All children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) are unique. As families and healthcare providers work together to design the right treatment plan to care for a child, it’s important to remember that what works for one child might not be as successful with another. There are many different types of ASD treatments available. Many families are turning to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM), also called integrative medicine.
While the Centers for Disease Control advises that you speak with your doctor before trying out any CAM treatments, many have found alternative approaches to ASD treatment to be highly effective, or at least worth trying.
With the various complementary and alternative approaches, there is no one-size-fits all treatment, and scientific research in the field is still relatively new and growing. The organization Autism Speaks is currently funding a number of studies on the effectiveness of CAM and suggests that as many as 95% of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have been provided with complementary or alternative medical treatment.
If you’re considering CAM as a treatment option for your child with ASD, here are some common approaches to consider:
1. Omega-3 Fatty Acids
According to the Harvard School of Public Health: “The human body can make most of the types of fats it needs from other fats or raw materials. That isn’t the case for omega-3 fatty acids (also called omega-3 fats and n-3 fats).” Recently, some small studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acid supplements may reduce hyperactivity in children with autistic disorders.
2. Gluten-Free Diet
Purely from an anecdotal standpoint, many parents say they’ve seen noticeable behavior improvement in their children with ASD when they put them on a diet free of gluten. Parents often choose to take out both gluten and casein simultaneously from their kids’ diets. There’s little research to support the efficacy of this dietary approach. And parents should keep in mind that behavioral changes may be due to the fact that the new diet is simply healthier, with fewer processed foods and more whole foods like whole grain rice, fruits and vegetables.
Dr. Alessio Fasano is a leading expert in the emerging research on probiotics and ASD. Dr. Fasano is director of the Mucosal Biology and Immunology Research Center and the Center for Celiac Research at the Massachusetts General Hospital for Children. In a blog post for Autism Speaks, he says there’s preliminary evidence to suggest an imbalance of bacteria in a subgroup of individuals with autism. So, in theory, probiotics (or so-called good bacteria) may “help bring back equilibrium and health,” he says. However, he cautions, if you decide to give your child probiotics, avoid concentrated supplements and try a probiotic yogurt instead. But discontinue the use of it if you don’t see a clear improvement in a few weeks. “If there’s no clear benefit,” he says, “don’t risk potentially negative side effects.”
More than half of children with ASD have sleep issues like insomnia. Melatonin is known as the sleep-regulating hormone. It’s a naturally occurring substance that’s made by the body’s pineal gland. Numerous studies have shown that melatonin supplements can improve sleep and reduce insomnia in children with autism, in studies. The dosage may vary according to a child’s age and tolerance, but typically anywhere between 1-6mg6 mg can help bring on the onset of sleep.