UC Davis MIND Institute researchers have found that complementary and alternative medicine is wide use among children with autism and other types of developmental delay, however is more common in children with autism, 40 percent versus 30 percent respectively.
The study, published in the Journal of Behavioral and Developmental Pediatrics, looked at use of complementary and alternative medicine — known as CAM — among more than 450 children ages 2 to 5 with autism, as well as 125 who had been diagnosed with a developmental delay who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study.
Those most commonly reported of complementary treatments were dietary supplements, mostly gluten- and casein-free diets. A small number of children used mind-body therapies, such meditation or acupuncture, as well as melatonin and probiotics. 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.
“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,” said 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.
“Our study suggests that pediatricians and other providers need to ask about CAM use in the context of providing care for children with autism and other developmental disorders, and take a more active role in helping families make decisions about treatment options based on available information related to potential benefits and risks” said Roger Scott Akins, lead author and a former postdoctoral fellow at the MIND Institute.
“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,” said Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and principal investigator for the CHARGE study. “Of course it is reasonable for parents to keep searching for ways to help their children, when there are few effective treatments and none that can help every child.”
For more information, visit http://mindinstitute.ucdavis.edu
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