Robin Hansen
January 13, 2014

Many Parents Turn To Alternative Treatments For Their Autistic Children

redOrbit Staff & Wire Reports - Your Universe Online

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments are frequently used to help young children who are autistic or suffering from other developmental delays, according to a new study conducted by researchers from the University of California, Davis MIND Institute.

The paper, which was published online Saturday in the Journal of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, also found that the families most likely to employ both conventional and complementary treatment approaches for these conditions are those where the parents have higher education and income levels.

According to the university, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not yet approved any medical treatment for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, “a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition whose hallmarks are deficits in social relatedness, repetitive thoughts and behaviors and, often, intellectual disability.”

[ Watch the Video: Families Use CAM Treatments For Autistic Children ]

In their quest to find some way to help their developmentally challenged children, parents often turn to unconventional options, including meditation, prayer, homeopathic remedies, probiotics, specialized diets, vitamin B12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or other, potentially risky, invasive methods of treatment.

Robin Hansen, director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute, and her colleagues studied nearly 600 children with autism and developmental delay. The children were between the ages of two and five, and of those who took part in the study, 453 were diagnosed with autism and 125 were diagnosed with developmental delay.

CAM use was more common among children with autism than children diagnosed with other types of developmental delay, 40 percent versus 30 percent respectively,” the university said. “Nearly 7 percent of children with autism were on the gluten-free/casein-free diet, particularly children with frequent gastrointestinal problems,” a common symptom of these conditions that is not directly related to the actual symptoms of developmental disorders.

While study co-author and assistant professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics Kathleen Angkustsiri said that her team was “pleased” to learn that most families using CAM therapies were opting for low-risk ones, the study also found that 4 percent were using potentially unsafe or unproven treatments such as antifungal medications and chelation therapy.

“Our study suggests that pediatricians and other providers need to ask about CAM use in the context of providing care for children with autism and other developmental disorders, and take a more active role in helping families make decisions about treatment options based on available information related to potential benefits and risks,” said lead author Roger Scott Akins, chairman of the Division of Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Virginia.

Furthermore, while previous research has suggested that parents were using the alternative treatment methods due to the lack of availability of conventional medical services, Hansen said that their study proves that is not the case – at least not in her team’s northern California study population. The study was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).