Autism: Researchers Watch Families Using Alternative Therapies

By Heather Callaghan

With autism rates exploding in recent years and little to no effective mainstream treatments, families have turned to alternative treatments. So it was only a matter of time before researchers caught on to study them.

There are no FDA-approved treatments for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. The researchers, as many mainstream pundits do, claim that the causes are unknown and have no cures. With so little help and often complete denial from mainstream medicine, it stands to reason parents would seek any help available for stressful autism symptoms like irritability, lack of responsiveness, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal problems and sleep disorders.

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So why are researchers eager to study families who either completely seek alternative therapies for autism or in addition to conventional treatment? Is it to actually find solutions? Find newer drugs? Or to put a crimp on natural help?
It seems to me that they are fearful of what they call unconventional approaches and lead off by mentioning meditation and prayer or other mind-body techniques, homeopathics, probiotics and alternative diets. They are probably referring to the GAPS diet which excludes gluten, cassein, sugars and dairy.
And warn:

However, a small but statistically significant number — about 4 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.

Have they taken a look at “conventional medicine” lately? Surgery, chemo, radiation, experimental drugs are not invasive?? It is the study that is classifying the alternative approaches, intravenous immunoglobulin, as dangerous and invasive. But I want to point out that some parents have had great results with alternative approaches, especially dietary changes. Here are some videos about recovery from autism symptoms.

In a study of the range of treatments being employed for young children with autism and other developmental delays, UC Davis MIND Institute researchers have found that families often use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments and that the most frequent users of both conventional and complementary approaches are those with higher levels of parental education and income. Well, that’s not surprising.

The research, published online today in the Journal of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, was led by Robin Hansen, director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute and Chief of the Division of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

She said:

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. Rather, they use the treatments in addition to conventional approaches.

The small 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. It was funded by grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences the Environmental Protection Agency’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program. 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.

Co-study author Kathleen Angkustsiri said:

We were pleased to find that most families utilizing CAM therapies were choosing ones that were low risk.

A lead author Roger Scott Akins said:

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.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and principal investigator for the CHARGE study, said the research supports the emergent need for identifying validated treatments for neurodevelopmental conditions.

He said:

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. 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.

Is there a desire to reconcile opposing paradigms to help the families or compromise the natural approach? The general impression, for this writer, is to more deeply involve healthcare workers into the lives of families who have little options and to sway them from or regulate (i.e. nullify) alternative therapies which cause no harm and have shown to help.

So again, what was the ultimate purpose of this study?

Image: L: Professor Robin Hansen with children at the UC Davis MIND Institute

Credit: University of California Regents

Heather Callaghan is a natural health blogger and food freedom activist. You can see her work at and Like at Facebook.

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