What is cranial osteopathy?

Cranial osteopathy is a specialist field of osteopathy. The therapy involves very gently manipulating areas of the head to reduce tightness and strain, and to help with problems in the nervous system. You might also hear it called ‘craniosacral therapy’.

Who is cranial osteopathy for?

Although cranial osteopathy can be used on anybody, it’s usually done on babies.

What is it used for?

It’s claimed that cranial osteopathy can reduce characteristics of autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Supporters of the therapy say that the benefits range from small reductions in hyperactive behaviour to major improvements in communication.

Where does cranial osteopathy come from?

Cranial osteopathy was first developed in the early 1900s in the United States, but it’s not clear when cranial osteopathy was first used as a potential treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

What is the idea behind cranial osteopathy?

The fluid that surrounds our brain and spine is called cerebrospinal fluid. Supporters of cranial osteopathy believe that this fluid pulses in a rhythm. If bones in the head move or the joints between the bones become restricted, this affects how well the fluid can circulate. It also creates pressure in the brain. Supporters believe that this might happen because of problems during pregnancy, birth or other traumas. They say that this pressure affects the function of the nervous system as well as overall development and also causes other problems, including learning disabilities and developmental disabilities like autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Supporters claim that through gentle manipulation of the bones in the head, cranial osteopathy can restore the rhythm of the cerebrospinal fluid and help its circulation. For people with ASD, the claim is that this technique addresses the neurological dysfunction that causes ASD.

What does cranial osteopathy involve?

Typically, cranial osteopathy involves 30-60 minute consultations (over weeks or months) during which the practitioner uses gentle touch to manipulate the muscles and bones around the head.

Cost considerations

The cost of this therapy depends on how many sessions a child has with an osteopath. Medicare doesn’t fund this therapy. Some private health care funds will cover a portion of the consultation fee. This can be claimed immediately if the provider has HICAPS.

Does cranial osteopathy work?

There’s little or no evidence that cranial osteopathy is an effective treatment for autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Who practises cranial osteopathy?

Osteopaths with appropriate training can do cranial osteopathy.

Parent education, training, support and involvement

If your child is having cranial osteopathy, your only involvement is taking your child to sessions.

Where can you find a practitioner?

You can find osteopaths by going to Osteopathy Australia – Find your local osteopath. You’ll need to ask whether your chosen practitioner specialises in cranial osteopathy.

If you’re interested in cranial osteopathy, it’s a good idea to talk about it with your GP or one of the other professionals working with your child. You could also talk with your NDIA planner, NDIS early childhood partner or NDIS local area coordination partner, if you have one.

There are many treatments for autism spectrum disorder (ASD). They range from those based on behaviour and development to those based on medicine or alternative therapy. Our article on types of interventions for children with ASD takes you through the main treatments, so you can better understand your child’s options.