During my long association with autism many people have asked me about a variety of alternative interventions. Bernard Rimland was fond of some of them and compiled voluminous information about the possible benefits of vitamins and minerals. I think that as long as an intervention doesn’t cause any harm or is backed by a wisp of scientific verbiage some parents are desperate enough to try them. This has left the autism community open to overtures by profiteers espousing the benefits of special types of water, camel’s milk, and even Clorox as possible cures. I have written about many of these interventions and how to recognize quack cures in previous blogs. At present, I would like to approach one such intervention that has been repeatedly brought to my attention: the healing power of crystals. This New Age belief is based on the proposition that the natural state of the human being requires a balance and that illness is a disruption of that balance.
The term crystal refers to a natural occurring matter whose molecules are arranged in repeating patterns. These are solid materials of inorganic nature, meaning, that they are not derived from a living organism. The physical properties of these materials, as well as their beauty (gemstones), has intrigued humans for millennia.
Crystal healing has funneled an amalgam of different quack beliefs into one field. The basic pretense is that crystals vibrate, and their energy can somehow be entrained by the humans who wear them. They claim that specific crystalline structures, colors, and impurities within the crystals confer specific benefits to those using them. In the case of autism, crystal healers claim their interventions may improve some of the core symptoms of the disorder (e.g., communication problems) and some of the comorbidities (e.g., anxiety, depression). Since the only thing you need to attain such benefits is to carry the crystal in your pocket or to meditate while holding the same in your hand some people feel tempted to try such an intervention.
Crystal healers claim that rough stone, as found in nature, hold the power of the Earth that created them. This power is somehow defiled by cutting them into facets, polishing, tumbling or carving them. For the same reason, synthetic stones, although of value, are claimed to be less effective than natural ones. Sometimes pairing different crystals or arranging them in specific patterns provides for synergism, e.g., combining amethyst with labradorite increases each other properties in order to provide a restful sleep.
Overall, I have found that the claims made by crystal healers are groundless and nonsensical. Like other quack therapies, they tend to hide themselves behind scientific jargon. Crystal healers are fond of explanations that use the terms vibrational energy, resonance and entrainment. They borrow from other fields, especially that of electromagnetic radiation and its sensitivity. However, there is no proof as to their effects, beyond those that may be provided by placebo.
I have been a mineral collector for years and professionally have done a good amount of research in regards to brainwave entrainment (see cover page of my blog for a number of books that I have authored on the subject). I find fluff books about crystal healing irresponsible and claims about possible benefits to core symptoms of autism as blatantly erroneous. However, I do see how people enjoy mineral collecting. Each one of my specimens brings back a memory. I like the proprioceptive experience of holding them in my hand and marvel at their form and color. In regards to autism, I can see how different types of minerals (and their textures) could be of some use in desensitizing patients.
A large piece of Schorl (black tourmaline) from my collection. The mineral, as well as all other black specimens, are presumed to repel negative energy.
Clear quartz is the workhorse of crystal healers. It presumably has beneficial effects for both physical and mental well being. According to crystal healers this clear quartz offers synergism with any other mineral it is paired with. I collected this specimen because it satisfied me. The moment I saw it, I knew its name: Fortress of Solitude. The name is derived from my childhood memories of Superman comic books.
Citrine is a quartz mineral with a glass-like luster. Most of the citrine slabs that are presently bought commercial derive from amethyst (a much more common form of quartz). When an amethyst is heat treated it is converted to citrine. Heat treatment results in a deeper yellowish color sometimes with an orange tint, like in the specimen shown (note: for comparison purposes a polished piece of natural citrine lies beneath the heat treated slab). Despite their chemical and physical similarities New Age healers claim markedly different abilities for these crystals (citrine promoting self-esteem and amethyst improving sleeping problems).
Working on my electronics work bench trying to measure the frequency of a quartz crystal oscillator (note: reading 23.993 megahertz or 23,993,000 cycles per second). The high frequencies of the crystal would escape detection by physiological means. Brainwave entrainment, as an example, using auditory or visual means, is attained at extremely low frequencies (e.g., 1-40 Hz).