Complementary & Alternative Therapy for Autism

Autism spectrum disorder is a common neurological condition. Around 1 in every 150 children in America are diagnosed with it annually. Mainstream treatment focuses on behavioral treatment, activities to enhance social and communication skills, and physical or occupational therapy. However, many parents are seeking complementary and alternative treatments as well – with 50-75% of ASD kids receiving some form of complementary or alternative therapy.

What is Complementary and Alternative Medicine?

Complementary and alternative medicine (or “CAM”) can take many forms. A specialized diet, such as a gluten-free, casein-free diet is a common treatment for autism. Supplements, including vitamins, minerals, and herbs are also popular. In general, CAM therapies fall into four general groups: 1) mind-body medicine, 2) body-based medicine, 3) biological practices, and 4) energy medicine.

Mind-Body Medicine

Yoga. Yoga is becoming a popular treatment for autistic children to help not only with motor skills and coordination, but to foster a sense of calm and well-being. No studies have been done on yoga’s effects on ASD specifically, but one study on ADHD kids found that it did, in fact, have a calming effect.

Music Therapy. Parents can also use music to help their autistic children with social and communication skills. While more research needs to be done, one small study did find that music therapy had a positive effect on oral and gestural communication in ASD participants.

Biologically-Based Practices

The most popular biologically-based practice for autism is the use of herbs and supplements. However, there are other options to choose from, including:

Hyperbaric Oxygen Treatment. This therapy exposes children to a special, oxygen-rich environment which increases oxygen levels and blood flow to the brain. It has been used to aid wound healing and for other neurological conditions. In one study, when ASD kids received a course of 40 hyperbaric treatments, scientists found a decrease in inflammation and in parent-reported stereotypic behaviors.

Chelation. Some researchers theorize that autism can be caused or triggered by a buildup of heavy metals in the system. Chelation is the process of administering a special substance which binds to these heavy metals and eliminates them from the body. However, parents should be warned that there are no studies to prove the efficacy of this expensive treatment. Additionally, some research shows that the chemicals used for oral chelation may be linked to brain damage.

Immunotherapy. Immunity may also play an important role in autism. To enhance immunity, at least three studies have administered Immunoglobulin G (IgG) IV to children with ASD. However, results have been inconsistent and inconclusive regarding the effectiveness of this treatment.

Body-Based Practices

Chiropractic Treatment/Craniosacral Massage. Manipulation and massage of the neck and spine is another treatment many parents of ASD children are exploring. While there is some anecdotal evidence to show that this can help improve behaviors, there are no clinical studies on it to date.

Massage Therapy. Massage therapy is becoming increasingly popular for ASD. Parents report improvement in sensory issues in their children with continued therapy, and one study found improvements in sensory impairment and better social interaction in ASD children.

Auditory Integration. In auditory integration activities, children wear special headphones and listen to voices, music, and other sounds to help improve their listening/auditory processing skills. Research on this has been inconclusive, however, and there is a need for further studies to assess how effective it is.

Energy Medicine

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS). In this therapy, an electromagnetic coil is placed on the scalp and a low electrical current and magnetic pulses are sent through to stimulate the brain. It’s currently being used in clinical trials to treat depression and chronic pain but no studies on ASD are currently available.

When surveyed about their use of CAM therapies, parents give the following reasons (in order of importance):

  • Treatment for ASD’s primary symptoms
  • Increased attention/awareness of environment
  • Enhanced relaxation/fewer meltdowns
  • Decreased gastrointestinal difficulties
  • Sleep regulation
  • Promotion of general good health

Talk to Your Doctor!

Families often don’t tell their doctor if they are using CAM practices on their child. They fear that the doctor will disapprove of them. However, it’s important that all members of your child’s care team be in the loop – especially your doctor! And if you’re starting your child on an herb or supplement, be sure to check with your physician first to prevent the possibility of a drug-drug interaction.

Other Points to Consider

  • Stop any herb or supplement immediately if your child develops a rash or shows other sign of an allergic reaction.
  • Be sure that your massage therapist, chiropractor, or other practitioner is certified, and find one with previous experience with ASD patients.
  • Although chelation products can be purchased at health food and other specialty stores, do not attempt this without discussing it with a naturopathic doctor or other professional. There have been several cases of children dying from hypocalcemia (dangerously low calcium levels) as a result.
  • Find out ahead of time what treatments are and are not covered by your insurance. This can vary widely.

What CAM therapies do you use for your autistic child? Have they been successful?

Tags : health   development   autism   

No Comments.