Prevalence and Predictors of Complementary and Alternative Medicine Use Among Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Friday, May 16, 2014
Atrium Ballroom (Marriott Marquis Atlanta)
A. A. Owen-Smith1, S. Bent2, F. L. Lynch3, K. J. Coleman4, V. M. Yau5, K. A. Pearson3, M. L. Massolo5, M. E. Pomichowski4 and L. A. Croen5, (1)The Center for Health Research Southeast, Kaiser Permanente Georgia, Atlanta, GA, (2)Department of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, CA, (3)The Center for Health Research Northwest, Kaiser Permanente Northwest, Portland, OR, (4)Department of Research and Evaluation, Kaiser Permanente Southern California, Pasadena, CA, (5)Division of Research, Kaiser Permanente Northern California, Oakland, CA
Background: Approximately 1 in 88 children in the U.S. is diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  Unfortunately, there is no identified etiology or definitive cure for ASD.  Therefore, it is not surprising that many parents turn to complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) therapies for their affected children.  Prior studies have suggested that CAM use is common in this population; however, these studies have been limited by small samples and an inability to assess response rates.    

Objectives: The purpose of this analysis is to examine the prevalence and predictors of CAM use among a group of geographically and racially/ethnically diverse children with ASD who are enrolled in the Mental Health Research Network (MHRN) Autism Registry, a database of children diagnosed with ASD who are members of one of the 10 public-domain health systems affiliated with large integrated health care systems within the HMO Research Network.       

Methods: A Web-based survey of parents of children with ASD was implemented at four MHRN Autism Registry sites in order to obtain information not available in health plan databases including parents’ use of CAM with their children who have ASD.  Parents were asked to report what CAM therapies they have ever used or used within the past three months to treat their child with ASD, what they have paid for these therapies and the degree to which they perceived them to be harmful or helpful.  The domains of CAM therapies on the survey included products (e.g., vitamins), practices (e.g., acupuncture) and providers (e.g., chiropractic).  Quality of life, caregiver strain and other sociodemographic and clinical characteristics were also assessed. 

Results: A total of 1,063 survey respondents answered the CAM-related questions; of these, 919 (~86%) reported ever using CAM to treat their affected child.  The most common CAM providers used were chiropractors (20%); the most common CAM practices used included massage (71%) and meditation (19%); the most common CAM products used included multivitamins (89%), fish oil (38%) and melatonin (34%).  Respondents spent an average of $1,164.26 on CAM providers and an average of $112.41 on CAM products in the past 3 months.  Massage, chiropractic, acupressure and melatonin were perceived to be the most effective CAM modalities.  Parents who were separated/divorced and had older children were significantly less likely to report recent CAM use while parents of children who had used prescription drugs in the past three months were significantly more likely to report recent CAM use.  Quality of life and caregiver strain were not associated with CAM use in this population.      

Conclusions: CAM use is common among children with ASD. Knowledge of specific CAM therapies that are most commonly used and predictors of CAM use may assist clinicians in counseling families and promoting safe use. Parental perceptions of effective therapies may help guide in the selection of specific CAM therapies for future studies.

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