Autism Resource Center - Articles
Autism Spectrum Disorders: Other Interventions
Dietary and Other Interventions
In an effort to do everything possible to help their children, many parents continually seek new treatments. Some treatments are developed by reputable therapists or by parents of a child with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Although an unproven treatment may help one child, it may not prove beneficial to another. To be accepted as a proven treatment, the treatment should undergo clinical trials, preferably randomized, double-blind trials, which would allow for a comparison between treatment and no treatment. Following are some of the interventions that have been reported to have been helpful to some children but whose efficacy or safety has not been proven.
Dietary interventions are based on the idea that a) food allergies cause symptoms of autism, and b) an insufficiency of a specific vitamin or mineral may cause some autistic symptoms. If parents decide to try a special diet for a given period of time, they should be sure that the child's nutritional status is measured carefully.
A diet that some parents have found helpful for their autistic child is a gluten-free, casein-free diet. Gluten is a casein-like substance that is found in the seeds of various cereal plants--wheat, oat, rye, and barley. Casein is the principal protein in milk. Since gluten and milk are found in many of the foods we eat, following a gluten-free, casein-free diet is difficult.
A supplement that some parents feel is beneficial for an autistic child is Vitamin B6, taken with magnesium (which makes the vitamin effective). The result of research studies is mixed; some children respond positively, some negatively, some not at all or very little.1
In the search for treatment for autism, there has been discussion in the last few years about the use of secretin, a substance approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for a single dose normally given to aid in diagnosis of a gastrointestinal problem. Anecdotal reports have shown improvement in autism symptoms, including sleep patterns, eye contact, language skills, and alertness. Several clinical trials conducted in the last few years have found no significant improvements in symptoms between patients who received secretin and those who received a placebo.2
Disorders and Vaccinations
The Institute of Medicine (IOM) conducted a thorough review on the issue of a link between thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative that is no longer used in vaccinations) and autism. The final report from IOM, Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism, released in May 2004, stated that the committee did not find a link.
Until 1999, vaccines given to infants to protect them against diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), and Hepatitis B contained thimerosal as a preservative. Today, with the exception of some flu vaccines, none of the vaccines used in the U.S. to protect preschool-aged children against 12 infectious diseases contain thimerosal as a preservative. The measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine does not and never did contain thimerosal. Varicella (chickenpox), inactivated polio (IPV), and pneumococcal conjugate vaccines have also never contained thimerosal.
A U.S. study looking at environmental factors including exposure to mercury, lead, and other heavy metals is ongoing.
- Volkmar, F.R. (2000). Medical problems, treatments, and professionals. In M.D. Powers (Ed.). Children with autism: A parent's guide, 2nd Ed., (pp. 73-74). Bethesda, MD: Woodbine House.
- Autism Society of America. (2003). Biomedical and dietary treatments (fact sheet). Bethesda, MD: Autism Society of America. Retrieved 2004 from http://www.autism-society.org