Alternative Treatments for Autism
Many parents of children
with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) choose to look beyond traditional
therapies and consider complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). According
Speaks, 30 to 95 percent of children with an ASD have been given
some type of CAM treatment.
It’s important to
remember that not all CAM treatments have been fully researched. While many are
safe, and some may even be effective, take caution. Talk to your doctor before
making any changes to your child’s treatment, diet, or lifestyle.
Some doctors advocate an
autism diet. This means reducing or eliminating gluten and casein from the diet. Gluten
is a protein that is found in the seeds of wheat and other grains, such as
barley and rye. Gluten can be found in many food products and can be a source
of digestive problems. Casein is a protein found in milk products, and may be another
common source of digestive issues.
According to the
Autism Society, the average American diet includes far more wheat and
dairy products than is necessary, and both are sources of potential allergens.
Additionally, these proteins can have a significant effect on behavior.
According to the
University of Florida Department of Pediatrics, this is because certain compounds of amino acid molecules (peptides)
in gluten and casein bind to opioid receptors in the brain. This can mimic the
effects of illicit drugs like heroin or morphine, causing:
- inattentive behavior, or “zoning out”
- self-abusive behavior
Society recommends a trial gluten- and dairy-free diet. Improvements
may be seen in as little as one to three months.
It’s important to make
sure that your child is getting the nutrition they need. Children on a
dairy-free diet may need to take calcium supplements or increase the amount of
non-dairy, calcium-rich foods in their diet.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of
“good fat” found in fish oils and in supplement form. They are known to help
with brain development and function. According to the journal Biological
Psychiatry, some small,
early studies have shown that adding omega-3s to a child’s diet can improve
hyperactive and repetitive behavior in those suffering from autism. Other
studies published in the Journal
of Child and Adolescent Psychopharmacology suggest that
omega-3s could help improve social skills in children with an ASD.
Talk with your doctor or a
professional dietician to discuss how best to add these healthy fats to your
Melatonin and Sleep
According to Autism Speaks, half of children diagnosed with an ASD also
suffer from sleep disorders. Sleeplessness can exacerbate many of the symptoms
of autism, and should not be ignored. A recent pilot study published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that melatonin helped children with an
ASD sleep better and decreased symptoms during the day. The study notes,
however, that melatonin should only be used if autism itself is the cause of
the sleep problems. If something else is causing the issue, that underlying
problem must be addressed.
Chelation therapy is designed to flush heavy metals from the body. There is no
proof that this treatment works, and it may even be dangerous to some people.
Chelation supposedly rids the body of mercury. However, there is no proven link
between mercury and autism.
Some doctors or therapists
will recommend calming techniques such as deep pressure massage or weighted
clothing to soothe agitation in autistic patients.
It’s important to stress
that the vast majority of ASDs are not caused by any medical conditions that
can be treated. None of these treatments can cure an ASD; they can only help
limit symptoms. In addition, the Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns that what
works for one patient may not work for another. Your doctor should review any
alternative method before it is used as part of your child’s treatment program.