Role of the Parasympathetic System
The sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are two branches of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). When the ANS is functioning appropriately, we have the capacity to move effortlessly from one branch to another in response to our environment and internal stress.
When the body is responding to either external or internal stress, it is in a sympathetic state. In this state, the pupils dilate, heartbeat is increased, and glucose is released in preparation to fight or flee (moro reflex). In this state, digestion is stopped, the body is unable to detoxify, and the immune system is depressed.
The parasympathetic system, stimulated by the vagus nerve (cranial nerve X), which is connected to the heart, lungs, and all other visceral organs, is in control of detoxification, the immune system and digestion. It is also the foundation of social engagement. These are common areas of concern among our ASD children, who are in a constant sympathetic and adrenal state. Therefore, when a child has low vagal tone, these and other systems are highly compromised, resulting in an overactive mid-brain and chronic sympathetic state. A child in this state may:
Increasing Vagal Tone
There are many ways to increase vagal tone. The more often the nerve is stimulated, the stronger and more efficient it will become. So over time, an individual will be able to shift back from the sympathetic state more easily.
- activate the brainstem by integrating primitive reflexes (especially moro and Fear Paralysis), and working on sensory motor skills
- cold - finish off a shower with some cold water
- stimulating the gag reflex and gargling
- spinning (our ASD kids do this naturally to try to stimulate the vagus nerve)
- swaddling (helps to integrate moro and feels sense of safety)
- prosody (intonation of voice by mothers with their infants)
- humming / singing
- deep touch pressure, massage
- aerobic activity
- yoga/ meditation / tai chi
- Showing Gratitude
- stimulating facial muscles & specific cranial nerves
- accupuncture / auricular therapy
- chewing gum
- Sucking (activates nucleus ambiguus for self-soothing)
- suppplementation: phosphotidylserine, ashwaghanda, EPA, DHA, zinc, 5HTP, rhodiola, probiotics, green tea, caffeine