Autism and Hyperbaric Oxygen TherapyMarch 13, 2009 Written by JP [Font too small?]
It’s not easy to find encouraging news about autism. More often than not, we hear reports about the increasing rates of this devastating developmental disorder. It’s heartbreaking because many of us understand the challenges that those with autism and their families face. Autism is characterized by a profound disruption in communication skills (both verbal and non-verbal), an inability to interact socially and a propensity toward obsessive thoughts and behaviors. It is estimated that as many as 1 in every 150 children are affected by some form of autism – collectively referred to as ASD (autism spectrum disorders).
Today, I’m thrilled to be able to report optimistic news on the autism front. Please keep in mind that the research is preliminary. But, it’s a great start and hopefully it’s just the beginning of further exploration.
Oxygenating the Brain
Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HPT) is a treatment that helps to increase the oxygen levels in organs and tissues. HPT is administered in a specialized pressure chamber. When receiving hyperbaric oxygen, you lie down in an enclosed capsule and the air pressure inside increases beyond that found in the atmosphere. This pressurizing effect allows the body to “absorb” more oxygen. Traditionally, HPT has been used for the treatment of conditions such as burns and wounds, decompression sickness and carbon monoxide poisoning.
Now, a new study published in the online journal BMC Pediatrics provides strong evidence for a new application to this veteran technology – the treatment of autism. Prior research hinted at the possible benefits of hyperbaric treatment in other neurological conditions such as brain injuries, cerebral palsy and fetal alcohol syndrome. There were also several “uncontrolled studies” and many anecdotal reports of success with HPT in autism. All these clues allowed for this larger, better controlled (more scientifically valid) study to take place.
This groundbreaking trial enrolled 62 autistic children with ages ranging from 2 to 7 years. The children were split up into two groups. Both groups received 40 one-hour treatment sessions in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber. One group received a higher level of oxygen (24%). This was considered the “treatment group”. The other kids received a lower level (21%). This second group was used as a control/placebo group. The outcome of the trial was measured using standardized autism symptom tests.
- The group that received the 24% oxygen showed improvements in several key symptoms, such as: maintaining eye contact, overall function, receptive language and social interaction.
- 30% of the treatment group was rated as “very much improved” or “much improved”. Only 8% of the control/placebo group was classified in the same manner.
- A total of 80% of the treatment group was considered “improved”. Only 38% of the control group met that same classification.
In addition, other benefits were noted when more specific testing was administered. Results from the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC) and the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC) revealed post-treatment improvements in the following areas:
- cognitive/sensory awareness
You might wonder why the control/placebo group derived any benefit at all. There are two possible reasons. Firstly, the placebo effect is a real phenomenon. Secondly, even the control group received oxygen therapy. They just received less of it (21% vs. 24%). Therefore, it’s possible that even the lower dosage of oxygen was enough to provoke some benefit.
The authors of the study offered these concluding remarks, “Given the positive findings of this study, and the shortage of proven treatments for individuals with autism, parents who pursue hyperbaric treatment for their child with autism can be assured that it is a safe treatment modality at the pressure used in this study (1.3 atm), and that it may improve certain autistic behaviors.”
These new findings may very well herald a new day in the treatment of autism. Future research will help define the potential role of HPT in the treatment of autism and related disorders. I’ll keep a lookout for any updates that come down the pike. Until then, please share this information with anyone who may benefit from it.
Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!
Tags: Autism, Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy
Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health