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Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) Therapies for Autism

Jun 12, 2023 | 0 comments

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Jun 12, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Although AAT is beneficial to an autistic child, Complementary and alternative medicine is also beneficial. The Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM) method of treatment are extensively often used in promotion of health, as adjuncts to the conventional medication treatment. Kayne & Kayne (2009) defined CAM as diverse products and practices, healthcare and medical systems, that are not considered part, generally as conventional medicine. The parents use CAM often in the care of the children who suffer from the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Typically in most cases in combination with the conventional medical treatments. This practice Loo (2009) labeled it as integrative medicine. National Health Interview Survey (U.S.) & National Center for Health Statistics (U.S.) (2004) pointed out that the data from National Health Interview Survey indicated that 12% of the US children and 38.3% of the US adults use CAM. This was further confirmed by the higher figures of the 2008 review which showed higher rates, with 20%-40% of the children using CAM. Rosen & Riley (2007) observed that the use of CAM among the children and adults is higher for those that have chronic health conditions. Similarly, among the families that has representation in the Interactive Autism Network, approximately more than half of the youths and the children who suffer from ASD get supplements. Moreover, Kurtz (2008) argued that the families who decide to use CAM for their children who suffer from ASD report 7 CAM therapies averagely.


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Research on the benefits and safety of CAM also referred to as integrated medicine, has been minimal compared to other traditional treatments. For this reason of lack of may detailed and extensive studies, many health care providers and physicians often find it difficult to give advice to the families who make an inquiry about the CAM treatments. According to Kayne & Kayne (2009), many CAM therapies are applied in children and are categorized into four domains, that is: biological based practices, mind body medicine, energy medicine and body based and manipulative practices. The most common therapies used in CAM in the treatments of ASD fall in the body-based and manipulative practices and biological based practice.

Why and who uses CAM therapies

Conventional medicine is mostly used in diagnosis, treatment and cure of diseases, while CAM promote health and incorporate the patient in the process of healing that ultimately address the interpreted underlying cause of illness by the practitioner. According to Loo (2009), the reasons CAM is used by families is because of the conventional medication’s adverse effects, more medical visits, more medication , and worse symptoms control from the conventional medication. CAM therapies bring about satisfaction, resolve symptoms successfully, and have no side effects.

CAM therapies

According to Siegel (2003) all treatments are supposed to be based on evidenced based medicine principles. Clinical expertise integration, family (patient) values and efficacy evidence. Aarons & Gittens (1999) pointed out that many parents tend to do research on their own, including comparing notes with other individuals or parents. However, he cautions that an experience of another person is not similar to evidence from a study carefully designed and conducted. Moreover, because autism incorporates group of disorders that are complex, some treatments may not work with another person but work well with the next person. The same sentiments are echoed by Simkin & Popper (2012) who emphasize that the CAM therapies should complement and not replace the proven behavioral treatments for the core symptoms of autism, or effective and safe medications for the associated medical conditions. Some of the safest and researched therapies suitable for ASD, grouped according to their domains include:

Mind body medicine


Yoga as a non pharmacological technique decreases anxiety and is liked by clinicians and families. This mind-body approach increases the sense of control and well being and has potential of decreasing anxiety. This relaxation therapy helps children n the psychiatry service and those who are mentally retarded. However, there exists no studies that have been conducted on the autism symptoms to the yoga techniques response (Kayne & Kayne, 2009).

Music therapy

Loo (2009) indicated that music has been frequently applied to reinforce communication in the educational interventions. Application of music in a therapeutic format that is discrete to enhance communication development and social skill in children with autism, has been studied in pilot studies with the potential for beneficial effects on gestural and spoken communication

Biological based practices

Dietary supplements


The vitamins supplements have been used for many years for improving the symptoms of the mental disorders, with magnesium and B6 being popular for autism treatment (Murza et al (2010, p.115). However, the supplements have not been used because of minimal studies, small sample sizes and methodological deficits therefore making it difficult to conduct meta-analysis. Some of the notable studies are the one conducted by Murza et al (2010, p.117) who reported social quotient and IQ improvements in 8 children who were treated with Mg++ and B6.


Shaw & Rimland (2002) noted that more than half of the children who suffers from ASD struggle with the sleeping disorders, with insomnia being the most prevalent. Similarly, issues of sleep affects also many adults and adolescents with autism. Although in these age groups the prevalence is unknown yet. Melatonin is a hormone that naturally occurs and helps in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. Shaw & Rimland (2002) asserted that supplements also have been found to assist in improving sleep and reducing insomnia in children suffering from autism.
In a pilot study conducted by Dr. Beth Mallow in Vanderbilt University medical School, the results indicated that a dose per night helps the children with insomnia and autism fall asleep. Among the 24 children aged 3-9 years under study, who completed the experimental treatment for 14 weeks only differed in the dosage required for them to fall asleep. However, in all the cases, a regimen of melatonin per night of about 1-6mg assisted with the onset of sleep with one week. Moreover, the benefits lasted for the whole study period, with no diverse side effects. The parents also noticed improvements in the daytime behavior of their children, and reduction of stress levels amongst themselves.
According to Kayne & Kayne (2009), disordered sleep can worsen the symptoms of autism such as social difficulties and repetitive behaviors. Additionally, other care givers and parents report that insomnia that is associated with autism can take a toll on the whole household. Dr. Beth Malow cautions that individuals or families that deal with insomnia that is associated with autism should consult a physician first, instead of trying melatonin. This is because sleep disturbances are caused by several factors and therefore, it is of great importance to identify first and treat the underlying medical conditions.

Omega-3 fatty acids

They are crucial for the development of brain and cannot also be manufactured in the body. However, dietary consumption of omega-3 fatty acids occurs through consumption of fish oils or fish. Rosen & Riley (2007) indicated that the oral supplements with fatty acids of late have become very popular for the children with differences in development including autism. Several researches have indicated that omega 3 fatty acids supplements may help in reducing symptoms that are related to autism such as hyperactivity, repetitive behavior, in addition to improving socialization. For instance Kurtz (2008), pointed out a pilot study in 2001 which enrolled 27 children diagnosed with hyperactivity and ASD, aged between 3 to 8 years. Some children were given in their pudding cup, 1.3 grams of omega- 3 fatty acids daily, while other children were given pudding without the omega 3 fatty acid supplement. After 12 weeks, the children who received the omega 3 fatty acids improved significantly on hyperactivity on a validated measure. They showed an improvement of about 2.7 on the Aberrant Behavior Checklist.
In summary, as providers of healthcare are looking forward increasingly toward the evidence for the conventional medical practices, much focus should be placed on examining the evidence for the practice of CAM that patients may be using. Furthermore, much encouragement should be done to families to share the interventions that they may be pursuing, whether or not endorsed or prescribed, by the conventional practice. This is significant for the monitoring of the health side effects, and for the potential of interactions of drugs. Some practices of CAM have emerging evidences to support their continual use in the traditional medical practice.such as melatonin.howver, most treatements have not been studied adequately, and therefore lack evidence to support them.although it is not because of the direct effect of the CAM practices, side effects that are undesired may relate to the discontinuation or delay of otherwise effective treatments.

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