Alternative medicine commonly used for autism

January 21, 2014

About one-third of parents of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders try complementary and alternative forms of medicine (CAM), and those that do tend to be wealthier and more highly educated, according to a recent study.

 

About one-third of parents of children with autism or other neurodevelopmental disorders try complementary and alternative forms of medicine (CAM), and those that do tend to be wealthier and more highly educated, according to a recent study.

The researchers from the University of California Davis MIND Institute, Sacramento, California, explained that most often the parents are not using CAM therapies to the exclusion of conventional ones, but rather in addition, and while most are using therapies considered low-risk, about 9% are employing methods classified as potentially unsafe.

The investigators studied 578 children aged between 2 and 5 years with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or another developmental disability (DD). Some of the CAM therapies mentioned in the study included meditation, homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets, vitamin B12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin, and chelation therapy.

They found that ASD families spent more time with conventional therapies than did families of children with other DDs (17.8 vs 11 hours), but, overall, CAM use was not significantly different between the groups: 39% in the ASD group versus 30% in the DD group. Only about 3% of both groups used psychotropic drugs.

Hispanic families were much less likely to use CAM than non-Hispanic families. Although higher parental educational status was associated with increased CAM use, the child’s level of function, immunization status, and/or presence of an identified neurogenetic disorder were unassociated with CAM use.

The researchers also found that families who used greater than 20 hours per week of conventional services were more likely to use CAM, including potentially unsafe or disproven therapies. Underimmunized children were marginally more likely to use CAM, but not more likely to use unsafe or disproven methods.

Because no US Food and Drug Administration-approved treatment exists for ASD, parents often find themselves turning to unconventional alternatives. The researchers conclude that because parents are using these therapies, health care providers should find ways to support families in making decisions about their use.

 

 

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