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Despite Unknowns, Alternative Autism Treatments In Demand


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Many parents are turning to unproven treatments to help their kids with autism and other developmental delays, a new study finds, including some methods that carry serious risks.

Some 40 percent of children with autism are using complementary and alternative medicine — including everything from meditation to homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets and riskier therapies like chelation — according to findings published this month in the Journal of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics.

In a study of nearly 600 California kids ages 2 to 5 with autism or developmental delay, researchers asked parents about the types of current and past services their child received. They found that 40 percent of those with autism and 30 percent of kids with developmental delay had used some type of complementary and alternative medicine. The most popular were dietary supplements and a gluten-free, casein-free diet.

In many cases, parents reported using complementary and alternative medicine alongside more conventional treatments like behavior, speech or occupational therapy.

Among parents of kids with autism, nearly 9 percent reported using alternative treatments the researchers considered to be “invasive, disproven or potentially unsafe” including chelation, anti-fungal medications and vitamin B-12 injections.

Parents with higher levels of education and income were more likely to use alternative treatments, the study found. What’s more, kids receiving over 20 hours per week of conventional services more frequently used the unproven approaches including those considered potentially unsafe.

“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,” said Robin Hansen of the University of California, Davis MIND Institute who led the study. “Rather, they use the treatments in addition to conventional approaches.”

Given the popularity of these alternative methods, the researchers said that doctors and other professionals need to take a more active role in talking to families about the pros and cons of various treatment options.

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Comments (8 Responses)

  1. Michael Herrmann says:

    Yes, the study found that “(p)arents with higher levels of education and income were more likely to use alternative treatments”. However, parents with lower levels of education were found more likely to use the more risky type of treatments that are invasive, disproven, or potentially unsafe.

  2. Carmen Allen says:

    what does expect “behavioral” researchers to say about alternative methods? the research behind behavioral therapy, especially ABA does not meet rigorous standards either, so ABA is not proven to be effective for the majority of children. Why are the behaviorists explaining the potential for harm in ABA therapy? The Agency for Healthcare and Research Quality (AHRQ) has already issued the report that ABA has potential for harm and it should not be discounted, so why are behaviorists and researchers who benefit from more behavioral research not practicing what they are preaching about other “alternative” therapies. smh. People need to look into the behavior therapy to realize the evidence behind ABA leaves a lot to be desired, they have not been able to prove effectiveness nor transference into the real world. Why are the researchers not collecting nor reporting the harm data? Why should parents be forced to use ABA and subject their children to “experimental analysis” because researchers want to lie about the effectiveness to parents and people. People research ABA yourself, don’t listen to those who have financial gain to tell you how wonderful ABA is – cuz it’s not. As an advocate, I have seen the harm ABA, including Positive Behavior Supports (PBS) can cause PTSD, anxiety, etc and it has in some cases led to suicide. Read the GAO report to Congress on restraint, seclusion, abuse and death. Many of those cases were children who were given ABA based Positive Behavior Supports and PBIS. Also, since when is self reports considered “evidence based research”? *rolling my eyes* I wish we had journalists with the guts to investigate this but too many are bent on promoting ABA, no matter the consequences/harm to vulnerable children and adults.

  3. Carmen Allen says:

    in my response I meant why are behaviorists and researchers NOT explaining the potential for harm for ABA?

  4. Cndi says:

    Oh, No!! Alternative Treatments! Harmful! Had I listened to our Mainstream Drs 23 years ago, God knows where we would be. ABA?? in 1991? untested, cruel, harmful?? nope, 40 hours/week in our home; son went from non-verbal, head-banging, screaming, unhappy boy to sitting in chair, talking, riding a bike, attending reg. kindergarten at his neighborhood school riding the school bus (with an aide); I could go on and on; the gluten-free, dairy-free, wheat-free diet? Nystatin to kill yeast overgrowth? Yep, did all that too; He started talking up a storm. What is DANGEROUS is listening to others who don’t have a LOVE-interest about your child. God at kid with autism? Read “The Starving Brain” Google DAN Protocol. Good luck and God Bless Every One of Us.

  5. Doug Lee says:

    I have an issue with the use of such terms as “alternative medicine” “alternative treatments” “riskier therapies” “complementary and alternative treatments” etc. as terms representing what is by any scientific standard not effective. They are not therapies so why legitimize them with the term. It too easily gets to be a superficial discussion comparing therapies when one is an actual therapy and one is not (apples and granite as compared to apples and oranges). Why not call them “alternative activities” “riskier activities” or “complementary and alternative activities”. The phrase “30% of parents were found to engage in alternative activities while being engaged in active therapy” puts such options in their proper place. If you call them therapies then from a parent’s point of view they are legitimate therapies end of story.

  6. Sudhakar says:

    Sir, why do you think homepathy is not authentic treatment. It is accepted in many counties as authentic medication. When alopathy dont have answers or treatments then parents are forced to try less risky alternatives.

  7. Sudhakar says:

    I know a legal pediatric psychiatrist prescribing B12 injections to asd kid, who will correct him?

  8. lpalmer says:

    This article is vague about both conventional and alternative treatments. Seems to me to be a propaganda article warning of “alternatives” but what is the conventional treatment for autism? What are the alternatives? Are the alternatives really therapeutic/developmental or addressing contributing problems?
    As written, this article wastes the time of the reader.

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