Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

Autism Basics

        Health | Autism

Helping Children with Autism
There are a lot of gluten- and casein-free foods available for children with autism who are on these special types of diets.
There are a lot of gluten- and casein-free foods available for children with autism who are on these special types of diets.
Image courtesy Amazon

Because there are no real cures for autism, parents often turn to complementary and alternative therapies for their children. Although some parents have had success with these methods, none is scientifically proven to treat autism.

Vitamin and mineral supplements - Dietary interventions stem from the belief that food allergies or vitamin and mineral deficiencies can trigger autism. Some parents give their children B vitamin supplements (B vitamins create enzymes needed by the brain) or magnesium, although research has not proven their effectiveness.

Special diets - Some research suggests that children with autism may have trouble digesting proteins such as gluten-- found in the seeds of wheat, oat, rye, and barley plants, and casein -- found in dairy products. Many children with autism are on gluten- or casein-free diets.

Secretin - Some research found that this hormone, which aids in digestion, improved communication and social skills in autistic children. However, research by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development found no real improvements with this treatment compared to placebo.

Chelation therapy - Following the school of thought that autism may be caused by exposure to environmental toxins, such as mercury and other heavy metals, chelation uses a chemical agent to bind to and remove these metals from the body. Although a number of parents have claimed that this treatment has improved their children's symptoms, chelation hasn't been scientifically proven, and the substances used in the treatment can themselves be toxic and cause allergic reactions in some children.

In facilitated communication, a facilitator may hold the arm of an autistic child and helps him type on a computer keyboard to assist in communication.
In facilitated communication, a facilitator may hold the arm of an autistic child and helps him type on a computer keyboard to assist in communication.

Facilitated communication - In this type of therapy, a facilitator holds the hand, arm or shoulder of a autistic child and helps him type on a computer keyboard to assist in communication. This technique is not considered a valid treatment for autism, and it is very controversial, because some people claim that the facilitator is doing the communicating rather than the child.

In the next section, we'll examine some common myths about autism.