Best Essential Oils for Autism and ADHD – The Ultimate Guide

Do you know the best essential oils for autism for anxiety? What about the best essential oils for sleep?

Maybe when you hear the words essential oils, it just makes you want to head to the spa. It’s true, massage therapists use oils to help people relax and unwind. But essential oils are also effective for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Before we explain the best essential oils for ADHD and autism, let’s talk about what essential oils are and what they can do for the body.

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What exactly is an essential oil?

Have you considered investigating the best essential oils for autism or essential oils for ADHD, but aren’t quite sure what they are or where to start? An essential oil is a liquid distilled from the leaves, stems, flowers, bark, roots, and/or other parts of a plant. The term is a contraction of the original term ‘quintessential oil,’ which originated from the Aristotelian idea that matter is composed of four elements: fire, air, earth, and water. The fifth element, quintessence, is the spirit or life force.

The chemical composition and aroma of essential oils are said to provide many psychological, emotional, and physical therapeutic benefits for people. These benefits can be gained by either inhaling the scent or by applying diluted versions to the skin, as directed.

Essential oils are obtained from plants through distillation, usually by using steam. Manufacturers also use the expression, solvent extraction, absolute oil extraction, resin tapping, and cold pressing. Despite the use of the word ‘oil,’ most essential oils don’t have an oily feeling. They are usually clear too, though patchouli, orange, and lemongrass can be amber or yellow.

Some people may believe essential oils are the same as perfume or fragrance oils, but they are not. Essential oils are derived from actual plants and contain the true essence of the plant. Fragrance oils are different because they contain artificial ingredients and substances. They do not have the therapeutic benefits essential oils can provide.

The benefits of essential oils

Throughout history, essential oils have been used for medicinal purposes by people all over the world. In fact, the first records of essential oils being used come from India, Persia, and Egypt. Greece and Rome were well-known for their widespread oil trade with the countries of the Orient.

Some known benefits of these oils are their ability to:

  • Support healthy body functions and help boost the immune system.
  • Relieve discomfort and sore muscles after exercising.
  • Soothe the digestive system. Peppermint, for example, is known to support the healthy function of your stomach and digestive organs.
  • Enhance a massage.
  • Boost your ability to focus and concentrate.
  • Help you relax and reduce your stress levels. This is perhaps one of the reasons essential oils for ADHD and autism are gaining in popularity these days. Essential oils can penetrate the skin and cross the brain-blood barrier to reach the amygdala and other limbic parts of the brain that control our mood and emotions.
  • Promote wellness.
  • Provide safer and non-toxic ways to clean and purify both the home and workspaces.
  • Help you achieve healthier skin and great-looking hair.

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Can kids with ASD and ADHD benefit from essential oils?

Have you considered using essential oils for stress? You can find hundreds of online blogs and articles brimming with testimonials on the use of essential oils to help people diagnosed with autism and/or ADHD. Relaxing essential oil blends for autism have been effective in helping children manage certain symptoms, such as hyperactivity, stress, sensory overload, and anger. Essential oils may also be used to help kids who have a hard time transitioning throughout the day or at bedtime when going to sleep, which is a common concern among kids on the autism spectrum.

As previously mentioned, some essential oils can be applied directly on the skin. In the case of children with autism, the oils should be applied to the soles of the feet, the neck, the top of the head, the chest, the forehead, the abdomen, the arms, and the legs. According to parents who have found success with essential oils, it works right away, as oils can enter the bloodstream within 30 seconds. Within 30 minutes, they can be circulated through the entire body. It’s important to note some oils need to be diluted with carrier oils for safety, which will be explained later in this article.

To ensure efficiency, it is recommended that essential oils are used two to three times a day at the start. Then, the frequency should be gradually reduced to once a day. Always confirm use with a medical professional.

Is there supportive research on essential oils for autism?

What does the research community say about essential oils? While these oils have been used therapeutically for hundreds of years, there is limited published research to support their use. Clinical studies are currently underway around the world to define the healing properties of various oils.

