Objective: To study the efficacy, safety, and compliance of short-term electro-acupuncture for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
Design: Randomized, double-blind, sham-controlled, clinical trial.
Subjects and methods: Children with ASD were randomly assigned to an electro-acupuncture (EA) group (n=30) or a sham electro-acupuncture (SEA) group (n=25) matched by age and severity of autism. The EA group received electro-acupuncture for selected acupoints while the SEA group received sham electro-acupuncture to sham acupoints. A total of 12 EA and SEA sessions over four weeks were given. Primary outcome measures included Functional Independence Measure for Children (WeeFIM), Pediatric Evaluation of Disability Inventory (PEDI), Leiter International Performance Scale-Revised (Leiter-R), and Clinical Global Impression-Improvement (CGI-I) scale. Secondary outcome measures consisted of Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), Ritvo-Freeman Real Life Scale (RFRLS), Reynell Developmental Language Scale (RDLS), and a standardized parental report. Data were analyzed by the Mann-Whitney test.
Results: There were significant improvements in the language comprehension domain of WeeFIM (p=0.02), self-care caregiver assistant domain of PEDI (p=0.028), and CGI-I (p=0.003) in the EA group compared to the SEA group. As for the parental report, the EA group also showed significantly better social initiation (p=0.01), receptive language (p=0.006), motor skills (p=0.034), coordination (p=0.07), and attention span (p=0.003). More than 70 percent of children with ASD adapted to acupuncture easily, while eight percent had poor acupuncture compliance. Mild side effects of minor superficial bleeding or irritability during acupuncture were observed.
Conclusion: A short, four-week (12 sessions) course of electro-acupuncture is useful to improve specific functions in children with ASD, especially for language comprehension and self-care ability.