Objective: To compare the utilization of conventional treatments and utilization of complementary and alternative medicine in preschoolers with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) and other developmental disabilities (DD).
Methods: Participants were 578 children who were part of an ongoing population-based, case-control study of 2- to 5-year olds with ASD, DD, and the general population. Parents completed an interview on past and current services.
Results: Four hundred fifty-three children with ASD and 125 DD children were included. ASD families received more hours of conventional services compared with DD families (17.8 vs 11; p < .001). The use of psychotropic medications was low in both groups (approximately 3%). Overall, complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) use was not significantly different in ASD (39%) versus DD (30%). Hispanic families in both groups used CAM less often than non-Hispanic families. Variables such as level of function, immunization status, and the presence of an identified neurogenetic disorder were not predictive of CAM use. A higher level of parental education was associated with an increased CAM use in ASD and DD. Families who used >20 hours per week of conventional services were more likely to use CAM, including potentially unsafe or disproven CAM. Underimmunized children were marginally more likely to use CAM but not more likely to have received potentially unsafe or disproven CAM.
Conclusion: Use of CAM is common in families of young children with neurodevelopmental disorders, and it is predicted by higher parental education and non-Hispanic ethnicity but not developmental characteristics. Further research should address how health care providers can support families in making decisions about CAM use.