Currently, there are no FDA-approved medical treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASD), characterized mainly by difficulties with social interaction and communication, repetitive behaviors and intellectual disability. Because of this, many parents turn to so-called complementary (or alternative) medicine in an attempt to treat their children, using homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets, vitamin B-12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or chelation therapy.
In order to look into what types of alternative therapies were being used, researchers from the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND institute led by director Robin Hansen, looked at 600 children between the ages of 2 and 5 who had been diagnosed with autism and developmental delay. They found that these alternative therapies were more common in children with autism, as opposed to children with other types of developmental delay. However, they did find that in general, families were choosing to use alternative therapies that were low-risk, according to Kathleen Angkustsiri, assistant professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics. Four percent of families reported using therapies classified as potentially unsafe, such as anti-fungal medications, chelation therapy and vitamin B-12 injections.
Dr. Roger Scott Akins, lead author and chairman of the Division of Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics at Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, VA says, Our study suggests that pediatricians and other providers need to ask about CAM [complementary/alternative medicine] 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.
ACSH s Dr. Elizabeth Whelan adds, It s not unexpected that in an attempt to cure their child, in the absence of approved medical treatments, parents will turn to other options out there. However, the fact that the study is highlighting parents turning to lower-risk treatments, instead of those recognized as safe, is very disturbing and clearly highlights the need for the continued efforts to find safe, medical treatments for autism spectrum disorder.
ACSH s Dr. Josh Bloom adds, It is an unfortunate fact of life that there are diseases for which no satisfactory treatment exists Alzheimer s, Parkinson's, and many cancers, to name a few. But to assume that because modern medicine has failed to conquer a disease there is an alternative way to go about this is irrational and wrong. Some diseases are tougher nuts to crack, but they won t be cracked by a trip to a vitamin shop.