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  • Writer's pictureHannah's Hope

More on CAM.

As we have already discussed here on this blog, Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Autism are available for anyone seeking non-traditional forms of treatment for themselves or their child with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). As we all know, autism simply means that a person is neurodivergent and their brain works differently than those who are neurotypical. However, autism is not an illness or disease, so it does not require treatment to cure. Lisa Jo Rudy is an autism advocate who wrote an article last year for VeryWellhealth titled "Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Autism" in which she outlines the options for CAM as well as the necessity and benefits of them. Rudy describes autism as "a disability for most autistic people" and the traits that come with it, like light sensitivity, unsatisfactory eating patterns, or emotional outbursts are frustrating for most that deal with them, which is where CAM comes in to play. There are some methods out there that can be helpful to those with autism, but there are still some that need to be heavily researched as they do present some risk and danger if not communicated effectively with your child's doctors or medical professionals. In conjunction with communication with the child's healthcare team, you should also set goals and record any progress or decrease to determine whether the therapy is working. Before we dive fully into the CAM methods that are available, let's review the traditional approaches to treatment first. The most established treatments are Applied Behavioral therapy (ABA), Speech therapy, Occupational therapy and physical therapy, which help with motor and communication skills, and anti-anxiety medications that ameliorate anxiety or behavioral issues. ABA is often considered the "standard" when it comes to serving the autism community, however, there are multiple autism advocates who argue that this method suppresses autistic behavior and stresses too heavily on conformity. There are also some who believe that ABA is linked to post-traumatic stress symptoms in autistic individuals. The medications discussed above can also have some pretty serious and/or extreme side effects that are not pleasurable for autistic individuals who are already dealing with so much. Beyond that, there are some traditional methods that strive to help symptoms that co-occur with autism, like gastrointestinal (GI) problems, sleeplessness, anxiety, body language and tone interpretation, sensory sensitivity, emotional dysregulation and learning disabilities, so it is important to explore and research those options as well. Now, let's look at CAM therapies specifically, but first, understand that these types of treatments may not work for your child as they are not created to fit everyone. Also, they are not meant to replace traditional methods of care nor should you try all of them at once. Every child is unique and they all have specific needs and/or preferences that may dictate their success with a CAM therapy. The best option for your child will be the one that is safe for them and one that they accept for themselves. In the article, Rudy lists several CAM therapies to just provide an overview, which includes: food supplements, specialized diets, animal-assisted therapy, arts therapies, developmental therapies, mind-body therapies (yoga or biofeedback), non-medical alternative therapies (acupuncture, chiropractic or massage therapy) and sensory therapies (diets or weighted vests). Rudy also points out that there are some CAM therapy options that are recommended more so than others for specific symptoms, like anxiety or sleeplessness; anyone, autistic or not would be recommended these treatments. For example, melatonin would be suggested for treating insomnia, multivitamins or minerals would be useful for people who are lacking in their recommended daily value of specific nutrients, especially if they have food sensitivities or aversions. Massage therapy is another option as it has proven to be a risk-free alternative for reducing anxiety and stress. Doctors and therapists may also recommend fish oil supplements for hyperactivity, vitamin b12 for behavioral issues and probiotics for gastrointestinal issues in addition to the common CAM methods listed above. Keep in mind that these therapies and supplements may or may not be effective for your child and there is not a ton of research to back them up. Of the research that we do have, the sample sizes are fairly small, so it is important to recognize that with the wide array of differences amongst autistic individuals, there is no guarantee that these methods will be clear solvents. However, with the minimal risk and cost-effectiveness of these common CAM measures, they may be worth the shot. While on the topic of low-risk treatments, let's look at some that Rudy lists in her article. There are a few that fall under the umbrella of traditional Asian and holistic therapies that some hospitals and clinics will recommend specifically for anxiety, stress and sleeplessness, however, they can be pricey and are not generally covered by insurance, so be aware of that when considering these options. Yoga, mindfulness meditation, craniosacral manipulation, acupuncture, acupressure and.or reiki are all fairly common recommendations for autistic children and adults. While these may be successful in addressing the confounding struggles of autism, remember that they are not to be used to remove in specifically autistic traits from the individual. Special diets have also