A study in 2012 by DA Rossignol et al proved that children with autism who received hyperbaric treatment for 40 hourly sessions showed significant improvements in overall function, receptive language, social interaction, eye contact, and sensory/cognitive awareness compared to children who received just pressurized room air. When a person concentrates on a task or to generate speech, the brain is doing more work and there is an increase in blood flow to the brain, specifically the parietal frontal cortex, which is located behind the forehead.
This increase in blood flow supplies the brain with more oxygen and glucose, giving the cells their needed energy to perform their task. In autistic children the opposite happens, they have diminished blood flow to begin with, and when their brain is attempting to perform a task their blood flow does not increase and does not supply the brain with the necessary oxygen and glucose the cells need.
The theory behind using HBOT on children with autism is that the increase in oxygen will reduce excess swelling of brain tissue, increase cerebral blood flow and stimulate cerebral tissue. There are correlations linking it to being able to remove toxins, reduce inflammation allowing oxygen deprived areas to have a return of blood flow, builds new capillaries in the brain and reduces the inflammation in the gut. The belief is that all of these results will allow the brain to do its job better, resulting in a child who is more “present” in regards to social interaction and communication.
Studies and parents have reported that autistic children showed improvement in sleep, children becoming calmer and more affectionate, improved focus and attention, improved bowel function, improved cognitive and linguistic skills, being less sensitive to noise and appearing more ‘present’ and ‘connected’ to family members. There are some unknowns however, such as any long-term affects, whether the treatments are long-lasting or not and whether certain autistic sufferers respond better than others.
HBOT is definitely not a cure but it appears to be able to help some autistic children improve their behaviour, cognitive functions and quality of life and bring them a step closer towards ‘normal’.
References: http://freshstarthyperbaric.com/adhd.php and http://oxfordhbot.com/hbot-for-autism/