Alternative Treatments for Autism

Explore autism and alternative treatments, from music therapy to dietary interventions, changing lives!

reuben kesherim
Ruben Kesherim
May 25, 2024

Alternative Treatments for Autism

Understanding Autism Treatments

In the journey of navigating through autism treatments, it's important to explore both mainstream approaches and alternative therapies. Each type of treatment offers its own benefits and potential issues, and the choice often depends on the individual's unique needs and circumstances.

Mainstream Approaches

Mainstream approaches to autism treatment primarily focus on addressing traits such as light sensitivity, restricted eating patterns, and emotional outbursts, as autism is considered a disability for most individuals.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is considered a gold standard of autism therapy, aiming to teach skills, reinforce positive behaviors, and modify behaviors that interfere with functioning. However, it's important to note that there is controversy surrounding ABA due to concerns about "fixing" behaviors rather than supporting individuals within their own autism experience [2].

Specialized therapies, such as speech therapy and social skills therapy, are important components of autism treatment. These therapies address specific traits, such as repetitive behaviors, obsessive interests, neurodivergent responses to sensory stimuli, and difficulties with social interactions and communication.

Medications, such as antipsychotics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and stimulant drugs, may be prescribed to manage behavioral issues, co-occurring conditions (i.e., anxiety, depression), hyperactivity, and insomnia in autistic children. However, caution should be exercised when prescribing these medications.

Alternative Therapies

Many parents seek alternative or complementary therapies for autism spectrum disorder due to the lack of a cure, but these treatments often lack research evidence to prove their effectiveness and may unintentionally reinforce negative behaviors. Some alternative treatments can also be potentially dangerous.

Complementary and alternative methods (CAM) can be beneficial for individuals with autism, with some methods being low risk and potentially helpful, although some may carry risks and could be dangerous [1].

Popular low-risk CAM methods for autism include traditional Asian and holistic therapies, many of which are readily available in most communities but usually not covered by insurance.

Sensory integration therapy, a form of occupational therapy, is used for autism but has no evidence of long-term effectiveness in managing symptoms related to sensory issues.

Before starting any alternative or complementary therapy for autism, it is recommended to consult a physician to ensure the therapy is safe, ethical, and has the potential to be beneficial, highlighting the importance of setting goals and tracking outcomes [1].

Evidence-based Treatments

While exploring the arena of autism and alternative treatments, it's essential to understand the evidence-based treatments that are widely recognized in the medical community. These include Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), Speech Therapy, and Social Skills Therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is often considered a gold standard in autism therapy. ABA aims to teach vital skills, reinforce positive behaviors, and modify behaviors that interfere with daily functioning.

Despite its widespread use, ABA therapy has stirred controversy. Some critics argue that it focuses on "fixing" behaviors rather than supporting individuals within their own autism experience. Therefore, while ABA can be an effective tool, it's essential to approach it with understanding and respect for the autistic individual's unique needs and experiences.

Speech Therapy

Among the pivotal components of autism treatment are specialized therapies such as speech therapy. This therapy addresses specific traits related to autism, such as difficulties with social interactions and communication.

Speech therapy aims to enhance communication skills, which can significantly improve an individual's ability to navigate their daily life. Like all treatments for autism, the effectiveness can vary from individual to individual. The key is to tailor the therapy to meet the child's unique needs.

Social Skills Therapy

Social Skills Therapy is another widely used treatment for autism. Group-based social skills interventions (GSSIs) are commonly used to improve social competence among youth with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The efficacy of GSSIs, however, varies. A meta-analysis of randomized control trials (RCTs) found overall positive aggregate effects of GSSIs. The effects were large for self-report, medium for task-based measures, and small for parent and observer-report, but nonsignificant for teacher-report.

Social Skills Therapy usually involves structured activities that aim to enhance the individual's ability to interact effectively with others. It may also include role-playing exercises to practice and reinforce proper social behavior.

