Complementary medicine in wide use to treat children with autism

surveySacramento, California, UC Davis MIND Institute researchers – have found that families of autistic children often use complementary and alternative medicine for their children.

The Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study included nearly 600 children on the autistic spectrum between 2 and 5 years of age.

Of the participants, 453 were diagnosed with autism and 125 were diagnosed with developmental delay.

The study found that ‘the most frequent users of both conventional and complementary approaches were those with higher levels of parental education and income.

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use was more common among children with autism than children diagnosed with other types of developmental delay.

Nearly 7 percent of children with autism were on the gluten-free/casein-free diet.

It was found that in the search for treatments to help their children, families may turn to unconventional approaches such as 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.

The research is published online in the Journal of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics. It was led by Robin Hansen, director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute and chief of the Division of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

Dr Hansen says:

“In our Northern California study population, 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,”

He continues

“Rather, they use the treatments in addition to conventional approaches.”

Kathleen Angkustsiri, assistant professor of developmental and behavioral pediatrics and a study co-author is pleased that most families choose low risk CAM therapies.

However the study found that a statistically significant number, around 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.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and the principal investigator for the CHARGE study believes there should be validated treatments for neurodevelopmental conditions:

“These findings emphasize the enormous and urgent need for effective treatments and for rigorous research that can identify them and verify their effectiveness and safety,”

The original press release on can be read here