Medical Management of Autism

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Drugs, supplements, diets or other forms of medical management are often used to alter physiology in an attempt to relieve common autistic symptoms such as seizures, sleep disturbances, irritability, and hyperactivity that can interfere with education or social adaptation or (more rarely) cause autistic individuals to harm themselves or others.
Many parents who try one or more therapies report some progress, and there are a few well-publicized reports of children who are able to return to mainstream education after treatment, with dramatic improvements in health and well-being.

However, only a very few medical treatments are well supported by scientific evidence using controlled experiments.

Prescription Medication

Many children diagnosed with ASD are prescribed psychoactive drugs or anticonvulsants, with the most common drug classes being antidepressants, stimulants, and antipsychotics. Only the antipsychotics have clearly demonstrated efficacy.

Risperidone, for e.g. is a drug is used for treating symptomatic irritability in autistic children and adolescents. In short-term trials (up to six months) most adverse events were mild to moderate, with weight gain, drowsiness, and high blood sugar requiring monitoring; long term efficacy and safety have not been fully determined. Risperidone is not recommended for autistic children with mild aggression and explosive behaviour without an enduring pattern.

A person with ASD may respond atypically to medications and the medications can have adverse side effects.

Dietary Supplements

Many parents give their children dietary supplements in an attempt to treat autism or to alleviate its symptoms. The range of supplements given is wide; few are supported by scientific data, but most have relatively mild side effects.

A review found some low-quality evidence to support the use of vitamin B6 in combination with magnesium at high doses, but the evidence was equivocal. Due to the small number of studies, the methodological quality of studies, and small sample sizes, no recommendation can be advanced regarding the use of B6-Mg as a treatment for autism.

Dimethyl glycine (DMG) is hypothesized to improve speech and reduce autistic behaviours, and is a commonly used supplement. Two studies found no statistically significant effect on autistic behaviours, and reported few side effects.

Vitamin C decreased stereotyped behaviour in a small study. The study has not been replicated, and vitamin C has limited popularity as an autism treatment. High doses might cause kidney stones or gastrointestinal upset such as diarrhoea.

Melatonin is sometimes used to manage sleep problems in developmental disorders. Adverse effects are generally reported to be mild, including drowsiness, headache, dizziness, and nausea; however, an increase in seizure frequency is reported among susceptible children.

Although Omega-3 fatty acids are a popular treatment for children with ASD, there is very little high-quality scientific evidence supporting their effectiveness, and further research is needed.[2]

Several other supplements have been hypothesized to relieve autism symptoms, including BDTH, carnosine, cholesterol, cyproheptadine, D-cycloserine, folic acid, glutathione, metallothionein promoters, omega-6 fatty acids, tryptophan, tyrosine, thiamine, vitamin B, and zinc. These lack reliable scientific evidence of efficacy or safety in treatment of autism.


Diets that eliminate foods containing either gluten or casein, or both, are widely promoted, and many testimonials can be found describing benefits in autism-related symptoms, notably social engagement and verbal skills. Studies supporting these claims have had significant flaws, so these data are inadequate to guide treatment recommendations.

Other elimination diets have also been proposed, targeting salicylates, food dyes, yeast, and simple sugars.

No scientific evidence has established the efficacy of such diets in treating autism in children. An elimination diet may create nutritional deficiencies that harm overall health unless care is taken to assure proper nutrition.


Chiropractic is an alternative medical practice whose main hypothesis is that mechanical disorders of the spine affect general health via the nervous system, and whose main treatment is spinal manipulation.

A significant portion of the profession rejects vaccination, as traditional chiropractic philosophy equates vaccines to poison. Most chiropractic writings on vaccination focus on its negative aspects, claiming that it is hazardous, ineffective, and unnecessary, and in some cases suggesting that vaccination cause autism or that chiropractors should be the primary contact for treatment of autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders.

Chiropractic treatment has not been shown to be effective for medical conditions other than back pain, and there is insufficient scientific evidence to make conclusions about chiropractic care for autism.

Craniosacral therapy

Craniosacral therapy is an alternative medical practice whose main hypothesis is that restrictions at cranial sutures of the skull affect rhythmic impulses conveyed via cerebrospinal fluid, and that gentle pressure on external areas can improve the flow and balance of the supply of this fluid to the brain, relieving symptoms of many conditions.

There is no scientific support for major elements of the underlying model, there is little scientific evidence to support the therapy, and research methods that could conclusively evaluate the therapy’s effectiveness have not been applied. No published studies are available on the use of this therapy for autism.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Studies indicate that 12–17% of adolescents and young adults with autism satisfy diagnostic criteria for catatonia, which is loss of or hyperactive motor activity. Electroconvulsive therapy (ECT) has been used to treat cases of catatonia and related conditions in people with autism. However, no controlled trials have been performed of ECT in autism, and there are serious ethical and legal obstacles to its use.


Affective computing devices, typically with image or voice recognition capabilities, have been proposed to help autistic individuals improve their social communication skills. These devices are still under development. Robots have also been proposed as educational aids for autistic children.

Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation

Transcranial magnetic stimulation, which is a somewhat well-established treatment for depression, has been proposed, and used, as a treatment for autism.

A review published in 2013 found insufficient evidence to support its widespread use for autism spectrum disorders.  A 2015 review found tentative but insufficient evidence to justify its us outside of clinical studies.


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