CAM on the Rise for Children with Autism

By Caitlin O’Toole

Autism Continuing EducationThe term “CAM” seems to be gaining popularity these days. And interestingly, an increasing number of parents of children with autism seem to be turning to CAM for help in the treatment of some symptoms of the disorder.

But what exactly is CAM?

The term CAM (complementary and alternative medicine) is, according to the NIH National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) website, is “often used to mean the array of health care approaches with a history of use or origins outside of mainstream medicine, [and it is] actually hard to define and may mean different things to different people.”

CAM falls into two subgroups, the website says: natural products, often sold as dietary supplements; and mind and body practices (such as yoga, meditation, movement, deep breathing, and many others).

In an interview with NAMI, Robert Hendren, D.O., Professor and Vice Chair, Director, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, University of California, San Francisco – whose studies have included “natural” products such as omega-3s, pro-biotics, and melatonin – said it does appear that CAM is on the rise.

“There’s an increasing acceptability,” he said. “People also want to start off trying things that they think of as milder and having fewer side effects.”

One of the CAM treatments from the mind and body category that parents are turning to is yoga for their children with autism.

A 2012 study, led by Dr. Kristie Patten Koenig, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Occupational Therapy at NYU, found that children with autism spectrum disorder who did yoga at their elementary school behaved better than kids with autism who weren’t doing yoga.

The study, which was conducted at a public elementary school in the Bronx section of New York City, had the kids follow a specific routine each morning, five days a week, for 17 minutes, for 16 weeks. The routine had the kids take their mats out, breathe deeply, assume yoga poses, tense and relax muscles, and sing. The researchers compared the kids in the program, which was called “Get Ready to Learn,” with a control group of kids doing a standard morning routine. Teachers said that the kids doing yoga exhibited significantly fewer problematic behaviors overall.

“We found that the kids in our study group showed less irritability, a decrease in a lot of the maladaptive behaviors associated with autism, and, anecdotally, the teachers reported that they were able to transition into their day much better,” Dr. Koenig told NAMI in an interview.

“Kids were really a part of setting up the room, and getting the yoga mats down. It was part of their routine,” she said. “Kids that are autistic do really well if they have that structure. We watched the tone of the class change as they started their yoga – you could just see that it produced a totally different atmosphere in the class.”

Dr. Koenig said that yoga programs are being implemented in schools across the country more and more … and that the kids who benefit do not necessarily have autism.

“[Yoga] addresses a couple of issues,” she said. “Everything from obesity to getting kids moving more to more attentive and mindfulness in school – so it’s becoming more and more popular.”

Dr. Koenig cautioned that yoga should be thought of as a complementary treatment rather than an alternative one.

“There’s a strong body of evidence for a variety of conditions that suggest that yoga and mindfulness and meditation is helpful,” Dr. Koenig said. “But more from the complementary standpoint.”

Dr. Hendren, like Dr. Koenig, also believes in the full body/mind approach.

“I think it’s important to do all of these things with behavioral treatments like ABA (Applied Behavioral Analysis) and speech and language and OT,” Dr. Hendren said, “so it doesn’t take the place of a complete treatment package. You need to have that comprehensive treatment to get the best result.”

Dr. Hendren also said that he believes the terms “complementary” and “alternative” are sometimes misunderstood and therefore, overlooked.

“There are an increasing number of studies that some of these things are of benefit,” he said. “The terms ‘complementary and alternative’ give us an image that somehow they are not ‘real’ or they are not fully a good treatment – but many are helping the body be more resilient. So I think if we have ways of making the body healthier — that’s good and not necessarily CAM.”


