HomeJune 2024Yoga and Ayurveda for children with autism

PRASAD VELUTHANAR shares a practical approach to autism that has evolved out of his role as an Ayurvedic doctor, and research in the field of Ayurveda.


The incidence of autism in modern societies continues to increase at rates never before observed. In the US and Canada, for example, diagnoses of autistism have increased nearly fiftyfold over the last forty years. Ayurvedic medicine has been very effective in supporting autism, utilizing specialized diets, herbs, yoga, and massage. Children have improved through treatments that include food elimination, sensitivity testing, herbal supplements, yoga, and social normalization.

Nutrition, probiotics, and immune support

One factor thought to contribute to autism and autism spectrum disorders is impaired serotonin metabolism in the central nervous system. Autistic children contain significantly higher amounts of blood serotonin than normal, indicating a metabolic issue with serotonin (Hoshino et al., 2008).

Autistic children have digestive issues and food sensitivities. Certain foods, additives, and pollutants appear to have a significant impact, e.g., dairy products; nightshade vegetables like tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes, and peppers; citrus fruits; peanuts; preservatives, colors, food additives, insecticides, pesticides, and heavy metals. They may block serotonin metabolism or contribute to gastrointestinal discomfort. These issues may be reduced or avoided by eliminating some of these foods.

Digestion is supported by herbs like ginger, long pepper, black pepper, and the combination of all three, known as Trikatu. Trikatu stimulates the production of digestive enzymes and promotes the absorption of essential nutrients.

Children have improved through treatments
that include food elimination, sensitivity
testing, herbal supplements, yoga, 
and social normalization.

Autistic children are more likely to suffer from food sensitivities resulting from improper digestion, often a result of weakened digestive and immune systems. This may cause partially digested food to move into the bloodstream, causing an autoimmune response or a response similar to an allergic reaction.

Digestive health is supported by the naturally occurring probiotic flora found in raw organic foods, fermented vegetables like sauerkraut and kimchi, and high-quality multi-strain probiotic supplements. Low levels of probiotics in the intestinal tract are associated with over 170 diseases and health conditions, including leaky gut, irritable bowel syndrome, colitis, and food allergies.



A healthy digestive system contains over 100 trillion bacteria. For optimal digestive and immune system function, it is good to maintain a ratio of 9:1 probiotic to harmful bacteria. This ratio provides appropriate immune function and reduces the incidence of food sensitivity, including digestive disruption and food allergies.

A good multi-strain probiotic source should include at least three key probiotics, such as:

  • Bifidobacterium lactis for the relief of leaky gut, constipation, and inflammation.
  • Lactobacillus salivarius to decrease the level of harmful bacteria forming in the mouth, throat, and digestive tract, reducing gum sensitivity and a host of digestive disorders.
  • Saccharomyces boulardii for immune system support, an increase in average blood cell count, and a decrease in overall inflammation, even during periods of high stress.

In addition to providing digestive support, probiotics provide support for the immune system. This is important for many autistic children, who have a compromised or weakened immune system.

Supplementing the diet with herbs and natural treatments 
has been effective in promoting the regeneration of neurons. 
Several natural treatments are resulting in improved cognitive function 
and response in autistic children. 

Ayurveda focuses on proper immune function. In addition to probiotics, several herbs are recommended, e.g., Giloy (Tinospora cordifolia), Amla (Emblica officinalis), Long Pepper (Piper longum), Trikatu, and Milkvetch (Astragalus membranaceus).

Regeneration of neurons

Supplementing the diet with herbs and natural treatments has been effective in promoting the regeneration of neurons. Several natural treatments are resulting in improved cognitive function and response in autistic children. For example, the fresh leaf extract of Gotu kola leads to significant improvements in neuron function in areas of the brain associated with learning and memory.

