual basis according to each patient’s TCM syndrome differentiation. Individual diagnostic criteria were semi-protocolized to phlegm misting the heart orifice, heart and spleen deficiency, kidney jing-essence deficiency, or heart and liver fire blazing upwards. The treatment programs for each diagnostic category are listed below.


Phlegm Misting The Heart Orifice
Primary symptoms include: mental confusion, talking to oneself, dribbling saliva, abundant mucus, dull complexion, enlarged tongue with a sticky, white coating and a slippery pulse. These patients were prescribed Di Tan Tang formula consisting of the following herbs: Fa Ban Xia 5g, Hua Ju Hong 5g, Fu Ling 5g, Da Huang 5g, Dan Nan Xing 5g, Zhi Shi 5g, Sheng Di Huang 5g, Gui Zhi 3g, Niu Xi 3g, Zhu Ru 3g. The following acupuncture points were preselected for patients in this diagnostic category: Pishu (BL20), Neiguan (PC6), Fenglong (ST40).


Heart and Spleen Deficiency
Primary symptoms included the following: insomnia, poor appetite, abdominal distension, loose stools, fatigue, deep red tongue with a thick, sticky coating and a tight, slippery pulse. These patients were prescribed Gui Pi Yang Xin Tang formula consisting of the following herbs: Dang Shen 8g, Huang Qi 5g, Dang Gui 5g, Long Yan Rou 5g, Bai Zhu 3g, Mu Xiang 3g, Chen Pi 3g, Fu Shen 5g, Suan Zao Ren 5g, Yuan Zhi 5g. The following acupoints were preselected and applied: Xinshu (BL15), Sanyinjiao (SP6).


Kidney Jing-Essence Deficiency
Primary symptoms included weakness, fatigue, poor appetite, cold extremities, aversion to cold, and a pale tongue with a thin, white coating and a deep, fine pulse. Patients in this group were prescribed Liu Wei Di Huang Tang formula consisting of Shu Di Huang 5g, Shan Zhu Rou 5g, Shan Yao 5g, Mu Dan Pi 5g, Ze Xie 5g, and Fu Ling 5g. The following acupoints were administered: Taixi (KD3), Yongquan (KD1), Shenshu (BL23).


Heart and Liver Fire Blazing
Primary symptoms included agitation, inattention, and hyperactivity. Patients had a red tongue or a tongue with a red tip and sides and a thin, yellow coating and a tight or rapid pulse. These patients received An Shen Ding Zhi Tang formula consisting of Dang Shen 5g, Fu Ling 8g, Fu Shen 5g, Yuan Zhi 5g, Shi Chang Pu 5g, Long Chi 8g, Dang Gui 5g, Bai Shao 8g, and Bai Zhu 5g. The following acupoints were selected: Xinshu (BL15), Ganshu (BL18), Fengchi (GB20).


Jin’s Three Needle Technique
In addition to acupuncture and herbs according to TCM syndromes, all participants were a treated with Jin’s three needle acupuncture technique. The acupoint combinations included the following:

  • Sishenzhen (four spirit points): located 1.5 cun to the left, right, anterior, and posterior of Baihui (GV20)
  • Niesanzhen (three points at the temple): the first point is located 1.5 cun superior to the apex of the ear and the second and third points are located 1 cun to either side of this point at the same level
  • Zhisanzhen (three points for the intellect): Shenting (GV24), bilateral Benshen (GB13)
  • Shouzhizhen (hand intellect points): Neiguan (PC6), Shenmen (HT7), Laogong (PC8)
  • Shesanzhen (three points at the tongue): the first point is Shanglianquan (MHN21) and the second and third points are located 1 cun to either side of Lianquan (CV23)

Additional Jin three needle combinations were added according to clinical symptom presentations. For patients with a comparatively long duration of disease, Zuzhizhen (foot intellect points) were added. The first point is Yongquan (KD1) and the second point is midway between the toe crease and the heel, level with the base of the second and third toes. The third point in the Zuzhizhen combination is 1 cun medial to the second point at the same level.

For patients with a comparatively long duration of disease that are 6 years of age or older and with moderate symptom severity, the following acupuncture point combination was applied: Dingshenzhen (points to stabilize the spirit). This combination is comprised of Yin Tang (MHN3) and bilateral Yangbai (GB14). For patients with language and communication impairment, the following acupoints were applied: Yamen (GV15), Lianquan (CV23).

Overall, scalp acupuncture was applied with needles inserted transverse-obliquely, 1–1.5mm. Needles were angled from bottom to top and front to back, with the tip penetrating the speech areas 1, 2, and 3. Upon insertion, the needles were rotated 10 times to elicit an appropriate deqi sensation. Needles were then retained for two hours, during which they were manipulated an additional three times. Patients were able to participate in normal functional training while the needles were retained.

The four spirit points were needled transverse obliquely to a depth of 15–20mm with the needle tip angled laterally, away from Baihui. The hand intellect points were needled perpendicularly to a depth of 15–20mm and were retained for 30 minutes. During this time, the needles were manipulated twice, using a balanced reinforcing-reducing technique. Treatment with both acupuncture and herbs was administered once each day, five times per week. Each course of treatment lasted three months and a total of two courses were provided.


Treatment Outcomes
Treatment outcomes were measured using the Autism Behavior Checklist (ABC) and the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS). The ABC scale rates a total of 57 items in the areas of self-care, communication, language, physical movement, and sensory function. The CARS scale rates a total of 15 items on a scale of 1–4, with 1 indicating normal behaviour for the child’s age and 4 indicating severely abnormal behaviour.

Both groups showed significant improvements in ABC scores after six months of treatment (p<0.05), with the acupuncture and herbs group showing significantly greater improvements compared with the rehabilitation monotherapy group (p<0.05). The CARS scores for both groups were also significantly lower at the 3 and 6 month data points. The scores in the acupuncture and herbs group were significantly lower than those of rehabilitation group (p<0.05). The total effective rate was 86.96% in the acupuncture and herbs group compared with 65.22% in the rehabilitation monotherapy group.

The researchers conclude that acupuncture and herbal medicine are both safe and effective for the treatment of children with autism. Clinical improvements are significant and acupuncture and herbal medicine are appropriate treatment options for inclusion in standard medical protocols. Learn more by contacting local licensed acupuncturists.


Zhou Xiao-qiang, Wang Tao, Sun Ling, Chen Zhi-hong, Geng Rong-na, Yan Chun-ming (2018) “Clinical Study on Acupuncture Combined with Medicine in Children with Autism” Chinese Journal of Information on TCM, 25 (8), pp 30-33.


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