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NCCIH Clinical Digest

for health professionals

The NCCIH Clinical Digest is a monthly e-newsletter that summarizes the state of the science on complementary and integrative health practices for a health condition (diabetes, cancer, sleep disorders, etc.)—clinical guidelines, literature searches, continuing medical education, and information for patients.

In each issue, you'll find evidence-based information for several complementary health practices used for the highlighted condition.

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Autism Spectrum Disorder and Complementary Health Approaches

April 2021autism father and son together

Estimates of the prevalence of autism in the United States vary, but the most recent U.S. Government statistics estimate that about 1 in 54 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is no cure for ASD, but research shows that early diagnosis and interventions, such as during preschool or before, are more likely to have major positive effects on symptoms and later skills. Many parents choose complementary health approaches for their children with ASD to help manage symptoms; however, despite this use there is a paucity of high-quality research focused on complementary approaches for ASD. Of the ASD research that has been conducted, most has been in the pediatric population; very few trials of complementary health approaches have been conducted in adults with ASD.

The existing evidence base indicates that melatonin may be beneficial for sleep disorders associated with ASD. Music therapy may have a positive effect on social interaction, and communication and behavioral skills in those affected by ASD. However, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether other complementary health approaches such as supplementation with omega-3 fatty acids or vitamin B6, or chelation are efficacious for ASD symptoms.

This issue of the digest provides information on the evidence base of several commonly used complementary health approaches for ASD.

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