Complementary medicine in wide use to treat children with autism, developmental delay

Posted on January 14, 2014


There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved 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.

In the search for treatments to help their children, families may turn to unconventional approaches such as mind-body medicine (e.g. meditation or prayer), homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets or more invasive therapies such as vitamin B-12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or chelation therapy — some of which carry significant risks.

“In our Northern California study population, it does not appear that families use complementary and alternative treatments due to the lack of availability of conventional services, as has been suggested by other research,” Hansen said. “Rather, they use the treatments in addition to conventional approaches.”

The cause or causes of most neurodevelopmental disorders are not known, and the conditions have no cure. Many children suffer from a wide array of associated symptoms that may not be directly associated with their condition and that make their daily lives and those of their families stressful. Such symptoms include irritability, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal problems and sleep disorders.

The study included nearly 600 diverse children between 2 and 5 years with autism and developmental delay who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study. Of the participants, 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. Nearly 7 percent of children with autism were on the gluten-free/casein-free diet, particularly children with frequent gastrointestinal problems.

“We were pleased to find that most families utilizing CAM therapies were choosing ones that were low risk," said Kathleen Angkustsiri, assistant professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics and a study co-author.

However, a small but statistically significant number — about 9 percent — were found to use alternative treatments classified by the study as potentially unsafe, invasive or unproven, such as antifungal medications, chelation therapy and vitamin B-12 injections.

"These findings emphasize the enormous and urgent need for effective treatments and for rigorous research that can identify them and verify their effectiveness and safety,” Hertz-Picciotto said. “Of course it is reasonable for parents to keep searching for ways to help their children, when there are few effective treatments and none that can help every child."


Category(s):Autism spectrum disorders, Child Development

Source material from UC Davis Mind Institute


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