Researchers at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center aim to answer this question. Dr. Jill Hollway, PhD, MA, is conducting a two-year study to investigate whether essential oils can help people with autism. Certain oils are soothing on their own, but Dr. Hollway is taking it a step further. She hopes to determine whether a combination of essential oils can improve relaxation and sleep. If you want to try essential oils on your child, you must educate yourself to prevent harm.

Aromatherapy for autism—the essential oil diffuser

In addition to applying essential oils to the skin, parents can use a diffuser to reap the many benefits of the oils. This aromatherapy diffuser, an air vaporizer, allows you to disperse your essential oil of choice by adding it to distilled water.

Not only does the essential oil help children relax and potentially sleep, but the diffuser also helps purify rooms and remove bacteria and viruses from the air. It can create a better living environment for the entire family. You can use it at the office to help you stay focused and reduce stress levels as well.

A word of caution, though; always make sure to store essential oils in glass containers. According to experts, they can be contaminated with toxins and other harmful substances if left in a plastic container or diffuser.

List of recommended essential oils for autism and ADHD

Frankincense Oil

Also known as olibanum, frankincense oil is taken from the resin of the Boswellia Carterri, or Boswellia Sacra tree, that grows in Somalia. It has anti-bacterial, anti-tumor, and anti-viral properties that can aid in recovery from respiratory infections, indigestion, arthritis, and joint pain. Research has shown it can help boost the immune system. For children with autism or ADHD, frankincense oil benefits include helping them stay focused. It is known to reduce stress reactions and negative emotions.

Vetiver Oil

Vetiver oil is obtained through the steam distillation of the roots of the vetiver plant (Chrysopogon zizanioides), a perennial grass native to India. It has antiseptic and antispasmodic properties that aid in the healing of wounds and scars and provides inflammation relief.

In 2001, a study conducted by Dr. Terry Friedman revealed vetiver essential oil might be beneficial in treating ADHD, one of the most frequently diagnosed disorders in young children and teenagers. The oil’s relaxing and calming properties are said to help children combat symptoms such as difficulty concentrating, being distracted, and impatience.

Sandalwood Oil

Known for its woodsy and sweet smell, sandalwood oil is derived from the mature roots of the sandalwood tree through steam distillation. The more mature the tree is, the more potent the extracted essential oil would be. One of the major sandalwood oil benefits is it helps mental clarity, especially when used with a diffuser. It has a relaxing and calming effect that can be effective for children with autism spectrum disorders. Apart from that, sandalwood has anti-inflammatory, anti-aging, and anti-viral properties.

Cedarwood Oil

Like sandalwood and vetiver essential oils, cedarwood oil is extracted by steam-distilling pieces of the cedar wood tree. Major components of this essential oil include alpha-cedrene, beta-cedrene, cedrol, widdrol, and thujopsene. It can be used for treating eczema, hair loss, dry scalp, and the inflammation of the joints and tissues. Cedarwood essential oil can also help children with autism and ADHD. It has calming and relaxing properties; its scent promotes the release of serotonin, which is then converted into melatonin in the brain. This can help children enjoy peaceful and restorative sleep.

Lavender Oil

Throughout the centuries, lavender oil has been used by different civilizations for its medicinal properties. For instance, the Romans used it for bathing and cooking. Perhaps the most famous usage of all is when Mary Magdalene used it to anoint Jesus. There are many lavender oil benefits. For starters, it has antioxidants that protect your body from illnesses. It helps heal burns and wounds, alleviates headaches, and may be useful in the treatment of diabetes. It has a calming effect on children on the autism spectrum and can help improve sleep quality, as well as reduce anxiety and emotional stress.

Mandarin Oil

Mandarin essential oil has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years. Known to be the sweetest and most calming of all citrus essential oils, it is very mild and contains many healing properties. Mandarin oil can treat acne, reduce insomnia, and manage gut issues like leaky gut syndrome. Thanks to its anti-microbial and anti-tumor properties, it may even help with the treatment of certain types of cancer. It is particularly useful for children because many kids are fond of its citrusy scent. It can help reduce anxiety levels.

