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Natural Awakenings South Central Pennsylvania

Local Practitioners Address Autism Naturally

Jul 31, 2017 01:20AM ● By Erin Lehn Floresca

Rachel Benbow with client

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that approximately 1 in 68 American children fall somewhere on the autism spectrum. While researchers attest there is no single cause of autism, certain factors increase the risk of a child developing autism, including the child’s sex (boys are four times more likely than girls to have autism), a family history of autism, other medical conditions and children born to older parents. Because autism is a developmental disability, children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often have problems with social, emotional and communication skills.  

Local practitioners Rachel Benbow, LMT, MLIS, owner of The Roots of Health, in Harrisburg, and Katarzyna (Dr. Kathy) Ferraro, M.D., founder of the Center for Holistic Medicine, in Carlisle, are highly familiar with ASD. Both parents of autistic children, these practitioners are passionately devoted to assisting those that fall on the autism spectrum while helping parents explore options available to their autistic child.

“When a child receives an autism diagnosis, parents often become overwhelmed,” says Ferraro. “But just because you have a diagnosis doesn’t mean you are going to end up with a severely disabled child. The diagnosis is just a starting place for this healing journey. So many of these kids grow up to become good-standing members of the community—there are even interesting careers catered specifically to people with their abilities.”

Benbow, a CranioSacral Therapist, agrees wholeheartedly. “While it can be a challenging journey, I like to remind parents that nobody’s abilities or disabilities are set in stone. Autistic people are very intelligent and often have exceptional talents and strengths; it’s just that their bodies betray them, making it hard for them to properly react to and interact with the rest of the world. However, even in the most extreme cases, positive changes can occur. What’s most encouraging is that we live in a neuroplastic continuum, where our brains can continually create new neural pathways,” she explains.    

To help her autistic patients, Ferraro uses a multifaceted functional medicine approach that includes nutritional intervention, supplementation, biomedical testing, scalp acupuncture, micronutrient therapy and more. “We sort out underlying causes such as environmental or food sensitivities. Once those root causes are discovered and addressed, we can often begin to see progress,” she says.

Using CranioSacral Therapy, Benbow releases restrictions in the central nervous system and throughout the rest of the body, thus reducing overall stress and tension in her autistic clients. “Imagine that you have a bad headache or you don’t feel well, and everybody is constantly bombarding you. Your whole body would be tense and you’d have a hard time interacting with those around you,” she shares.  “That’s sort of what it’s like for autistic people all the time. Once the cause of the tension goes away, amazing changes may happen, enabling them to interrelate more with the world around them.”

While there is very little visually observable movement going on during a CranioSacral Therapy session, Benbow affirms that this subtle modality is powerful and especially suited for those with touch sensitivities. “In many autistic children, there are tight intracranial membranes, the pain of which some believe creates repetitive self-abuse behaviors as the child tries to relieve that uncomfortable tension. CranioSacral Therapy helps to release this tension.”

Soothing sensitive nervous systems is also a core goal at the Center for Holistic Medicine. One way this is accomplished is through modifications in a child’s diet. “We often see great improvement just by addressing food sensitivities and taking out gluten and dairy from the diet while focusing on organic, unprocessed foods,” says Ferraro. After dietary changes, she usually recommends certain core supplements, a reduction in electronic exposure and one or more therapies tailored to each child’s needs. “There is no one-size-fits-all, as we take an individualized approach for everyone,” she notes. 

Both practitioners love nothing more than seeing their ASD patients begin having more meaningful conversations with friends and engaging more with their families. They also share the same sentiments about these children’s parents. “The parents of autistic children are amazing. The amount of support they provide these kids is truly remarkable. I often see the most progress from families with very involved and supportive parents,” says Ferraro.

Benbow, who agrees that focused parental involvement is instrumental in healing, also frequently reminds parents to treat themselves with the same amount of care and attention. “It’s a lot of time, money and effort to have a special needs kid, and it’s crucial for caregivers to devote time to self-care so they can continue providing without burnout or compromising their own health. As with oxygen masks on an airplane, a caregiver’s health and well-being is equally, if not more, important as those they care for.”

The Roots of Health is located at 3540 N. Progress Ave., Ste. 106, in Harrisburg. For more information, call 717-831-6936 or visit The Center for Holistic Medicine is located at 9 Brookwood Ave., in Carlisle. For more information, call 717-243-0616 or visit

Erin Lehn Floresca is a frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

October 2019