Alternative medicine

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Because autism can't be cured, many parents seek out alternative and complementary therapies, but these treatments have little or no research to support their effectiveness. You could, unintentionally, reinforce negative behaviors. And some alternative treatments can be potentially dangerous.

Talk with your child's doctor about the scientific evidence of any therapy that you're considering for your child. Examples of complementary and alternative therapies include:

  • Creative therapies. Some parents choose to supplement educational and medical intervention with art therapy or music therapy, which focuses on reducing a child's sensitivity to touch or sound.
  • Sensory-based therapies. These therapies are based on the theory that people with autism have a sensory processing disorder that causes problems tolerating or processing sensory information, such as touch, balance and hearing. Therapists use brushes, squeeze toys, trampolines and other materials to stimulate these senses and organize the sensory system. A sensory processing disorder is not an official diagnosis, and it is not clear if this is even the problem experienced by people with autism. Research has not shown these therapies to be effective, but it's possible they may offer some benefit when used along with other treatments.
  • Special diets. Several diet strategies have been suggested as possible treatments for autism, but more research is necessary to see if they have any effect on autism signs and symptoms. To find out more, talk to a registered dietitian with expertise in autism.
  • Chelation therapy. This treatment is said to remove mercury and other heavy metals from the body. However, there's no known link between mercury and autism. Chelation therapy for autism is not supported by research evidence and can be very dangerous. In some cases, children treated with chelation therapy have died.
  • Acupuncture. This therapy has been used with the goal of improving autism symptoms. However, the effectiveness of acupuncture for autism has not been supported by research.
Oct. 06, 2012