The safety and effectiveness of some therapies used to treat
autism is not known. Many unproven treatments
circulate through websites, word of mouth, or the media. Most have not been
subjected to thorough, sound research and are considered nonstandard and
controversial. Be especially cautious about a treatment if:
The treatment is based upon oversimplified
It benefits more than one
It provides dramatic and "miraculous"
The only available evidence is based upon a few stories
(anecdotal evidence), not scientific research.
goals or target behaviors are not identified.
scientific research is said not to be needed because there are no risks or side
Examples of current nonstandard, unproven therapies for autism that
are receiving attention include:1
Nutritional supplements. Some studies have
claimed that giving high doses of vitamin B6 and magnesium improves autistic
behaviors. A review of these studies found they lacked controls and scientific
Restrictive diets. Elimination of
milk and gluten from a child's diet is based upon an idea that autism is
triggered by digestive disorders. Parents of a child with autism who also has
food allergies or intolerance may be more likely to attempt this type of diet.
But food sensitivities are not proven to be more common in children with
autism than in normally developing children.
therapy. An intravenous (IV) injection of immune globulin is based on the
assumption that autism is caused by an autoimmune
Secretin. This treatment uses an IV injection of
secretin (a hormone that stimulates the pancreas and liver) to manage autistic
behavior. Studies show this treatment is not effective.1
Chelation therapy. Mercury exposure as a cause of
autism is the basis for this therapy, which uses medications to help the body
eliminate the toxins. Children with autism often have a craving for nonfood
items (pica) or unusual diets that may result in mercury
exposure; therefore, mercury exposure may be more an effect of autism than a
Auditory integration training (AIT). Based upon a theory
that autism is caused by hearing problems that result in distorted sounds or
oversensitivity to noises, this treatment delivers music through special
Facilitated communication. This method uses a keyboard to
assist communication. It has not been found to be helpful and in some cases has
Clonidine (Kapvay) and melatonin are medicines that are
sometimes used to help manage overactive behavior and induce sleep in some
people with autism. These medicines have not been approved by the U.S. Food and
Drug Administration (FDA) to manage autism. Discuss the possible risks and
benefits of clonidine and melatonin with your health professional before using
Always talk with a health professional before starting any
little-known treatment for your child with autism. As is true for any
treatment, be aware of the side effects and risks.
Myers SM, et al. (2007, reaffirmed 2010). American Academy of
Pediatrics clinical report: Management of children with autism spectrum
disorders. Pediatrics, 120(5): 1162–1182.
Nye C, Brice A (2009). Combined vitamin B6-magnesium treatment in autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (1).
American Academy of Pediatrics (1998, reaffirmed 2006). Auditory integration training and facilitated communication for autism. Pediatrics, 102(2): 431–433.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.