Posted by Susan Bennett, Autism Coach

Insufficient development of or damage to the vagus nerve, the longest nerve in the body, originating in the brainstem, may explain many common symptoms of autism, and also those of chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia.

What do so many mothers of children with autism have conditions like chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia? Impairment of function of the vagus nerve occurs in both conditions. Chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia may be adult-onset autism.(1)

Why is there a higher incidence of autism in individuals with diabetes?  The vagus nerve plays a part in the regulation of the secretion of insulin.

Why is there a higher incidence of autism in individuals with celiac?  Digestion is impaired and slowed if the vagus nerve is not signalling optimally.  Maldigestion, combined with modern genetically modified, wheat which has a form of gliandin that is highly inflammatory, is more likely to be maldigested and cause damage to the intestinal lining.

Why so are there many intestinal infections in individuals with autism?  The vagus nerve stimulates both digestion and the functioning of the immune system.  Maldigested food becomes a breeding ground yeast to overgrow and for other pathogens such as Clostridia and Klebsiella to feed upon.

What can impair the function of the vagus nerve? It turns out a chronic Human Herpesvirus 6 (HHV-6) virus infection in the nerve itself may be at the root for many people with autism, chronic fatigue and fibromyalgia. A chronic infection of the vagus nerve may result resulting a chronic state impaired mitochondrial function, suppressed immune system function, digestive issues, and sensory distortion. Other viruses may also be causes of vagus nerve infection such as Epstein-Barr and the Cytomegalo virus.  Also,mercury poisoning can block the action of acetylcholine. which the vagus nerve uses to transmit signals to other parts of the body.

Why do individuals with autism spin? Because it stimulates the vagus nerve which helps regulate balance.  Spinning can actually be therapeutic and help someone with autism to become better oriented.  Spinning can help to mature the balance system which is the master integrator for all other senses in the body.

Why do individuals with autism flap their hands?  This activity also stimulates and regulate the vagus nerve. The sensory feedback we receive from our extremities helps to orient us in space and tells us where our body ends and the rest of the world begins.  In autism, individuals who do not receive enough sensory feedback from their extremities (proprioceptive feedback) have difficulty with their sense of identity and how they are oriented in space.  This is also a reason why a machine like Temple Grandin’s squeeze machine (where the body has gentle pressure applied around it) helps with calming and orientation – it stimulates and regulates the vagus nerve, calms us down and orients us.  It’s the reason mothers intuitively tightly swaddle (wrap) their infants in blankets – the vagus nerve system is not mature, and the gentle pressure helps to stimulate the vagus nerve, which triggers the release  of calming neurotransmitters, calming the child.

Why do individuals with autism have difficulty understanding language and language delays? Listening is actually a “motor” act and involves tensing muscles in the middle ear. The middle ear muscles are regulated by the facial nerve, a nerve that also regulates eyelid lifting. When you are interested in what someone is saying, you lift your eyelids and simultaneously your middle ear muscles tense. Now you are prepared to hear their voice, even in noisy environments. In individuals within the autism spectrum, the muscle tone in the ear is not sufficient to block out background noises, making it both hard to hear and look at someone. Also recent research indicates that there is a time lag in auditory processing in some individuals with autism so the sounds come in after the the visual images come in and they person speaking appears to be like someone in an out of sync or foreign movie with subtitles where the words don’t match what you visually see.

Why do individuals with autism have difficulty making eye contact? The neural system controlling spontaneous eye gaze is turned off. This newer, social engagement system can only be expressed when the nervous system detects the environment as safe. You can’t make eye contact in flight or fight mode.

Why do half of autistic individuals improve in level of functioning when they have a fever? Because the mechanism that spikes a fever switches on metabolic systems in the body normally switched on by a fully functional vagus nerve.

Why is the immune system frequently depressed in individuals with autism and they are subject to many infections? Because the vagus nerve stimulates the immune system to fight off infections.

Why do individuals with autism often have high levels of toxins and heavy metals? The vagus nerve stimulates the body to detoxify.

Why is there a deficiency in B12 in most individuals within the autism spectrum? Because the vagus nerve stimulates the production of intrinsic factor in the small intestine, which is needed for the body to make B12.

Why do some autistic individuals speak with unusual modulation of the voice and enunciation? Because the vagus helps to modulate the larynx and muscles used for speech.

Why do individuals on the spectrum often lack animation in their faces, especially the level of the nose and above? The vagus nerve triggers animation in the facial muscles.