Remember, however, that the effectiveness of these therapies can vary significantly from one individual to another. The best course of action is often a personalized approach, taking into account the unique needs and abilities of each individual. In any case, early intervention is crucial in the treatment of autism, and the earlier children receive appropriate interventions, the better the prognosis.

Alternative Therapies Overview

In addition to the traditionally recognized treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), such as Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech therapy, and social skills therapy, many parents and caregivers explore alternative therapies. These alternative methods are often sought due to the lack of a definitive cure for autism, but their effectiveness varies and research evidence to prove their benefits is often lacking. Let's delve into these alternative treatments in more detail.

Music Therapy

Music therapy is one of the complementary and alternative methods (CAM) that's considered a low-risk option for individuals with autism. It utilizes the universal medium of music to facilitate social interactions, improve communication, and encourage emotional expression.

During music therapy sessions, a certified music therapist may use various exercises such as singing, playing instruments, or moving to music to engage with the individual. The therapist aims to stimulate responses and observe behaviors that may not surface in traditional therapy settings.

Although music therapy can be beneficial, it's crucial to understand that it's generally used as a supplementary treatment alongside other established therapies.

Art Therapy

Art therapy shares similar benefits with music therapy. It's another low-risk CAM method that uses the creative process of making art to improve and enhance the physical, mental, and emotional well-being of individuals with autism.

Art therapy sessions, led by a professional art therapist, provide a safe and supportive environment where individuals can express their emotions and thoughts through their artwork. This form of therapy can help to improve social skills, reduce stress, and increase self-esteem.

Despite the potential benefits, it's important to note that art therapy should be tailored to the individual's needs and may not be suitable for everyone. Like music therapy, it's typically used in conjunction with other therapies.

Sensory Integration Therapy

Sensory integration therapy is a type of occupational therapy used to address sensory issues associated with autism. The therapy focuses on helping individuals with autism to better process and respond to the different sensory inputs they experience.

During sensory integration therapy, a therapist exposes the individual to sensory stimulation in a structured and repetitive way. The aim is to improve the brain's ability to process sensory information, leading to improved daily functioning.

However, despite its popularity, there's currently no evidence to prove the long-term effectiveness of sensory integration therapy in managing symptoms related to sensory issues, and it should be considered alongside other treatments.

In conclusion, it's essential for parents and caregivers to consult with medical professionals before implementing any alternative therapies for autism. These therapies should complement and not replace, the evidence-based treatments prescribed by healthcare professionals.

Controversial Alternative Treatments

While exploring the realm of autism and alternative treatments, it is essential to discuss a few therapies that have generated significant controversy due to the lack of scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness and safety. These include chelation therapy and facilitated communication.

Chelation Therapy

Chelation therapy involves the use of certain chemicals to remove heavy metals from the body. It is traditionally used to treat heavy metal poisoning. However, some proponents suggest it as an alternative treatment for autism, arguing that autism is caused by metal toxicity.

However, there is no scientific evidence that supports chelation as a safe or effective treatment alternative for autism, primarily because autism is not caused by metal poisoning. In an unfortunate case, a child with autism died during chelation therapy when the chelating agent bonded with calcium in his body, causing his heart to stop. This tragedy underscores the potential dangers of this therapy.

In addition, some alternative treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), including chelation therapy, have been shown to be ineffective or even harmful, highlighting the potential risks associated with pursuing alternative treatments without sufficient scientific evidence.

Facilitated Communication

Facilitated communication is another controversial alternative treatment for autism. This approach involves a facilitator who supports the hand or arm of an individual with autism to assist them in typing on a keyboard or pointing to symbols.

However, multiple studies and reviews have found little to no evidence supporting the validity of facilitated communication. Critics argue that the facilitator, rather than the individual with autism, is often the source of the messages produced during facilitated communication. This raises ethical concerns about the potential for misrepresentation and manipulation.

It is suggested that alternative treatments for autism should be included in treatment guidelines, and parents, practitioners, and individuals with autism should be both advised and warned about the benefits and risks associated with these treatments. Furthermore, more research is recommended to better understand the selection and impact of alternative treatments for autism, while emphasizing the improvement of mainstream care.