Essential fatty acids, EFAs, are used by nearly 30% of children with autism. A systematic review (Bent, Bertoglio and Hendren, 2009) found favorable outcomes and measurable improvements in the language and learning skills of autistic children supplementing with EFAs, indicating a correlation between the improvement of neuron function and regeneration and EFA use among children with autism. Other fats found to be beneficial are medium chain triglycerides, MCTs, found in coconut oil, and grass-fed organic butter and ghee.

Several herbs, including Gotu kola (Centella asiatica), Brahmi (Bacopa monnieri), Ginkgo biloba, Velvet bean (Mucuna pruriens), and Ashwagandha have been shown to increase blood circulation to the brain, protect and repair neurons, improve mental strength, concentration and memory, and enhance concentration, intelligence, attention, and overall cognitive ability.

Ayurveda for autism-related aggression

Autism impacts areas of the brain responsible for social interaction and aggression. While not all children with autism are aggressive, a significant percentage experience frustration that expresses as self-harm, ticks, and emotional outbursts.

Herbal supplementation with Bacopa monniera leads to a significant reduction of symptoms. Researchers concluded the herb is beneficial due to its anti-anxiety, antioxidant, and neuroprotective activity.

In addition, regular massage with the oils of Gotu kola, sandalwood, lavender, and rose provide calming relief. Massage also stimulates blood flow, stimulating neuron response between the brain and various parts of the body. Research has shown that massage improves eye contact, on-task behavior, social relatedness, sleep, and reduces stereotypic behavior.

Proper sleep habits contribute significantly to reducing aggressive tendencies in autistic children. In addition to sleep routines and the removal of electronic devices, melatonin supplementation has demonstrated significant results (Whitehouse, 2013). Malow (2011) found that the behavior and sleep patterns of children with autism significantly improved after only one week of melatonin supplementation.



Other treatments for autism

Sheetali Pranayama or cooling breath helps to manage autism in children. It reduces stress, frustration, irritation, and anger while promoting inner calmness and tranquility. Sheetali also assists in promoting healthy digestion and inducing sleep, both beneficial for children with autism. The key to this deep breathing exercise is to ensure cooling breath is inhaled through the curled tongue.

“So Hum” meditation is another way for children to calm the mind and body. So Hum utilizes deep breathing and repeating the word “hum” to expand consciousness and promote relaxation and self-awareness. While So Hum meditation is most effective in 20 to 30 minute sessions, children generally start with one or two minutes, increasing the length as they can.

Children experience reduced agitation and calmness when exposed to the natural world, e.g. walking in the forest, picnicking in a field, swimming in the sea. Exposure to nature provides many benefits, including a peaceful environment; soothing, natural sensory experience; exposure to animals, plants, rocks, mountains, water, and clouds; a fun outing with family and friends, providing valuable social interaction; physical activity.

Children with autism often lack social skills. In fact, many have to be taught how to play and communicate with others. Just as some children struggle with math or reading, autistic children struggle with relationships. Practice in controlled environments and proper behavioral modeling are both powerful methods to assist these children.



Early treatment program

An early treatment program may greatly improve the outlook for young children with autism. Treatment is most successful when it is geared toward the individual child’s particular needs. A variety of therapies are available, including applied behavior analysis (ABA), medication, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech-language therapy, and Ayurvedic treatments such as thalapothichil, shirodhara, abhyangam, ksheeradhara, and internal medicines.

the practices of herbal supplementation, yoga, meditation, and a specific and controlled diet, children with autism may live more active fulfilling lives.

1 https://ayurvedicscience.com/ayurvedic-practice-for-assisting-patients-of-autism/2013/. This article is the reference for all scientific data in this article.

Illustrations by ANANYA PATEL


Prasad Veluthanar

Prasad Veluthanar

Dr. Prasad did his Ayurvedacharya medical degree in Kerala. During his 22 years of professional practice, he has worked in India, Mauritius, Malaysia, Russia, and Egypt. He was the first Indian Ayurvedic doctor to practice and propagate ... Read More