Use of complementary and alternative medicine in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder: A systematic review

Autism. 2017 May;21(4):387-402. doi: 10.1177/1362361316646559. Epub 2016 May 25.

Abstract

Despite limited evidence, complementary and alternative medicine treatments are popular in autism spectrum disorder. The aim of this review was to summarize the available evidence on complementary and alternative medicine use frequency in autism spectrum disorder. A systematic search of three electronic databases was performed. All research studies in English or German reporting data on the frequency of complementary and alternative medicine use in individuals with autism spectrum disorder were included. Two independent reviewers searched the literature, extracted information on study design and results, and assessed study quality using an established quality assessment tool. Twenty studies with a total of 9540 participants were included. The prevalence of any complementary and alternative medicine use ranged from 28% to 95% (median: 54%). Special diets or dietary supplements (including vitamins) were the most frequent complementary and alternative medicine treatments, ranking first in 75% of studies. There was some evidence for a higher prevalence of complementary and alternative medicine use in autism spectrum disorder compared to other psychiatric disorders and the general population. Approximately half of children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder use complementary and alternative medicine. Doctors should be aware of this and should discuss complementary and alternative medicine use with patients and their carers, especially as the evidence is mixed and some complementary and alternative medicine treatments are potentially harmful.

Keywords: autism spectrum disorder; complementary and alternative medicine; prevalence; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Age Factors
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder / therapy*
  • Child
  • Complementary Therapies* / adverse effects
  • Complementary Therapies* / methods
  • Complementary Therapies* / statistics & numerical data
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Sex Factors