Washington: A new study has revealed that families are often using complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments to treat young children.
There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medical treatment for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition whose hallmarks are deficits in social relatedness, repetitive thoughts and behaviours and, often, intellectual disability.
In the search for treatments to help their children, families may turn to unconventional approaches such as mind-body medicine (e.g. meditation or prayer), homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets or more invasive therapies such as vitamin B-12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or chelation therapy - some of which carry significant risks.
It was led by Robin Hansen, director of the Centre for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute and chief of the Division of Developmental Behavioural Pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine.
The 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. 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.
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.
The research has been published online in the Journal of Behavioural and Developmental Pediatrics.