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Hyperbaric treatment shows promise for autism

Reuters Health • The Doctor's Channel Daily Newscast

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Hyperbaric therapy can improve language ability, social interaction, and other functions in children with autism, the results of small prospective, randomized trial suggest.

In a number of studies, treatment with hyperbaric oxygen has been linked to improvements in autism, according to the report in the March issue of BMC Pediatrics. Until now, however, the efficacy of this therapy has not been investigated in a controlled trial.

The current double-blind study, conducted by Dr. Daniel A. Rossignol, from International Child Development Resource Center, Melbourne, Florida, and colleagues, involved 62 children, from 2 to 7 years of age, who met the DSM-IV criteria for autistic disorder. The children were randomized to receive hyperbaric therapy (1.3 atm and 24% oxygen) or exposure to a slightly pressured room (1.03 atm and 21% oxygen).

Compared with the control intervention, treatment with hyperbaric therapy significantly improved overall functioning, receptive language, social interaction, and eye contact, based on average physician Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scores. Moreover, 80% of hyperbaric-treated patients were rated as improved compared with 38% of controls (p = 0.0024).

Except for a lack of improvement in social interaction, similar findings were seen based on parental CGI scores, the authors report.

On the Aberrant Behavior Checklist, patients in the hyperbaric treatment group had significant improvements in total score, stereotypy, irritability, hyperactivity, and speech, while the control group did not. Similarly, sensory/cognitive awareness on the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist improved significantly in treatment patients versus controls.

On post-hoc analysis, children who were at least 5 years of age and those with lower initial autism severity experienced the greatest benefits from hyperbaric treatment. No treatment complications were noted with hyperbaric therapy, which was also well tolerated.

“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, and that it may improve certain autistic behaviors,” the authors conclude.

BMC Pediatr 2009.