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Alternative Medications Used for 40 Percent of Autistic Children

Update Date: Jan 15, 2014 11:18 AM EST

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disorder that affects the development of normal social and communication skills. Although behavioral therapy and sometimes prescription drugs are the most common forms of treatment for this condition, a new study found that a lot of autistic children get treated with alternative therapies.

In this study, the researchers examined 453 autistic children who were between two and five-years-old. The team also recruited 125 children with other developmental problems within the same age group. All of the children were receiving some kinds of physical or behavioral therapy. Some of the children were also taking medications for symptoms such as constipation, mood disorders and acid reflux.

The researchers found that roughly 40 percent of autistic children also had alternative medications, which included nutritional supplements and unique diets. Around 25 percent of parents reported using specialized nutritional food items and 20 percent of the children were on a gluten-free, casein-free diet. The team was shocked to discover that children who were more likely to have alternative treatments were also the ones receiving over 20 hours of behavioral therapy and educational services per week.

"So it wasn't because they couldn't get access to services. It was just the opposite: The more services you got, the more likely you were to be getting complementary medicine," said study author Dr. Robin Hansen, chief of child development and behavioral pediatrics at the University of California, Davis according to WebMD.

The researchers added that roughly nine percent of children were treated with therapies that were unproven, invasive and potentially dangerous. These therapies include antifungal medications, vitamin B-12 injections and chelation, which is used to remove metals from the body.

The team found that autistic children who had at least one college-educated parent were two times more likely to use alternative medications as well as traditional therapies. The researchers did not find a link between the severity of the children's ASD and likelihood of receiving alternative medications. Furthermore, the researchers found that autistic children were just as likely as children without developmental disorders to be fully vaccinated.

"These complementary and alternative treatments are occurring much more commonly than traditional doctors often think," said Dr. Eric Hollander, a psychiatrist at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, in New York City. "The key is to have a good working relationship with your doctor so you can sort out the benefits and risks."

The findings were published in the Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics.

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