Many people with chronic conditions like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) use alternative treatments in tandem with more traditional methods like therapy and medication. Their effectiveness and safety is not as well researched. Parents of children with ASD and adults with the condition should consult with a physician before taking any supplements or trying alternative methods.
Amino acids, which can act as neurotransmitters may help regulate serotonin levels of people with ASD. Taurine may improve visual learning in people with ASD. L-Carnosine may help repetitive verbal habits for people with ASD1.
Auditory integration training (AIT) can help improve auditory processing deficits and concentration. It involves listening to electronically modified music, voice, or sounds to improve function1. This can be beneficial for people with ASD who have trouble listening, or focusing.
B6/Magnesium supplements have been a popular complementary treatment for ASD for over 20 years. Research studies have reported mild improvement in symptoms with their use1.
b-Calm2 is an MP3 player loaded with audio tracks specifically developed as “audio sedation” to help people with ASD screen out sounds that can cause distraction, induce stress, and adversely affect social and academic performance. The tracks combine two types of sounds: live recordings of nature sounds and white noise. At low levels, people can converse and interact. At higher volume, the tracks can cover up voices and noise to reduce sensory overload.
Casein- and gluten free diets3 and other dietary changes may help to improve behavior, or gastrointestinal symptoms of a comorbid condition. At least half of families of children with ASD try this as an alternative therapy, but much research is pointing away from it being a valid, useful treatment option. It’s important to work with a nutritionist or dietician when making major changes in eating habits to ensure that a child or adult’s nutritional needs are being met. Put a plan in place to determine if symptoms change alongside changes in diet, and recruit teachers to objectively observe if changes are worth the effort. An improvement could be reducing the consumption of processed foods that have high levels of sugar and fat and consuming more whole foods like fruits and vegetables.
Dimethyl glycine (DMG)and trimethyl glycine (TMG) are nutritional supplements that are sometimes suggested to treat ASD. Some small studies found no effect when compared with a placebo1.
Melatonin supplements can help to reduce insomnia and sleep dysfunction in children with autism. Poor sleep worsens symptoms, such as repetitive behavior and social problems.
Music therapy can help improve social skill and communication for people with ASD when paired with other educational and therapy interventions, according to some studies1.
Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to reduce repetitive behavior, hyperactivity, and social skills in some small studies.
Relaxation strategies and mindfulness can help people with ASD to calm down when they feel overstimulated. Weighted clothing or a pressure massage can sometimes alleviate symptoms. Yoga can help some to increase their sense of well-being while decreasing anxiety.
Sensory therapies may improve sensitivity to touch, light, balance, or hearing for people with ASD. Similar to treatment for sensory processing disorder, sensory therapies for ASD are done by an occupational therapist, who can help retrain the senses. Typically, the OT creates a “sensory diet” a plan in which the child is slowly introduced to activities in a gentle, fun way to help him or her get used to a wider range of stimulation.
Sulforaphane, a compound found in broccoli sprouts and other cruciferous vegetables, may have a positive effect on the social and behavioral problems associated with autism according to one study4. The compound triggers a “heat-shock” response in some cells, which can decrease hyperactivity and repetitive behaviors. More research is needed to determine if this has a beneficial effect.
1Susan E. Levy, M.D. and Susan L. Hyman, M.D. “Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” NCBI. (2009). Web. (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2597185/)
2Kay Marner. “b-Calm: An MP3 Player for ADHD and Autism Symptoms?” ADDitude Magazine. (2011). Web. (http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/8416.html)
3“Complementary and Alternative Medicine Treatments for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders.” Autism Speaks. (2015). Web. (https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/complementary-treatments-autism)
4Devon Frye. “Compound Found in Broccoli Shows Promise as Autism Treatment.” ADDitude Magazine. (2014). Web. (http://www.additudemag.com/adhdblogs/19/11019.html)