Alternative Therapies in Autism


Alternative Therapies in Autism

Autism is a spectrum disorder, the symptoms of which include persistent impairment in communication and social interactions in addition to stereotyped patterns of behavior, interests, and activities. This disorder encompasses what once used to be many different disorders. Just like there is no one particular cause, there is no one particular treatment. Many people have created different alternative treatments that many people with ASD have found to be effective.

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder?

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a disorder the includes a wide variety of symptoms. People with ASD have difficulties with communication and social interaction in addition to repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. Typically, people with ASD may have issues forming relationships and behaving in a socially expected manner. They may also have stereotyped behaviors, like hand flapping or wrist wringing. They may also have interests in specific activities or topics. Some people with ASD have difficulties with sensory input. They may feel overstimulated by certain auditory, visual, or textile sensations. Some people with ASD may also have intellectual disability, although this is not true for many.

ASD can be associated with certain genetic disorders. These include Rett Syndrome, fragile X syndrome, tuberous sclerosis, and epilepsy. They may also have neuropsychiatric disorders that are either concurrent or may be caused by ASD. These Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression.

What is the standard treatment?

Because people with ASD have very different symptoms, treatment needs to be tailored to each individual. Treatment is multi-modal, meaning it includes a variety of treatment types. These include behavioral management, patient and family education, family support and counseling, and medical treatment.

Behavioral management is targeted at each individual’s behavioral challenges. Patient and family education goes hand in hand with family support and counseling. Education helps patients and families understand the disorder and how their behavior may impact the patient. Counseling provides support and helps families manage the emotional impact the disorder may have on them.

Medical treatment includes Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat the repetitive stereotyped behavior and anxiety or depression, antipsychotic drugs for people who exhibit aggression and self-injury, and methylphenidate for people with ADHD. Like patients without ASD, people with ASD may respond well to one medication and not the other. It takes patience and time to find the best medication and overall treatment combination.

What are alternative therapies?

Alternative therapies are generally aimed at managing the patient’s behavior and emotions. These are in addition to mainstay behavioral therapy and are called Complementary and Alternative Medicines (CAM). One study found that 95% of children with ASD used CAM for symptoms like irritability, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal disturbances, and sleep disturbances.

CAM can be thought of as alternative medical examples. Medical examples of CAM include supplements, like Vitamin B12 and N-acetylcysteine (NAC). These target problems of oxidative stress that are found in ASD. Vitamin B12 was found to improve overall symptoms, but only in some children. NAC has been found to reduce irritability in children with ASD. Another CAM, probiotics, was studied in mice. Mice that were given probiotics were found to have an improvement in gastrointestinal symptoms, irritability, reduced anxiety symptoms, communication abnormalities, and improved stereotypical behaviors.

Other therapies have been found to improve symptoms in people with ASD. For example, music therapy has been shown to be effective. Only some people found it to be helpful to improve certain symptoms, but it is an option for certain people. Occupational therapy has been found to be effective to manage sensory symptoms in people with ASD. Mindfulness is a popular strategy in people with ASD and their caregivers and families. People who used mindfulness reported increased overall well-being. Equine therapy is another popular alternative. The research suggests that equine therapy helps people with ASD improve their behavioral and communication skills.

There are some alternative therapies that many studies have deemed to be ineffective and perhaps harmful. Secretin, for example, is an expensive, intravenous drug that has been shown in numerous studies to be ineffective. Chelation therapy is a CAM that was aimed at removing heavy metals from the blood. However, it was found to be ineffective in ASD and even harmful when too much blood was removed.


ASD is a disorder with a wide variety of symptoms that requires unique treatment tailored to each individual patient. New and innovative therapies have been targeted at improving the behavioral and emotional symptoms associated with ASD. Each individual should consult a health professional to learn more about their therapeutic options for ASD. Contact the Stem Cell Transplant Institute today to learn more about how we can help you achieve your health goals.

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