Unproven Treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder
You may hear about other approaches to treat ASD, such as complementary or alternative practices. There is no evidence to show that these things have any benefit. And some of these treatments may be harmful or have risks associated with them.
When you're thinking about any type of treatment, find out about the source of the information and about whether the treatments are backed up by science. Stories by people who were helped by a treatment are not enough evidence to support using a treatment. Talk with your doctor about any complementary health practice that you would like to try or are already using.
Be extra careful about any treatment that:
- Is based on scientific theories that seem too simple.
- Is based upon a few stories (anecdotal evidence), not scientific research.
- Claims to work for more than one condition.
- Seems to provide dramatic or "miraculous" results.
- Doesn't have specific treatment goals or target behaviors.
- Is said not to need scientific research because it has no risks or side effects.
Examples of unproven treatments
Some unproven therapies for ASD include:footnote 1
- Nutritional supplements.
Some studies have claimed that giving high doses of vitamin B6 and magnesium improves behaviors common with ASD. Other supplements like vitamin D, vitamin C, folic acid, and omega-3 fatty acids are also thought to improve behavior. But a review of these studies hasn't shown these supplements to be helpful.
- Restrictive diets.
Elimination of dairy foods and gluten from a child's diet is based on the idea that ASD is triggered by digestive problems. Parents of children with ASD who have food allergies or intolerance may be more likely to try this type of diet. But food sensitivities aren't proven to be more common in children with ASD than in other children.
- Immune globulin therapy.
It involves giving a shot of immune globulin in a vein (IV). This is based on the assumption that ASD is caused by an autoimmune problem.
This treatment uses an IV injection of secretin (a hormone that stimulates the pancreas and liver) to manage behavior typical of ASD. Studies show that this treatment doesn't work.
- Chelation therapy.
This therapy uses medicines to help the body rid itself of toxins. It's based on the idea that mercury exposure is a cause of ASD. Children with ASD often crave nonfood items (pica) or have unusual diets that may expose them to mercury. So mercury exposure may be more a result of ASD than a cause. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warns that this treatment can have dangerous side effects.
- Auditory integration training (AIT).
This treatment delivers music through special devices. It's based on a theory that ASD is caused by hearing problems that cause distorted sounds or oversensitivity to noises.
- Sensory integrative therapy.
It focuses on activities that challenge the child to respond appropriately to input from the senses (sight, sound, taste, touch, and smell). There is little evidence that it is helpful.
- Facilitated communication.
This method uses a keyboard to help a child communicate. It hasn't been found to be helpful.
Clonidine (Kapvay) is a medicine that may be prescribed to help with hyperactive behavior. Melatonin is sometimes used to induce sleep. These medicines haven't been approved by the FDA to manage ASD. Talk to your doctor about the possible risks and benefits of these medicines before giving them to your child.
- Smith T, et al. (2014). Alternative treatments. In FR Volkmar et al., eds., Handbook of autism and pervasive developmental disorders, assessment, interventions, policy, the future: assessment, interventions, and policy, 4th ed., pp. 1051–1069. New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Retrieved from https://ebookcentral.proquest.com. Accessed January 11, 2019.
Current as of: February 9, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:John Pope MD - Pediatrics & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Louis Pellegrino MD - Developmental Pediatrics