Peppermint Oil

Peppermint is perhaps one of the most versatile of all essential oils in the world. It is perfect for children with autism and ADHD because it gives a cooling sensation and has a calming effect on the body. It is known to help improve mental focus. Peppermint essential oil has anti-microbial properties that help freshen bad breath and heal digestive issues. It can also help relieve headaches, clear the respiratory tract, and soothe tight and tired muscles.

Ylang Ylang Oil

Ylang ylang essential oil is from the flower petals of the large ylang-ylang tree (Cananga odorata), which is often found in tropical countries. This essential oil is quite popular for its sweet, floral scent. In fact, it is one of the key ingredients of Chanel No. 5. Ylang ylang oil has effective sedative, antiseptic, anti-spasmodic, and anti-depressant properties. It has a positive effect on human emotions and can increase the blood flow to certain parts of the body. It can relieve inflammation and help the function of cardiovascular and digestive systems.

Bergamot Oil

Bergamot essential oil is obtained from the peel of the fruit of the bergamot plant through cold compression. It is often used to reduce pain caused by headaches and muscle tension. It has anti-bacterial properties that can help heal wounds and minimize marks on the skin. Known as an excellent mood enhancer, bergamot can be an exceptional essential oil for autism. It helps create a feeling of joy, freshness, and energy by improving the circulation of blood. Bergamot oil also works as a relaxant as it has a calming effect and can reduce feelings of stress and anxiety.

Chamomile Oil

For nearly 5,000 years, chamomile has been used to treat various ailments. Whether in tea or oil form, this versatile medicinal herb is rich in disease-fighting antioxidants such as terpenoids and flavonoids. Chamomile essential oil is one of the best when it comes to fighting stress and anxiety. According to a study published on Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine and Pharmacognosy Review, inhaling chamomile promotes relaxation. Chamomile oil has potent anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing abilities and can help relieve congestion, strengthen the heart, improve digestion, and even fight cancer.

The truth about autism and essential oils for children with autism, ADHD, and ADD

First, it’s imperative to note essential oils are not a cure for autism or any other medical condition. Their use does not improve cognitive skills, communication skills, or social skills. Scientific research on autism and essential oils is limited and not conclusive at this time. Some essential oils can have negative side effects if used or applied incorrectly. Always talk to your child’s doctor first to discuss any potential health risks, especially if your child has a medical condition or is taking medication.

The dangers of essential oils if misused

It’s important to point out essential oils can be toxic if misused. Never eat or drink essential oils. According to the University of Minnesota Take Charge of Your Health and Wellbeing website, extra caution should be taken when selecting essential oils for babies and young children. Peppermint, for example, should not be used with children under six years old because menthol, a major chemical in peppermint oil, has caused serious complications including respiratory issues.

Not all oils are considered safe for people with epilepsy or other coexisting conditions. Essential oils can also be damaging to the skin, liver, and other organs if used improperly. When first trying an essential oil, always start with a patch test and watch for an allergic reaction. And keep in mind some oils are harmful to family pets, so contact your veterinarian to confirm safety before diffusing.

ALWAYS confirm safety with your doctor before using any oils.

Safety tips for using essential oils with children

  • When you use essential oils for autism spectrum disorders you must be very careful. The oils are potent. Always use as little as needed.
  • When using essential oils topically, dilute them with a safe carrier oil. Carrier oils can be fractionated coconut oil or grapeseed oil. It helps prevent the skin from getting burned when it comes into contact with certain types of essential oils. Essential oils known for being ‘hot’ and therefore require dilution are birch, cassia, cinnamon, clove, eucalyptus, ginger, lemongrass, oregano, peppermint, thyme, and wintergreen. Before using any of these oils, it’s recommended you test them first by applying them on the wrist or the bottom of the feet. Make sure to keep them away from the eyes.
  • You should consult a qualified aromatherapist or doctor before applying any type of essential oil on the skin, especially on children. Apart from applying essential oils topically, you can inhale it using a diffuser. Some research has shown aromatic use can be more effective and potentially safer.
  • When not in use, essential oils should be kept in a glass bottle with a closed lid and away from extreme temperatures, so they last longer.