been popular as an autism treatment for many years, despite the lack of researching connecting nutrition and autism. As noted by Rudy, the Interactive Autism Network (IAN) includes these diets: casein-free diet, gluten-free diet, feingold diet, specific carbohydrate diet and yeast-free diet. So, what does each one of these entail? The casein-free diet eliminates all milk and by-products of milk as casein is a protein that is found in milk and its products. Gluten is a protein that is found in a large majority of grains, so a gluten-free diet excludes those grains and products they are used in. The feingold diet instructs that the individual should avoid any additives and chemicals. The specific carbohydrate diet does exactly what it sounds like and excludes carbohydrates such as, grains, lactose and sucrose from a person's food intake. The yeast-free diet sounds simple, but could be quite challenging as it instructs that a person removed all yeast and sugar from their diet. While there is not a ton of research on whether altering the diets of autistic individuals is truly helpful, there are parents who report that changing their child's diet has noticeably improved behavior. These changes are likely due to the elimination of food sensitivities that the child has making them more comfortable on the day-to-day. Sensory therapy is another option for CAM treatments. Rudy explains in her article that in 2013, the criteria for ASD was changed to include hypo and hyper reactivity to sensory stimuli, which means being over or under responsive to lights, sound, touch, etc. These sensitivities can make getting through the day extremely challenging for autistic individuals which is why sensory integration therapy has become an option as a branch of occupational therapy. Sensory therapists will use tools like weighted vests, sensory "diets" (brushing and joint compression) and sessions with a licensed therapist. Keep in mind, that there is limited research on the success of this specific form of therapy over time. Supplements and natural remedies are another form of CAM worth noting as they generally focus on the nutrients that autistic individuals are lacking as well as assisted therapies that can potentially improve behavior and quality of life. Autistic individuals are generally picky eaters which puts them at risk for depleted sources of essential nutrients like vitamins A, C, B6, zinc and folic acid. Supplements for these key nutrients as well as a multivitamin might be given, however there is not a ton of research that any supplements other than a multivitamin are helpful or necessary and overdoses of certain nutrients are possible and could be harmful. Developmental, arts, and animal-assisted therapies are risk-free CAM therapy options that can be considered as such if they are not offered by schools or paid for by insurance companies. These therapy methods have demonstrated benefits on both emotional and behavioral well-being while also opening up the opportunity for more social and hobby experiences. These therapies include: hippotherapy (horseback riding), emotional support animals, play therapy (teaches social skills, builds symbolic thinking, increases communication, etc.), arts therapy (music, dance, visual art, drama), recreational therapy (community-based sports and recreation) and social skills therapy (groups focused on building skills for social interaction and communication). Two other forms of this type of therapy that are backed by autistic-led organizations for being more ethical, safe and effective are cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT). Now, let's take a look at some of the high risk CAM "treatments" that Rudy discusses in her article. As we have already pointed out, autism is not something that can be cured and the use of the world "treatment" should be guided with the understanding that it will only make the challenges or unpleasant behaviors more manageable. There are some CAM methods out there that claim to "treat" autism through the usage of risky chemicals or procedures and because of that, they can be potentially harmful. It is also worth noting that these methods are based on ideas about the causes of autism that have now been debunked such as autism being the effect of certain vaccines or toxins like environmental chemicals. So, these treatments are used to essentially "detoxify" the individual's body via biomedical interventions. These harmful interventions include: Chelation, Hyperbaric oxygen, Antifungal agents, Miracle/Master mineral solutions (MMS) and Antibiotics. Chelation is the removal of heavy metals from the body that are present from vaccines who presumably cause harm by using heavy metals as additives. Hyperbaric oxygen is a form of "treatment" that requires someone to sit in one of these chambers to reduce supposed inflammation. Antifungal agents are used to reduce presumed Candida overgrowth, which is essentially from yeast in the diet. MMS is also supposed to detoxify the body by using a bleach-based "treatment." Antibiotics in this case are used like most as they intended to reduce underlying illness, however in this case, there is not likely any necessity for autistic individuals. All in all, the most important thing to note when reading about these alternative therapies is this: do not make any changes without speaking to the doctor and other professionals in your child's network. Many of these CAM methods can be used in addition to other more traditional therapy options and it is important to communicate with professionals on which to try and stay open about what is or is not working.

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