Parents of children on the Autism Spectrum

Medical and dietary interventions

In addition to discussing different therapies and behavioural interventions (see ‘Therapies’) parents also talked about different medical and dietary interventions. Sometimes parents we interviewed found that a particular intervention had helped their children, however in presenting the experiences of the parents we spoke to, we are in no way advocating any type of treatment. We would recommend Research Autism (see 'resources') where scientifically-valid information is provided about different interventions.

Medical interventions
Some children had been prescribed medication for depression, sleeping problems, epilepsy or hyperactivity. Those children who had epilepsy were taking long-term medication to control seizures. The medication parents talked about included Ritalin, haloperidol, Diazepam, and Vallergan. For some parents, medication had helped their children cope better. Getting children to sleep was a major problem in some families, and a few parents felt that medication, such as melatonin, helped alleviate sleep problems (see ‘Eating and sleeping). Other children were prescribed medication to help calm down the symptoms of ADHD. As one mother said:

“Now the ADHD is a little bit under control with medication… there is no medication that will make him a perfect child but it has kept him a little bit more concentrated, so now, he is able to do one or two of the things that he really enjoys doing and actually give it his all.”
Some parents found it difficult to get their children to take the medication , particularly when it needed to be taken during school time and the parents were not there to supervise.

Other parents found that medication did not help their children. One mother, for example, found that her son had such a deep sleep when he took melatonin that he woke at midnight feeling refreshed and ready for the day.
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Some parents were determined not to go down the medication path, while others felt they had to in order to make their children’s and their own lives easier. One mother did not want to “chemically straitjacket” her son to make him perform better at school and another mother described saying no to Ritalin for her son because he had a communication problem rather than a mental health condition.

Dietary interventions
There has been considerable interest by researchers and parents in the effect of diet and vitamins on the treatment of autism, however, there is very little evidence to suggest any clear links. Several children were on gluten and dairy-free diets and some parents felt these had helped improve their children’s behaviour, digestive system, concentration or bowel movements. Some parents were able to get gluten and dairy free products on prescription from their GP while others had to pay for them.

Changing their children’s diet was sometimes an outcome of the results of urine testing which suggested that the children had urinary peptide abormalities.  One parent raised the issue that there was no subsequent testing for children once they had changed their diets so it is difficult to monitor effectively.
Other parents thought about changing their children’s diets but decided not to go down that path or tried a diet but gave up quite quickly. One reason for avoiding special diets was that it could make it harder for parents to get the child to eat. Others thought that altering their diet would be too expensive, difficult to monitor and put too much strain on the family. One mother described how “To keep my state of mind, I cannot go into that unless he would really, really benefit from it”.
Supplements and complementary treatments
Several parents discussed giving their children fish oils in the form of omega 3 tablets and cod liver oil and herbal or homeopathic remedies such as Cognis, an Australian Bush Flower Remedy.
Some parents also removed food and drink containing additives and E numbers from their children’s diets and noticed that their children were calmer and less hyperactive as a result.
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Overall, it was clear that parents had mixed experiences in trying different therapies, medical interventions and dietary changes. Some things worked for some children while other parents had tried interventions unsuccessfully and sometimes at a high cost. It is important to find out as much information as possible about a particular approach before deciding whether or not it is best suited to the child and their families individual circumstances.

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Last reviewed July 2017.
Last updated November 2012.


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