What should you consider when buying essential oils for your child with autism?

Quality is a key consideration when determining the best essential oils for autism. If the oils are of low quality, you may not be able to get optimum results. Manufacturers may stamp the word “pure” on their labels, but it doesn’t ensure quality. And since essential oils are not regulated, some manufacturers may say they are ‘organic’ when they are not.

Some manufacturers use chemicals when extracting the essential oil from plants, thus making the oils neither pure nor organic. That’s why you must take a closer look at how it is extracted. This will help you determine if the manufacturers’ claims are true. Also, you should avoid anything that says ‘fragrance’ or ‘perfume.’

Essential oils considered 100 percent pure and therapeutic grade are those extracted from plants, flowers, trees, roots, and seeds using low, slow steam distillation (for non-citrus essential oils) or cold-pressed (for citrus oils). Depending on the product and company, pure essential oil extracts can be 50 to 200 times more concentrated than their source. Single oils can be blended to create another type of essential oil or to enhance their effects. But they should only be blended to ensure they are effective, safer, and easier to use.

Purity is one of the most important characteristics of essential oils. Among the things that can affect purity are poor production processes and the development of synthetic essential oil variations. If you want to get the best results possible, opt for Certified Pure Therapeutic Grade (CPTG) essential oils. These oils, like doTerra essential oils for ADHD and Young Living Essential Oils, undergo testing to ensure purity and quality.

How is essential oil testing done?

CPTG quality testing is done to ensure essential oils are made using proper methods of growing, harvesting, and distilling their plant source. It’s done through a series of processes that include:

1. Validation of Quality

Each essential oil is reviewed for chemical composition after plant selection, harvesting, and distillation. It is then tested two more times to confirm it remained free of contaminants and unexpected alterations during production.

2. Organoleptic Testing

This testing involves the use of the human senses to determine the quality and acceptability of the product.

3. Microbial Testing

Under microbial testing, a batch of essential oils is analyzed and tested for the presence of micro-organisms like fungi, bacteria, viruses, and mold that can be detrimental to your health. Samples are taken before and after the essential oils are packed to ensure they haven’t been contaminated during the packaging process.

4. Gas Chromatography and Mass Spectrometry Analysis (GC/MS)

In this process, essential oils are vaporized and passed through a long column to separate them into individual components. This is to determine the exact chemical composition of a particular essential oil.

5. Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy (FTIR)

FTIR is designed to ensure each batch of essential oil is potent and consistent. As part of this test, structural components of essential oil compounds are analyzed by passing them through infrared light.

6. Heavy-Metal Testing

Heavy-metal testing determines the heavy metal content in the essential oil. Ideally, pure essential oils do not contain heavy metals when distilled.

Are essential oils right for my family?

Essential oils that contain chemicals or artificial ingredients may not be as potent and effective as pure and organic essential oils. They may cause more problems than they solve, so be vigilant and stay informed.

The health benefits of essential oils are many. But as with anything that can affect your health and well-being, educate yourself. Research and seek expert advice to avoid allergies and other harmful side effects. Keep in mind that while quality testing is done by several companies, it is not standardized.

Autism Parenting Magazine tries to deliver honest, unbiased reviews, resources, and advice, but please note that due to the variety of capabilities of people on the spectrum, information cannot be guaranteed by the magazine or its writers. Medical content, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images, and other material contained within is never intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of a physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read within.

Amy KD Tobik

Amy KD Tobik, Editor-in-Chief of Autism Parenting Magazine, has more than 30 years of experience as a published writer and editor. A graduate of Sweet Briar College in Virginia, Amy’s background includes magazine, newspaper, and book publishing. As a special needs advocate and editor, she coordinates with more than 300 doctors, autism specialists, and researchers to ensure people diagnosed with autism receive the services and supports they need for life. She has two adult children and lives in the Carolinas with her husband.

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