Alternative Therapies

Alternative Therapies

Among the myriad treatments available to individuals with autism spectrum disorders today, alternative therapies have gained a great deal of attention in recent years. According to a 2006 study, about 50 percent of children with autism in the United States may receive some form of complementary and/or alternative medicine.

Alternative therapy generally refers to those interventions or treatments that differ from and are used instead of conventional treatments like physical therapy. Examples include music therapy, hippotherapy, and nutritional therapies. Alternative therapies have emerged as part of a growing assortment of treatments used for individuals across the autism spectrum. In fact, many families who have chosen to use alternative therapies see them as fun, motivational, and potentially helpful treatment approaches for their son or daughter with ASD. Despite the fact that little scientific evidence exists on the efficacy of these treatments, many parents and therapists attribute improvements in their child or patient to alternative therapies, such as those briefly described below.

Treatment Types with Limited Scientific Evidence

Some popular, non-evidence-based treatments available to children with ASD include:

Treatments include: horseback riding, also referred to as hippotherapy, which proponents claim draws on the multidimensional movement of the horse to help organize sensory input; and dolphin / dog / cat / bird-assisted therapy, a mode of treatment that purports to improve a child’s cognitive skills by “relaxing” the brain.

A complementary therapy that uses the artistic techniques of drawing, painting and modeling to reportedly help individuals enhance their cognitive, communication, and social/emotional skills through tactile and sensory stimulation.

A series of auditory treatments designed to normalize auditory processes in individuals who, it is hypothesized, experience distortions in hearing or who may be hypersensitive to sounds.

A non-invasive massage technique based on a belief in a person’s innate ability to heal him/herself through the use of specific massage techniques focused on the head and spine. Proponents claim this then allows for the release of tension and the dissolution of energy blocks.

A therapy often used to help children with motor, speech and fluency problems. The therapy uses music to increase behavioral, social, psychological, communicative, physical, sensory-motor, and/or cognitive functioning.

A therapy that introduces the elements of play and develops and extends the variety of play activities intended to increase a child’s cognitive abilities, language development and social skills.

Treatments include the “Irlen” Method which, according to supporters, addresses a type of visual-perceptual processing problem related to sensitivity to lights, glare, patterns, colors, and contrast through the use of colored filters worn as glasses to reduce or eliminate perceptual sensitivity and sensory overload.

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