Autism is a spectrum of brain disorders that appear early in life, usually between the ages of 2 to 6 years. Symptoms vary, but can include poor social interactions, repetitive actions, and interests that are not typical.
There is no cure for autism. Treatment can help reduce some symptoms. Current treatments include school programs, therapies, counseling, and medication. Alternative treatments may help manage symptoms, but there is often a lack of data to support them.
The following therapies focus on reducing symptoms.
- Melatonin —hormone that regulates sleep. It may improve sleep duration and the ability to fall asleep in children and adolescents with autism.C1, C5, C11, C12
The following therapies may help manage some symptoms when used as part of a treatment plan. No single alternative or traditional treatment is helpful for all symptoms.
Possibly Not Effective
- Combination of Vitamin B6 and magnesium
- Note: High doses of vitamin B6 may result in nerve damage and diarrhea.
- Note: Maximum safe dosages of magnesium have not been established for young children.C8, C10
- Secretin C2, C3, C4, C6, C8, C10, C13, C14
- Acupuncture A1
- Auditory integration therapy D1, D5
- Gluten-free diet B1, B2
- Casein-free diet B1, B2
Editorial process and description of evidence categories can be found at EBSCO NAT Editorial Process.
Herbs and Supplements to Be Used With Caution
Talk to your doctor about all herbs or supplements you are taking. Some may interact with your treatment plan or health conditions.
Some supplements discussed here have certain concerns such as:
- Vitamin B6 in doses as low as 200 mg may result in nerve damage.
- Magnesium does not have safe dosages established for young children.
A1. Cheuk DK, Wong, V, et al. Acupuncture for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011 Sep 7;(9):CD007849.
B1. Elder JH, Shankar M, Shuster J et al. The Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet In Autism: Results of A Preliminary Double Blind Clinical Trial. J Autism Dev Disord . 2006 Mar 23 [Epub ahead of print].
B2. Millward C, Ferriter M, Calver S, Connell-Jones G. Gluten- and casein-free diets for autistic spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2008;(2):CD003498.
C1. Andersen IM, Kaczmarska J, et al. Melatonin for insomnia in children with autism spectrum disorders. J Child Neurol. 2008 May;23(5):482-5. doi: 10.1177/0883073807309783. Epub 2008 Jan 8.
C2. Coniglio SJ, Lewis JD, Lang C, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of single-dose intravenous secretin as treatment for children with autism. J Pediatr. 2001;138:649–655.
C3. Corbett B, Khan K, Czapansky-Beilman D, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled crossover study investigating the effect of porcine secretin in children with autism. Clin Pediatr. 2001;40:327–331.
C4. Dunn-Geier J, Ho HH, Auersperg E, et al. Effect of secretin on children with autism: a randomized controlled trial. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2000;42:796–802.
C5. Garstang J, Wallis M. Randomized controlled trial of melatonin for children with autistic spectrum disorders and sleep problems. Child Care Health Dev. 2006 Sep;32(5):585-9.
C6. Molloy CA, Manning-Courtney P, Swayne S, et al. Lack of benefit of intravenous synthetic human secretin in the treatment of autism. J Autism Dev Disord. 2002;32:545–551:2nd CD.
C7. Nye C, Brice A. Combined vitamin B6-magnesium treatment in autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2005 Oct 19;(4):CD003497.
C8. Owley T, Steele E, Corsello C, et al. A double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of secretin for the treatment of autistic disorder. MedGenMed. 1999;6:E2.
C9. Rimland B, Callaway E, Dreyfus P. The effect of high doses of vitamin B 6 on autistic children: a double-blind crossover study. Am J Psychiatry. 1978;135:472–475.
C10. Roberts W, Weaver L, Brian J, et al. Repeated doses of porcine secretin in the treatment of autism: a randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Pediatrics. 2001;107:E71.
C11. Rossignol DA, Frye RE. Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Dev Med Child Neurol 2011 Sep;53(9):783.
C12. Rossignol DA, Frye RE. Melatonin in autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Dev Med Child Neurol. 2011 Apr 19.
C13. Sponheim E, Oftedal G, Helverschou SB. Multiple doses of secretin in the treatment of autism: a controlled study. Acta Paediatr. 2002;91:540–545.
C14. Unis AS, Munson JA, Rogers SJ, et al. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial of porcine versus synthetic secretin for reducing symptoms of autism. J Am Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry. 2002;41:1315–1321.
D1. Auditory integration training and facilitated communication for autism. American Academy of Pediatrics. Committee on Children with Disabilities. Pediatrics 1998 Aug;102(2):431).
D2. Field T, Lasko D, Mundy P, et al. Brief report: autistic children's attentiveness and responsivity improve after touch therapy. J Autism Dev Disord . 1997;27:333–338.
D3. Geretsegger M, Elefant C, et al. Music therapy for people with autism spectrum disorder. Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2014 Jun 17;(6):CD004381.
D4. Lee MS, Kim JI, Ernst E. Massage therapy for children with autism spectrum disorders: a systematic review. J Clin Psychiatry. 2011;72(3):406-411.
D5. Sinha Y, Silove N, et al. Auditory integration training and other sound therapies for autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Cochrane Database Syst Rev 2011 Dec 7;(12):CD003681.
Last reviewed February 2019 by EBSCO NAT Review Board
Richard Glickman-Simon, MD
Last Updated: 2/22/2019