Parents of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often use complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) treatments with their children as an alternative, or in addition to, conventional treatments. CAM treatments are controversial and, for most, their efficacy has not been scientifically established. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT), a scientifically supported treatment for decompression sickness, is being increasingly recommended as a treatment for autism. Although anecdotal evidence may exist, there is a need for rigorous controlled scientific research to evaluate the treatment effects of HBOT on the core symptoms of ASD.
The journal Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders reports the results of a randomized double-blind placebo-controlled trial study comparing HBOT to placebo in children with autistic disorder who received 80 sessions of treatment over a 15-week period. Multiple standardized instruments and direct behavioral observations were used to evaluate treatment effects on ASD symptoms. The results indicated no significant differences between HBOT and placebo groups across any of the outcome measures (social reciprocity, communication, and repetitive behaviors). The study concludes that HBOT does not result in a clinically significant improvement of the symptoms of autism and that it is not recommended for the treatment of ASD symptoms.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently announced that hyperbaric oxygen treatment is not an approved or effective treatment or cure for autism. Companies and websites claiming hyperbaric oxygen can treat or cure autism are misleading the public, according to the FDA. "Patients may incorrectly believe that these devices have been proven safe and effective for uses not cleared by FDA, which may cause them to delay or forgo proven medical therapies," says Nayan Patel, a biomedical engineer in FDA's Anesthesiology Devices Branch. "In doing so, they may experience a lack of improvement and/or worsening of their existing condition(s)."
Granpeesheh, D., Tarbox, J., Dixon, D. R., Wilke, A. E., Allen, M. S., & Bradstreet, J. J. (2010). Randomized trial of hyperbaric oxygen therapy for children with autism. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders, 4, 268-275.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers.
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