Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) refers to a complex group of generally lifelong developmental disorders, usually diagnosed in childhood. Characteristics of ASD may include problems communicating; difficulty relating to people, things, and events; repetitive movements or behaviors; and difficulty adjusting to unfamiliar surroundings or routines. ASD is called a “spectrum” disorder because it can cause very different symptoms. Some people have mild symptoms and others have much more severe ones. Estimates of autism vary and prevalence studies in the United States have looked only at children, but the most recent U.S. Government statistics estimate that about 1 in 68 children has ASD. It’s 4.5 times more common among boys than girls.
Many parents try complementary health approaches, usually along with conventional medical care, for their children with ASD.
- If you’re thinking about giving a child a dietary supplement or trying another complementary health approach, it’s especially important to consult your child’s health care provider. Few complementary approaches have been studied for children.1
- If you’re considering a dietary supplement, remember that “natural” does not mean “safe.” Some dietary supplements may have side effects, and some may interact with medications or other dietary supplements. Taking too much of a supplement or substituting supplements for prescription medicines can be harmful—and even life-threatening.
- The effects of special diets, such as a ketogenic diet, aren’t fully understood. People with ASD need to be monitored when they are on a special diet so they avoid any harmful side effects.
- Marijuana hasn’t been studied for ASD, though there’s interest in its use by some patient groups to help with behavioral symptoms associated with ASD. The National Institute on Drug Abuse has information on many aspects of marijuana, including how chemicals in it affect people’s brain and body.
- Talk to your child’s health care provider to get help assessing what, if any, complementary approach would help your child, since children respond differently to interventions.
1 In the past, children were often excluded from research studies due to special protections, and findings from studies of adults were applied to children. Today, the National Institutes of Health requires that children be included in all studies, unless there are scientific and ethical reasons not to.
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