Since currently, there are no treatments for autism spectrum disorders; research is still ongoing. We have mentioned various times that every child is different and that each child that experiences a learning disability will have different strengths and weaknesses. Therefore, what works for one child might not work for the other and vise versa. Thus, a multidisciplinary approach and tackling the problem from various standpoints might be the most beneficial route to help a child with a learning disability. The previous series of articles focused on defining different autism spectrum disorders, the causes, and the behavior and communication approaches of intervention; this article will focus on other interventions. This article will tackle medication and complementary and alternative medicine as methods of treatment for autism spectrum disorder.
It is normal to automatically think of medication as a way of treatment for autism spectrum disorders or any learning disability. However, as mentioned, there is currently no cure or targetted medication that treats symptoms. Nonetheless, some medications can help individuals with autism spectrum disorder function better; for example, medication can help with high energy levels. Additionally, medication can help with the inability to focus, anxiety, depression, self-harm, aggression, behavioral reactivity, and seizures. When medication reduces symptoms, it allows the child to focus on other things such as learning and communication. Research shows that medication is most effective when it is accompanied by behavioral therapy.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of some antipsychotic drugs. Some of these drugs are risperidone and aripiprazole, and are used to treat irritability associated with autism spectrum disorders. It is worth mentioning that other drugs are often prescribed and used to help children with autism spectrum disorders. However, these drugs are not approved by the FDA. Some of these drugs are specifically not authorized for anyone under the age of 18. Autism Speaks, one of the leading organizations for autism spectrum disorders in the US, has created a tool to help parents and caregivers make informed medication decisions. To read more about this tool, click here.
It is imperative to work with a healthcare professional experienced in managing autism spectrum disorder to administer medication. Parents and healthcare professionals must closely monitor children’s behavior and reaction when medication is taken. This is to ensure that there are no negative reactions or side effects. Moreover, if there are some adverse side effects, they need to ensure that the negatives do not outweigh the positives.
Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatment
The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine Center defines comparative and alternative medicine (CAM) as “a group of diverse medical and health care systems, practices, and products that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.” It is common practice to use CAM with children that have autism spectrum disorder. According to a study conducted by Levy et al., by the time their clinical population received a formal evaluation for possible autism spectrum disorder, almost one-third of the children had already received a complementary or alternative therapy. Moreover, a parent survey found that 52% of children with autism spectrum disorder had received at least one CAM treatment compared to 28% of the control group of children without learning disabilities.
CAM therapies used to treat autism spectrum disorders have been categorized into two categories, biological and non-biological. Examples of biological therapies include immunoregulatory intervention, such as dietary restrictions of certain food allergens. Moreover, other biological treatments include detoxification therapies, gastrointestinal therapies (i.e., digestive enzymes, antifungal agents, probiotics, “yeast-free diet,” gluten/casein-free diet). Dietary supplement regimens are also another example of biological therapies, and it includes taking the following vitamins: A, C, B6, B12 magnesium, folic acid, and other vitamins and various minerals.
Non-biological CAM therapies include auditory integration training, behavioral optometry, craniosacral manipulation, dolphin assisted therapy, music therapy, and facilitated communication.
Do CAM Therapies Really Work?
So far, there has not been enough scientific evidence to support the use of and benefits of complementary and alternative medicine. However, this does not mean that CAM treatments cannot be investigated and assessed. Secretin, a biological therapy that involves giving an individual injection of natural or synthetic secretin, has proven ineffective in helping individuals with an autism spectrum disorder. The study was conducted by having a sample of 700 participants. The critical takeaway here is for healthcare providers and caregivers to be aware that many of their patients will use CAM therapies. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of different CAM therapies, using and providing balanced information on potential risks while avoiding discrediting such therapies. This is integral because parents of children with autism spectrum disorder are pursuing these options believing that they are helping their children.
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