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Alternative Treatments for Autism

Explore autism and alternative treatments, from dietary interventions to non-scientific approaches.

Evidence-Based Autism Treatments

When considering treatment options for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), it's crucial to focus on evidence-based therapies. These therapies have been scientifically validated and are widely recognized by healthcare professionals and researchers. Let's explore three of these treatments: Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), speech therapy, and occupational therapy.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is one of the most well-established evidence-based treatments for ASD. ABA uses principles of learning theory to improve developmental, cognitive, and behavioral functioning in children with ASD [1].

The essence of ABA is learning through positive reinforcement. It involves breaking down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps and rewarding successful completion of these steps. This approach can help individuals with autism improve their communication, social interactions, and learning skills. To learn more about ABA, visit our article on autism and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Speech Therapy

Speech therapy is another evidence-based intervention that can significantly benefit individuals with autism. It addresses challenges with language, communication, and speech issues, which are common in autism. A speech therapist works on developing an individual's ability to express their thoughts, wants, and needs effectively.

In addition, a 2014 Cochrane review analyzed 10 randomized controlled trials, showing that music therapy may help children with ASD improve their skills in social interaction, verbal communication, initiating behavior, and social-emotional reciprocity.

Occupational Therapy

Occupational therapy is a key component in managing ASD. It focuses on improving daily living skills, such as dressing, eating, and bathing, and academic skills like writing and typing. The goal of occupational therapy is to enhance the individual's independence, productivity, and overall quality of life.

Moreover, sensory integration therapy, a specific form of occupational therapy, has shown significant improvement in several autistic core symptoms such as communication, social reciprocity, and motor activity.

While these treatments are proven to be effective, they are not standalone solutions. It's important to integrate these therapies based on individual needs. For instance, medication can be beneficial for managing certain symptoms associated with autism. Read more about this in our article on autism and medication management.

Also, many parents are exploring complementary and alternative treatments for their children with ASD. To learn more about these options, you can visit our article on autism and complementary therapies.

Keep in mind that every individual with autism is unique. Therefore, what works for one person might not work for another. It's crucial to work closely with healthcare professionals to create a personalized treatment plan that best suits the individual's needs and strengths.

Medication for Autism

Though a variety of treatments and therapies exist for managing autism, medication plays a significant role for many individuals. It's important to note that while medications can help manage certain symptoms associated with autism, they are not a cure. The choice to use medication should be guided by a thorough discussion with a healthcare professional, considering the individual's specific symptoms, overall health, and response to other treatments. This section will discuss two categories of medications often used in autism treatment: antipsychotic medications and stimulant medications.

Antipsychotic Medications

Antipsychotic medications, such as Risperdal, Abilify, and Zyprexa, are commonly used to manage symptoms in individuals with autism. These medications can help reduce aggression, irritability, and repetitive behaviors. Additionally, they may help improve communication and social interactions.

It's important to note that while these medications can be beneficial, they can also come with side effects, such as weight gain, drowsiness, and movement disorders. Therefore, the use of these medications should be closely monitored by a healthcare professional [3].

For more information about how medication fits into a comprehensive treatment plan for autism, explore our guide on autism and medication management.

Stimulant Medications

Stimulant medications, such as Ritalin, Adderall, and Vyvanse, are often utilized to manage hyperactivity and impulsivity in individuals with autism. These medications help by enhancing focus and attention, which can aid in learning and behavior management.

As with antipsychotic medications, stimulants also have potential side effects, including insomnia, decreased appetite, and mood swings. Therefore, their use should be closely supervised by a healthcare provider. Regular check-ups can help ensure the medication is working effectively and side effects are properly managed [3].

Remember that medication is just one aspect of a comprehensive treatment plan for autism. Behavioral therapies, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy can also be important components of autism treatment. Furthermore, complementary therapies can also be explored as part of an individualized approach to managing autism.

Dietary Interventions

Dietary modifications are increasingly recognized as a potential pathway to manage some symptoms of autism. While these interventions are not a cure for autism, they may help improve certain symptoms or co-occurring conditions. Here, we delve into three dietary interventions: the gluten-free and casein-free (GFCF) diet, probiotics, and omega-3 fatty acids.

Gluten-Free and Casein-Free (GFCF) Diet

The GFCF diet involves eliminating foods that contain gluten and casein. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye, while casein is a protein found in dairy products.

Some studies and anecdotal reports suggest that the GFCF diet may help improve behavior, social interaction, and communication in individuals with autism. However, the evidence is not definitive, and more research is needed to determine the effectiveness of this dietary intervention [3].

Before starting a GFCF diet, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider or a dietitian to ensure that the individual's nutritional needs are still being met.


Probiotics, beneficial bacteria found in some foods and supplements, have been associated with improved gut health. This is noteworthy because some individuals with autism experience gastrointestinal issues, and there is ongoing research into the gut-brain connection.

Some studies have suggested that probiotics may enhance behavior and reduce gastrointestinal symptoms in individuals with autism. However, it's important to consult with a healthcare provider before starting a probiotic supplement, as individual responses can vary.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Omega-3 fatty acids are crucial for brain function and development. They are primarily found in fatty fish, but can also be taken in supplement form.

There is some evidence that omega-3 supplementation may improve cognitive function and reduce hyperactivity in individuals with autism [3]. However, more research is needed to determine optimal dosages and long-term effects.

As with all treatments, these dietary interventions should be considered as part of a comprehensive treatment plan for autism. This might include traditional therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy and dialectical behavior therapy, as well as medication management [4].

Complementary and Alternative Treatments

While traditional, evidence-based therapies and medication management are the mainstay of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) treatment, many individuals and their families explore alternative and complementary treatments. This trend is often driven by concerns over medication safety and side effects. In this section, we will look at three such treatments: Melatonin, Acupuncture, and N-acetylcysteine (NAC).


Melatonin is one of the best-studied complementary and alternative treatments for ASD. It has been shown to be effective in treating sleep disturbances in ASD children and adolescents, with research showing improvements in sleep duration and onset latency. It is reported to be well-tolerated and safe, making it a sensible, easy, cheap, and safe solution for sleep delay problems in ASD.


Acupuncture is another treatment that's been explored for children with ASD. It is reported to improve various developmental and behavioral aspects of children with ASD, including communication and social interaction skills. However, it's important to note that some children may experience pain and cry during the treatment, so it's essential to consider the child's comfort and readiness for this type of therapy.

N-acetylcysteine (NAC)

N-acetylcysteine (NAC), an antioxidant with involvement in extracellular glutamate modulation, is another alternative treatment that has been explored in ASD management. It is well-tolerated and may provide some benefits to ASD children for associated symptoms of irritability [6].

It's important to note that while these treatments can be beneficial, they are not a replacement for evidence-based therapies such as cognitive behavioral therapy or dialectical behavior therapy. Instead, they are considered complementary and should be used in conjunction with other treatments as part of an integrated approach to managing ASD. For more information on complementary therapies for autism, visit our article on autism and complementary therapies.

Controversial and Non-Scientific Treatments

While exploring the realm of autism and alternative treatments, it's essential to address controversial and non-scientific treatments. This includes therapies such as Chelation Therapy and Lupron Therapy, which currently lack scientific validation.

Chelation Therapy

Chelation therapy is a treatment that has gained some attention in the realm of autism interventions. However, it's important to note that this therapy is not scientifically validated for treating autism. Its efficacy and safety in autism treatment are not supported by clinical research.

The premise of chelation therapy is to remove heavy metals from the body, which some believe may be linked to autism symptoms. However, the potential risks of this therapy, including kidney damage, severe allergic reactions, and even death, significantly outweigh any unproven benefits.

Therefore, it is not recommended as a treatment for autism. For proven, effective treatments, individuals should consider options such as cognitive behavioral therapy.

Lupron Therapy

Similarly, Lupron Therapy is another controversial treatment that is not scientifically validated for autism. Lupron is a drug that's primarily used to treat prostate cancer and certain conditions in women. Some practitioners have used it off-label, in an attempt to treat autism - a use for which it is not scientifically supported.

Like Chelation Therapy, the risks of Lupron Therapy are considerable and can include bone thinning, mood swings, and changes in heart rhythm. It's crucial for individuals with autism and their caregivers to be aware of these risks and to seek treatments that are supported by scientific evidence.

For example, they might consider dialectical behavior therapy or medication management strategies.

When it comes to treating autism, it's crucial to rely on therapies that are evidence-based and scientifically validated. While the allure of a quick fix can be tempting, the potential harm of non-scientific treatments is too great. Always consult with a healthcare provider or autism specialist to make informed decisions about autism treatment options.

Considerations for Autism Treatments

When exploring autism treatments, it's crucial to make informed decisions based on scientific evidence and individual circumstances. This section will guide you through various factors to consider and the importance of integrating various therapies.

Factors to Consider

Many alternative treatments for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) lack scientific evidence to support their use. Families of individuals with ASD are often targeted as consumers for fast solutions or quick cures for ASD, leading to the pursuit of costly alternative treatments that may not be effective [1].

It's important for families of individuals with ASD to learn how to identify evidence-based treatments and pursue those treatments wholeheartedly. Evidence-based treatments are considered effective if they have been repeatedly shown through well-designed scientific studies to demonstrate improvements that are sustained over time.

Alternative treatments for ASD generally target the physiology or biology of the child, rather than teaching new skills directly. Unfortunately, there is not conclusive evidence that alternative treatments help individuals with ASD, and some alternative treatments have been shown to be ineffective or even harmful, such as chelation therapy and facilitated communication [1].

When considering treatments for autism, families should consider:

Integration of Therapies

Integrating various proven therapies can often yield better results for individuals with autism. For example, cognitive behavioral therapy, dialectical behavior therapy, and medication management can work together to improve symptoms and behaviors.

Another example of integration is dietary intervention. According to a study reported by NCBI, 69% of preschool-aged children and 35% of school-aged children with ASD had low serum ferritin and dietary iron intake, with 79% experiencing restless sleep. Iron supplementation led to significant improvements in restless sleep scores.

Complementary and alternative treatments can also play a role. Melatonin is one of the best-studied CATs for ASD, with research showing improvements in sleep duration and onset latency in children with ASD. It's considered sensible, easy, cheap, and safe, therefore recommended for sleep delay problems in ASD.

Overall, it's important to maintain an open dialogue with healthcare providers, educators, and therapists to ensure that all treatments are working together for the benefit of the individual with autism. More information about integrating therapies can be found in our article on autism and complementary therapies.








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