Sunday, January 12, 2014

Childhood Autism: Desperate Parents turn to bogus therapies for vain hope

In a study of the range of treatments being employed for young children with autism and other developmental delays, UC Davis MIND Institute researchers have found that families often use bogus and ineffective procedures masked as complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments.

The most frequent users of both conventional and bogus complementary approaches are those with higher levels of parental education and income.
There is no Food and Drug Administration-approved medical treatment for the core symptoms of autism spectrum disorder, a lifelong neuro-developmental condition whose hallmarks are deficits in social relatedness, repetitive thoughts and behaviours and, often, intellectual disability.
In the vain search for treatments to help their children, families may turn to bogus and snake-oil approaches such as mind-body medicine (e.g. meditation or prayer), homeopathic remedies, probiotics, alternative diets or more invasive therapies such as vitamin B-12 injections, intravenous immunoglobulin or chelation therapy; many of which carry significant risks.

Robin Hansen
The research is published online today in the Journal of Behavioural and Developmental Pediatrics. It was led by Robin Hansen, director of the Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at the MIND Institute and chief of the Division of Developmental Behavioral Pediatrics in the UC Davis School of Medicine.

"In our Northern California study population, it does not appear that families use bogus and ineffective complementary and alternative treatments due to the lack of a definitive answer and therfore, a lack of appropriate conventional services, as has been suggested by other research," Hansen said.

"Rather, desperate parents with excess money use bogus treatments in addition to and in parallel to conventional approaches. Thus causing great confusion as to the benefits of either."
The cause or causes of most neuro-developmental disorders are not known, and the conditions have no cure. 
Many children suffer from a wide array of associated symptoms that may not be directly associated with their condition and that make their daily lives and those of their families very stressful.

Such symptoms include irritability, hyperactivity, gastrointestinal problems and sleep disorders.

The study included nearly 600 diverse children between 2 and 5 years with autism and developmental delay who were enrolled in the Childhood Autism Risk from Genetics and the Environment (CHARGE) study.

Of the participants, 453 were diagnosed with autism and 125 were diagnosed with developmental delay.

"Our study suggests that pediatricians and other providers need to ask about CAM use in the context of providing care for children with autism and other developmental disorders, and take a more active role in helping families make decisions about treatment options based on available information related to potential benefits and risks," said Roger Scott Akins, lead author and a former postdoctoral fellow at the MIND Institute, who now is chairman of the Division of Neurodevelopmental Pediatrics at Naval Medical Center Portsmouth, Va.

Irva Hertz-Picciotto
Irva Hertz-Picciotto, professor of public health sciences and principal investigator for the CHARGE study, said the research supports the emergent need for identifying validated treatments for neurodevelopmental conditions.

"These findings emphasize the enormous and urgent need for effective treatments and for rigorous research that can identify them and verify their effectiveness and safety," Hertz-Picciotto said.

"Of course it is reasonable for parents to keep searching for ways to help their children, when there are few effective treatments and none that can help every child."

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