Related Online & Video Continuing Education (CE/CEU) Courses:

Autism: The New Spectrum of Diagnostics, Treatment & Nutrition is a 4-hour online continuing education (CE/CEU) course that describes DSM-5 diagnostic changes, assessment, intervention models, dietary modifications, nutrition considerations and other theoretical interventions. The first section of this course traces the history of the diagnostic concept of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), culminating in the revised criteria of the 2013 version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the DSM-5, with specific focus on the shift from five subtypes to a single spectrum diagnosis. It also aims to provide epidemiological prevalence estimates, identify factors that may play a role in causing ASD, and list the components of a core assessment battery. It also includes brief descriptions of some of the major intervention models that have some empirical support. Section two describes common GI problems and feeding difficulties in autism, exploring the empirical data and/or lack thereof regarding any links between GI disorders and autism. Sections on feeding difficulties offer interventions and behavior change techniques. A final section on nutritional considerations discusses evaluation of nutritional status, supplementation, and dietary modifications with an objective look at the science and theory behind a variety of nutrition interventions. Other theoretical interventions are also reviewed. Course #40-38 | 2013 | 50 pages | 30 posttest questions

Autism Spectrum Disorder: Evidence-Based Screening and Assessment is a 3-hour online CEU course that identifies DSM-5 diagnostic changes in the ASD diagnostic criteria, summarizes the empirically-based screening and assessment methodology in ASD and describes a comprehensive developmental approach for assessing students with ASD. Epidemiological studies indicate a progressively rising prevalence trend in the number of individuals identified with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) over the past decade. Yet, compared with general population estimates, children and youth with mild to moderate symptoms of ASD remain an underidentified and underserved population in our schools and communities. The DSM-5 conceptualizations of autism require professionalsin clinical, school, and private practice settings to update their knowledge about the spectrum. In addition, professionals should be prepared to recognize the presence of risk factors and/or early warning signs of ASD and be familiar with screening and assessment tools in order to ensure that individuals with ASD are being identified and provided with the appropriate programs and services. The objectives of this course are to identify DSM-5 diagnostic changes in the ASD diagnostic criteria, summarize the empirically-based screening and assessment methodology in ASD, and describe a comprehensive developmental approach for assessing children, adolescents, and young adults with ASD. Course #30-69 | 2014 | 44 pages | 40 posttest questions

Animal Assisted Therapy (AAT) is a 2-hour online CEU course that provides therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals. In Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT) the human-animal bond is utilized to help meet therapeutic goals and reach individuals who are otherwise difficult to engage in verbal therapies. AAT is considered an emerging therapy at this time, and more research is needed to determine the effects and confirm the benefits. Nevertheless, there is a growing body of research and case studies that illustrate the considerable therapeutic potential of using animals in therapy. AAT has been associated with improving outcomes in four areas: autism-spectrum symptoms, medical difficulties, behavioral problems, and emotional well-being. This course is designed to provide therapists, educators, and caregivers with the information and techniques needed to begin using the human-animal bond successfully to meet individual therapeutic goals. Course #20-62 | 2012 | 30 pages | 20 posttest questions

Autism Movement Therapy is a 2-hour video continuing education (CE/CEU) course that teaches professionals how to combine movement and music with positive behavior support strategies to assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Autism Movement Therapy® is an emerging therapy that combines movement and music with positive behavior support strategies to assist individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in meeting and achieving their speech and language, social and academic goals. Its purpose is to connect left and right hemisphere brain functioning by combining patterning, visual movement calculation, audile receptive processing, rhythm and sequencing into a “whole brain” cognitive thinking approach that can significantly improve behavioral, emotional, academic, social, and speech and language skills. This course is presented in two parts. Part 1 summarizes what is known about the brain functioning of individuals with ASD and illustrates how participation in dance, music and the arts can render the brain more amenable to learning social and language skills. Part 2 is a documentary created by Joanne Lara – Generation A: Portraits of Autism and the Arts, which spotlights – from a strikingly positive perspective – the challenges and accomplishments of eight individuals with ASD. Course #20-82 | 2014 | 106 minute video | 14 posttest questions

Professional Development Resources is approved by the American Psychological Association (APA) to sponsor continuing education for psychologists; the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC ACEP #5590); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB Provider #1046, ACE Program); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA Provider #3159); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR Provider #PR001); the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (#PCE1625); the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy (#BAP346), Psychology & School Psychology (#50-1635), Dietetics & Nutrition (#50-1635), and Occupational Therapy Practice (#34); the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board (#RCST100501); the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs (#193); and the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists (#114) and State Board of Social Worker Examiners (#5678).