Autism Treatment Alternative Therapy

Parents of an autistic child may wish to explore the many non-traditional therapies available, including those that focus on vision, auditory integration, diet, and nutrition. Such therapies have been the focus of varying amounts of clinical research.

Some autistic children appear to benefit from non-traditional therapy, while others do not. As with traditional therapy, the goal of non-traditional therapy is to control autistic behavior, not provide a cure (treatments claiming a cure for autism should be viewed with suspicion).

Squeeze Machines and Weighted Vests

Squeeze machines and weighted vests are therapies created by autistic adults based on their sensory experience as children. As the inventors of such devices readily admit, autistic children have very different sensory thresholds. Individual reactions to vests and squeeze machines vary widely.

A squeeze machine is a device covered in foam rubber. The autistic child sits in the device and controls how much pressure the machine delivers. Squeeze machines allow autistic children to experience tactile stimulation without feeling overwhelmed by stimuli.

Weighted vests fulfill much the same function. Some autistic children find comfort in slow “deep pressure” stimulation, such as a strong hug, while other children bury themselves under heavy blankets for comfort.

Weighted vests are vests filled with heavy material, such as sand. The vests provide the deep pressure the child requires. Again, while some children respond to vests, others cannot tolerate such strong sensory stimulation.

Music Therapy

Many autistic children respond to music better than they do to the spoken word. This trait is the basis for music therapy. Music and music instruction are used to improve autistic behavior. Typical strategies for music therapy include listening or moving to music, playing musical instruments, and creating music. Some autistic children will sing even if they won’t talk. Working with music develops a number of physical and verbal skills, and music therapy in theory helps autistic children develop these skills.

Auditory Integration

Auditory integration therapists believe that autistic children hear certain sound frequencies more than others, which results in processing difficulties and autistic behavior. Auditory integration therapy teaches the child to focus on a wider range of sound frequencies.

Auditory integration begins with an audiogram, which determines the child’s auditory “peaks” (the sound frequencies being processed). The child then listens to random sound frequencies through headphones. Auditory peak frequencies are omitted from the random sounds. Continued auditory integration reduces the level of auditory peaks, which in theory improves behavior.

Although more auditory integration research is needed, some investigations have indicated that the therapy does focus the child’s attention.

Vision Therapy

Processing visual information is a learned skill. Vision therapy trains autistic children to correctly process visual information. Vision therapy seeks to improve eye contact, focus attention, and reduce repetitive behavior associated with vision stimulation (many autistic children will watch a rapidly spinning object with fascination).

Secretin and Enzymes

Secretin is a hormone that stimulates pancreas enzymes. These enzymes then help to break down proteins as part of the digestive process. Gastric problems are often associated with autism, and some researchers believe that a lack of protein-processing enzymes may aggravate autistic behavior.

The use of secretin as a nutrition supplement improves autism behavior according to some people. Anecdotal stories and testimonials are cited in support of secretin, although there has yet to be any clinical research proving such claims. If secretin supplements do improve autism, they may only affect a small percentage of cases.

Diet, Nutrition, and Vitamins

Theories that diet or nutrition deficiencies cause or worsen autism behavior are common. A gluten-free diet is recommended by some nutrition advocates, while others suggest that casein (a substance present in milk) should also be restricted.

Vitamin supplements, including vitamins C and B6 are sometimes recommended, as are minerals such as magnesium. Other nutrition proponents recommend cod liver oil supplements.

No evidence suggests that extra vitamins, nutrition changes, or minerals will reduce autistic behavior. However, diet is often affected by autism: many autistic children suffer from intestinal problems, or are very picky eaters. Carefully selected supplements of minerals and vitamins may help with nutrition deficiencies. Whether or not this will improve behavior is debatable.

Resources

American Music Therapy Association. (nd). Music therapy and individuals with diagnoses on the autism spectrum. Retrieved October 18, 2003, from www.musictherapy.org/factsheets/autism.html.

Brockett, S. (nd). Vision therapy: A beneficial intervention for developmental disabilities. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from http://www.autism.org/?searWords=Vision therapy.

Edelson, S. (nd). Auditory integration training: Additional information. Retrieved October 18, 2003, from www.autism.org/ait2.html.

Grandin, T. (updated 2000). My experiences with visual thinking sensory problems and communication difficulties. Retrieved October 18, 2003, from www.autism.org/temple/visual.html.

Landreth, G., Bratton, S. (1999). Play therapy. ERIC digest. [ERIC Identifier ED430172]. Retrieved October 20, 2003, from www.ericfacility.net/ericdigests/ed430172.html.

Society for Auditory Integration Techniques. (nd). Frequently asked questions concerning auditory integration training. Retrieved October 18, 2003, from www.up-to-date.com/saitwebsite/faq.html.

University of California, San Diego. (nd). Pivotal response training. Retrieved October 16, 2003, from psy.ucsd.edu/autism/prttraining.html.