- Written by Rossignol DA.
Currently, only one medication (risperidone) is FDA-approved for the treatment of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Perhaps for this reason, the use of novel, unconventional, and off-label treatments for ASD is common, with up to 74% of children with ASD using these treatments; however, treating physicians are often unaware of this usage.
A systematic literature search of electronic scientific databases was performed to identify studies of novel and emerging treatments for ASD, including nutritional supplements, diets, medications, and nonbiological treatments. A grade of recommendation ("Grade") was then assigned to each treatment using a validated evidence-based guideline as outlined in this review: A: Supported by at least 2 prospective randomized controlled trials (RCTs) or 1 systematic review. B: Supported by at least 1 prospective RCT or 2 nonrandomized controlled trials. C: Supported by at least 1 nonrandomized controlled trial or 2 case series. D: Troublingly inconsistent or inconclusive studies or studies reporting no improvements. Potential adverse effects for each treatment were also reviewed.
Grade A treatments for ASD include melatonin, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, naltrexone, and music therapy. Grade B treatments include carnitine, tetrahydrobiopterin, vitamin C, alpha-2 adrenergic agonists, hyperbaric oxygen treatment, immunomodulation and anti-inflammatory treatments, oxytocin, and vision therapy. Grade C treatments for ASD include carnosine, multivitamin/mineral complex, piracetam, polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamin B6/magnesium, elimination diets, chelation, cyproheptadine, famotidine, glutamate antagonists, acupuncture, auditory integration training, massage, and neurofeedback.
The reviewed treatments for ASD are commonly used, and some are supported by prospective RCTs. Promising treatments include melatonin, antioxidants, acetylcholinesterase inhibitors, naltrexone, and music therapy. All of the reviewed treatments are currently considered off-label for ASD (ie, not FDA-approved) and some have adverse effects. Further studies exploring these treatments are needed. Physicians treating children with an ASD should make it standard practice to inquire about each child's possible use of these types of treatments.