Focus on Conditions: Autism Spectrum Disorder

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Autism – Scent & Support

In my practice I have worked with some clients & their relatives affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder so I decided to look at how I have used Aromatherapy to support them. The topic is a huge & complex one, always dependant upon the individual, but I have done my best to give a good overview.

The puzzle piece has been the symbol of Autism Awareness for many years, although more recently its use has been the subject of some debate

What is Autism?

‘Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, & relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them.’

(taken from National Autistic Society website)

Autism (ASD) is known as a spectrum condition: although people with Autism will share certain broad symptoms, it can affect them in different ways & to varying degrees. Generally-speaking people with Autism can find it more difficult to make sense of the situations, people & places around them. As a result for someone with ASD the world can seem a confusing place. A condition known as Sensory Overload (in which the brain attempts to cope with an overload of information) can affect many people, but has long been linked to Autism, information on Sensory Differences from The National Autistic Society discusses this at some length. As Jessica Milly comments in her article Guide To Living with Sensory Overload ‘Those living with Autism particularly struggle with excessive stimulation from their outside environment.’ & it can sometimes result in ‘meltdown’ or simply shutting down. Set patterns & routines are therefore often used as coping mechanisms & it can be particularly difficult if these are disrupted. Clients I have worked with have commented that this can cause them considerable anxiety, irritability & frustration, which in turn can lead to anger, emotional outbursts, poor sleep & insomnia.

Autism Spectrum Disorder & Sleep

‘Recent studies suggest that up to 80% of young people with ASD also have difficulty falling and/or staying asleep at night’ (Tuck).

For more information on how sleep in particular is affected by ASD please see this detailed blog by Sleep experts Tuck. Consultants on all aspects of sleep hygiene, health, and wellness in this blog Tuck have researched the effects of ASD on sleep, treatment options & sleep management advice & tips:

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Sleep Blog

Aspects of ASD

Aspects of ASD

Aromatherapy & Massage

People with ASD can find interacting with new people difficult; they may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours. These sensitivities mean that often massage may not always be the preferred method of support for the client. Aromatherapy & the sense of smell, by comparison, can be extremely helpful if used with care. The repeated use of a particular blend can be used to create a ‘scent routine’ to calm & soothe, providing a sense of comfort & familiarity, especially at times of stress.

Functions of Blends

Aromatherapy blends can make use of

  • anxiolytics – used to reduce & relieve anxiety
  • calmatives – used to induce a state of calm & relaxation
  • nervines/nerve tonics – used to therapeutically improve & calm the nerves
  • sedatives – inducing & assisting with sleep, promoting a state of calm

These can be used to calm & release states such as anger, anxiety, agitation, inflamed emotions, exhaustion, insomnia, restlessness, stress & tension.

Autism Awareness

Methods of Application

  • Aroma Nasal Inhalers: a blend can be easily carried around & used whenever required. It can also be easily smelled & also stopped if desired. The blend will last for c. 3-6 months in the inhaler depending on the oils & their tenacity.
  • Rollerball: again, this can be easily carried & applied to temple points or wrists. The blend can be absorbed through the skin as well as through the nose; however, the scent will remain until it is washed off. The blend should last approximately 6 months.
  • Diffuser: this is ideal for home use & is especially useful to help with sleep as it can be left safely on overnight.
  • Percentage: blend at 1% (1 drop of essential oil to every 5 mls of carrier oil) due to any possible sensitivity to smell. This percentage can be increased to 2.5% (5 drops of essential oil to every 5 mls of carrier oil) if well-tolerated. 

Types of Essential Oil Blends

I blend for each client as an individual; however, there are some basic blends that I can recommend for some of the more common issues associated with ASD.

  • Calming blend: to release anger/irritability/frustration more naturally; decreases likelihood of ‘explosions’ of emotions, or outbursts of temper
  • Soothing blend: to decrease anxiety & tension
  • Sleep blend: to help with getting to sleep, staying asleep & having a better quality of sleep

Both Cinnamon Leaf (Cinnamomum zeylanicum)

and Benzoin essential oils have been found effective in supporting ASD - see

and Benzoin (Styrax benzoin) essential oils have been found effective in supporting Autism Spectrum Disorder

Essential Oil Blends

Calming Blend
To release Anger
  • Melissa 1 drop, Palmarosa 4 drops, Rose (Rosa damascena) 3 drops,  Rosewood 2 drops
Soothing Blend
To decrease anxiety & tension
  • Carrot Seed 1 drop, Frankincense 4 drops, Cinnamon Leaf 2 drops, Benzoin 5 drops
  • Research: Both Cinnamon Leaf & Benzoin are highly recommended & effective with autistic children in small pilot case study in Toronto (
Botanical Drawing of the Bergamot Orange (Citrus bergamia) which can be used as a calmative to soothe anxiety & promote sleep

Botanical Drawing of the Bergamot Orange (Citrus bergamia) which can be used as a calmative to soothe anxiety & promote sleep

Sleep Blend
To assist with sleep & insomnia
  • Bergamot 5 drops, Roman Chamomile (Anthemis nobilis) 1 drop, Mandarin 4 drops, Sweet Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) 2 drops, Valerian 1 drop
  • Safety caution: Bergamot essential oil is extracted by expression – rasping the skin of the fruit. It contains a chemical compound called Furanocoumarin, which is phototoxic & should not be used above 0.4% percentage (2 drops of essential oil per 25 mls of carrier oil). However, I recommend using rectified Bergamot such as can be found at Neal’s Yard Remedies. This is an essential oil that is FCF (Furanocoumarin free) is not phototoxic & can be used at a normal percentage.
If you or someone you know has been affected by Autism Spectrum Disorder, or if you are interested or would like more information The National Autistic Society & other societies are there for support; links to websites are given below.
If you would like to speak to me about any aromatherapy consultancy, massage or advice on this article please feel free to let me know via my Contacts page

The National Autistic Society:


Ambitious About Autism:

Young Minds:

Child Autism UK: