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Finding the Right Autism Treatment

Early, intense therapy works, but hundreds of other treatments being used are untested.

CAM for Autism continued...

In its 2007 guidelines for the management of ASDs, the American Academy of Pediatrics warns that it does not endorse the use of these treatments outside carefully designed, well-monitored clinical trials.

"Unfortunately, families are often exposed to unsubstantiated, pseudoscientific theories and related clinical practices that are, at best, ineffective and, at worst, compete with validated treatments or lead to physical, emotional, or financial harm," the AAP's Council on Children with Disabilities writes.

Progress is being made. Serious researchers are at last responding to parents demands that they evaluate a wide range of autism treatments. And CAM advocacy groups, such as the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) group, are conducting well-respected trials.

One such trial, reported at last years DAN meeting, focused on HBOT -- hyperbaric oxygen therapy -- the latest new CAM autism treatment to emerge. The idea is to put children with autism spectrum disorder into a pressure chamber and push oxygen into their tissues.

"The mechanism of action may not be in keeping with our traditional understanding of brain injury and postnatal treatment in this disorder," Hyman says.

Swedo praises the DAN group for testing this treatment and the study's design. Ultimately, it did not validate HBOT as an autism treatment.

Unfortunately, studies that prove or disprove autism treatments are the exception rather than the rule.

"One of my frustrations is as soon as you think you have a handle on what is worth testing because enough people have used it, another one comes along," Swedo says.

But Hyman warns her fellow researchers about negativity.

"Some things in CAM are very exciting," she says. "Once you demonstrate something works, if doesn't fit into the biological universe you understand, who cares?"

Debbie Page says her experience with her son Gabe brought home to her the importance of starting early with treatments known to be effective -- even if a child's doctors are still arguing about whether the problem is autism or not.

"Just listen to your instinct and you gut," she tells other parents. "No help you get for them is going to hurt them, even if you don't yet have a diagnosis. If your child's communication is not developing, get help for that. You don't need for everyone to agree on a diagnosis to start getting help for your child."

Reviewed on March 27, 2008
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