Alternative Treatments for Autism: Separating Fact from Fiction

Many families with a child suffering from autism turn to alternative therapies, including dietary and nutritional approaches, as part of their treatment plan. This article explores the use of alternative treatments for autism and examines the evidence behind them. We will discuss the reasons why parents may choose alternative therapies and the importance of scientific scrutiny in evaluating their effectiveness.

The Use of Alternative Therapies

Estimates suggest that between 28% and 95% of families with autistic children try alternative therapies, with special diets and dietary supplements being the most common approaches. Parents may choose these therapies due to suspicion or distrust of conventional medical practices or a desire to avoid medications. However, it is essential to consider whether these alternatives offer any significant benefits.

The Limitations of Pharmacological Interventions

Pharmacological interventions for autism mainly focus on reducing associated symptoms such as irritability, but they do not address the core deficits of the disorder. Only two drugs have been approved for autism treatment, and both have significant side effects, including weight gain and sedation. Consequently, many parents seek alternative therapies in search of more effective and safer options.

The Dilemma of Alternative Treatments

When it comes to alternative medicine, some argue that as long as a treatment is not harmful, it is worth trying, even if the evidence is limited. However, caution is necessary to avoid falling victim to unscrupulous individuals who take advantage of desperate parents. It is crucial to subject all treatments, including alternative therapies, to rigorous scientific testing through well-designed clinical trials.

The Importance of Scientific Scrutiny

Researchers emphasize the need for double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of treatments for autism. Despite the reluctance of some doctors to consider alternative therapies, it is essential to ensure that all treatments undergo rigorous testing to provide reliable evidence. Our children deserve nothing less than treatments backed by scientific scrutiny.

The Case of Secretin

One example of a widely promoted alternative treatment is secretin, a gut hormone involved in digestion. Anecdotal reports suggested that secretin administration led to improvements in social and language skills, as well as core autism symptoms. However, when subjected to scientific scrutiny through randomized, controlled trials, secretin showed no significant effects. The placebo effect may have played a role in the perception of improvement, highlighting the importance of placebo-controlled studies.

The Vulnerability of Parents

In the absence of effective and affordable treatments for autism, parents of children with the disorder are susceptible to extravagant claims of potential cures. The case of secretin demonstrates how factors such as anecdotal reports and high expectations can contribute to the widespread acceptance of ineffective treatments. It is crucial for parents to remain informed and skeptical, relying on scientific evidence to guide their treatment decisions.


Alternative treatments for autism continue to be a topic of interest for many families. While it is understandable that parents want to explore all possible options, it is essential to approach alternative therapies with caution. Scientific scrutiny is necessary to separate fact from fiction and ensure that treatments are safe and effective. By relying on evidence-based practices, we can provide the best care for individuals with autism.

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