The past decade has shown an increase in the popularity of autism specitrum disorder (ASD) symptom management using holistic techniques. Through research and experimentation, I developed an essential oil blend that helps our family manage the daily challenges of autism.
To understand how essential oils can help with autism, we need to first understand the basics of ASD, and how it affects those that are diagnosed.
What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Children who have ASDs struggle with relating to others socially. They may have trouble making eye contact, building friendships, and sharing things they enjoy with other people. Children with ASDs are often characterized by:
- delay in language skills or use of language in ways that are out of the ordinary
- communication difficulties
- rare use of imagination during play
- fixation on topics that most people consider unusual; trouble letting go of these topics
- following rigid routines that may not have any useful purpose
- preference for activities to be performed in a precise order
- high anxiety if a ritual or routine is broken; difficulties with transitions
- motor activities that that appear unusual and serve no purpose
- difficulty focusing on the task at hand
- obsessively focusing on a subject, topic, or task
- hypersensitivity to certain lights, textures, or sounds
My son was diagnosed with high-functioning ASD (formerly known as Asperger’s Syndrome). Children with this type of ASD have unique characteristics:
- speak in an overly formal way; have an impressive vocabulary
- impressive reading skills
- talk continuously about a limited number of topics
- do not have cognitive delays
- can perform age-appropriate self-help skills (e.g., bathing and dressing)
In addition, children with this type of ASD are similar to others on the autism spectrum, as they also tend to fixate on narrow interests, prefer rituals and routines, become anxious and upset when routines are disrupted, and engage in repetitive behaviors.
In the majority of ASD cases, a child’s day-to-day functioning is impacted by these symptoms.
The Role of Essential Oils for Autism
ASD diagnoses have increased every year since researchers started tracking cases in 2000. It is not uncommon for parents of autistic children to turn to holistic therapies to use with conventional medicine. Essential oil use is one popular holistic technique used to counter and manage ASD symptoms.
Unfortunately, there are few scientific studies that focus on the use of essential oils for ASDs, and most of the data that exists is based off patient experience. That doesn’t mean that essential oils don’t work. From a scientific standpoint, we simply don’t understand the mechanism for the effects, and researchers have only begun to scratch the surface. A 2012 study found that the aroma of some essential oils affects behavior through the endocrine system or the central nervous system. However, scientists need to conduct more studies to fully understand these effects.
Recommended Essential Oils for Autism
I use these 4 essential oils, as well as mindfulness techniques, to manage my son’s autistic behaviors:
- Lavender: calms and relaxes the mind and body; helps children get a good night’s sleep
- Cedarwood: helps children to focus during the waking hours
- Vetiver: soothes an overactive or stressed mind; helps to control anger, irritability, and neurotic behavior
- Frankincense: has a calming and relaxing effect; promotes higher levels of awareness
I created a topical essential oil blend that incorporates all four of these essential oils. The combination helps both my autistic son and my non-autistic daughter focus on appropriate tasks, and is appropriately named Focus. It is available in regular and children’s strengths.
How Essential Oils Have Helped My Autistic Son
I tried using these oils individually to manage my son’s autism symptoms, and had varied success. From the start, he loved lavender, and immedately associated the scent of lavender with ‘winding down’ and resting. The diffusion of lavender became part of his nightly routine.
Vetiver was a different story. My son simply does not like the smell of vetiver. Period. And if a child doesn’t like a scent, he’s not going to want to use it, So I decided to combine vetiver and a scent that he loved, lavender – and he loved it! When he uses it, there is a marked improvement in attention span. Win!
I experimented a bit further until I came up with a combination that smells good and helps my kids to focus without putting them to sleep. When I included cedarwood and frankincense, my children were more grounded and calm.