Parents of autistic children keep looking for potential treatments and find, with each passing year, more choices than ever. The abundance of choices represents the best of times and the worst of times. Treatments based on education, managing comorbidities, social and vocational accommodations can significantly increase the quality of life of autistic individuals. These treatments are usually individualized, labor intensive, and often provided through the lifetime of the individual. Why bother? There are many promoted treatments that require little effort, few interventions, apply to all members within the spectrum, and they promise you the moon and the sky. Drawbacks you may ask? They do not work, cost money, and detract you from pursuing legitimate therapies.
It is unfortunate that many parents nowadays base their therapeutic decisions on a sales pitch from a self-professed expert who promises them the long-waited miracle cure. One area of special focus is those charlatans who purposely enhance our own beliefs by making outlandish attributions seem natural. Take for example humanity’s curiosity about the vitality of life. What force powers our circulation and cellular metabolism? A long and technical answer to this question would entail describing a chain of reactions occurring in the mitochondria and how they use oxygen and nutrients to release energy. Alternatively, many cultures have invoked the presence of an invisible force that keeps us alive; the Chinese call it chi, the Hindus call it prana, and the ancient Greeks called it pneuma or psyche. The truth is painful; requires knowledge and facing the hard facts of reality. Believing a lie is an effortless proposition that only requires acceptance by faith.
Reiki is a Japanese technique that presumably transfers or equilibrates life’s forces through the “laying on hands”. The word Reiki is derived from “rei” itself meaning a higher power (God) and “ki” a life force or energy. It is not a religion, but nevertheless, Reiki asks you to accept as faith the existence of a ubiquitous vital energy that can be transferred among individuals and has healing powers. Reiki is sometimes combined with other healing techniques like crystals, singing bowls (or tuning forks), and relaxing music. Scientific studies regarding the technique have been few, mostly anecdotal and employing limited numbers of patients. Controls, if any, are relegated to other imagery/mindfulness protocols rather than laboratory outcome measures. For those who believe, it will promote relaxation and a reduction of stress.
In Reiki, it is deemed of importance to establish an emotional connection with the practitioner who then guides you in ways to be kinder to yourself. Each session in this regard is an exercise in self-compassion. Think of Reiki in analogy to a young child who falls and bruises his knee. He goes crying to his mom who in turn kisses the bruised knee and tells him that everything will be fine. The child still has the bruise, but feels better and is no longer upset.
Reiki is now being promoted as a therapeutic intervention in autism. Core symptoms of autism will not change with Reiki (think of the bruised knee in the previous paragraph) but, for some, it may reduce stress/anxiety while promoting healthier sleeping habits. Similar benefits are also claimed for the caregivers of autistic individuals. A proper mindset is essential for positive results. I have to believe that if the practitioner can get an autistic child to lie down and relax for the 30-minute session, the intervention would be a success. In my own experience this would be a rare feat.
I have spent a good amount of time reading books and watching videos about Reki. Most of my time has been wasted. Authors appear lacking in the basics of a scientific education and verbalize primarily wishful thinking. There is no significant energy transfer by the laying on hands. The human body does carry a voltage and acts as an antenna for electromagnetic radiation. This voltage can be amplified when we touch a power source, such as a laptop, and it can be diminished by grounding. We can visualize this phenomena when we touch an insulated medium connected to a high voltage source (Kirlian photography or place your hand against a plasma bowl). Still, the levels are low enough that they do not seem to provide changes in our physiology. Overall, I am not convinced that Reiki carries anything more than a placebo effect and the belief bias of the patient in regards to the treatment itself.