In conclusion, while seeking alternatives can be a part of the journey for families dealing with autism, it is vital to be informed about the potential risks and effectiveness of these treatments. Always consult with knowledgeable healthcare providers before embarking on a new therapy or treatment plan.

Nutritional and Dietary Interventions

An important aspect of autism and alternative treatments involves nutritional and dietary interventions. These may include following a specific diet or supplementing the diet with certain vitamins and minerals.

Gluten-Free, Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet

A gluten-free, casein-free (GFCF) diet is a popular dietary intervention for individuals with autism. The premise of this diet is to eliminate all sources of gluten (a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye) and casein (a protein found in dairy products) from the diet. The theory suggests that individuals with autism may be unable to properly digest these proteins, leading to an accumulation of peptides in the body that could potentially interfere with brain function.

While anecdotal reports suggest that some individuals may benefit from a GFCF diet, the scientific evidence supporting its efficacy is mixed. Consultation with a dietitian or nutritionist is recommended before starting this diet to ensure nutritional adequacy and balance.

Vitamin and Mineral Supplements

Supplementation with certain vitamins and minerals can be a beneficial part of an alternative treatment approach for autism.

According to a study published on the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), high-dose pyridoxine (vitamin B6) and magnesium supplementation has been shown to improve social interactions, communication, and stereotyped, repetitive behaviors in children with ASD [8].

Similarly, methyl B12 supplementation has been shown to increase plasma glutathione concentration, potentially improving symptoms of ASD.

Multivitamin/mineral supplements have been found to improve sleep, gastrointestinal symptoms, and language skills in children with ASD.

Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation has shown promise in improving attention, receptive language, and overall functioning in children with ASD [8].

Melatonin, an endogenous neurohormone, has been associated with increases in sleep duration and decreases in sleep onset latency without significant side effects, making it a valuable supplement for children with ASD struggling with sleep issues.

However, before starting any supplementation regimen, it is recommended to consult with a healthcare provider to ensure the supplements are safe and suitable for the individual's specific needs.

In conclusion, while nutritional and dietary interventions can play a significant role in managing autism symptoms, it's important to note that these strategies should complement rather than replace conventional therapies. The goal should always be to provide the most comprehensive and effective care for the individual with autism.

Risks and Considerations

While the search for effective autism treatments continues, it's essential to consider the potential risks and financial burdens involved. From medication risks to the economic impact of alternative treatments, understanding these factors can help individuals make informed decisions.

Medication Risks

Medications, such as antipsychotics, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), and stimulant drugs, are often prescribed to manage behavioral issues, co-occurring conditions such as anxiety and depression, hyperactivity, and insomnia in autistic children. However, these medications come with their own set of risks and side effects [2].

Side effects can include drowsiness, weight gain, and tremors. There's also a risk of developing tardive dyskinesia, a condition that causes involuntary muscle movements [9].

Furthermore, long-term use of these medications can result in metabolic syndrome, which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. It can also impact brain development and lead to tolerance and dependence on the medication.

Given these risks, caution should be exercised when considering medication as part of an autism treatment plan. It's essential to discuss these risks with a healthcare provider, weigh the benefits and downsides, and closely monitor any side effects.

Financial Burdens

Exploring alternative treatments for autism can often lead to substantial financial burdens. These treatments are often costly, and the potential economic impact of seeking such treatments that lack scientific evidence of effectiveness should not be overlooked [6].

Furthermore, healthcare fraud is a significant concern. Parents of children with autism are often targeted by fringe treatment providers who prey on desperation and fear, deceiving parents with numerous unfounded claims.

Therefore, it's crucial to research thoroughly, seek advice from trusted healthcare professionals, and consider the financial implications before choosing to pursue alternative treatments. The quest to find the most beneficial treatments for autism should not lead to financial instability or vulnerability to unethical practices.