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Hyperbaric Treatment Shows Significant Clinical Improvements for Autism

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 24 Mar 2009
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Image: Autistic children receiving hyperbaric treatment (Photo courtesy of Bruce McKeeman).
Image: Autistic children receiving hyperbaric treatment (Photo courtesy of Bruce McKeeman).
A new study reports that hyperbaric treatment--inhaling up to 100% oxygen at a pressure greater than one atmosphere in a pressurized chamber--for children with autism has led to improvements in the condition.

Researchers at the International Child Development Resource Center (ICDRC, Melbourne, FL, USA), the Center for Autism Research and Education (Phoenix, AZ, USA), and four other centers in the United States conducted a randomized, controlled, double-blind trial that studied 62 children with autism, aged 2-7 years, to assess the efficacy of hyperbaric treatment. The children were randomly assigned to either 40 hours of hyperbaric treatment at 1.3 atmospheres and 24% oxygen (treatment group) or slightly pressurized room air at 1.03 atmospheres and 21% oxygen (non-treatment group). Clinical outcomes were evaluated by three different scales: the Clinical Global Impression (CGI) scale, the Aberrant Behavior Checklist (ABC), and the Autism Treatment Evaluation Checklist (ATEC).

The researchers found that after 40 sessions, mean physician CGI scores significantly improved in the treatment group compared to controls in overall functioning, receptive language, social interaction, and eye contact; nine out of 30 children (30%) in the treatment group were rated as "very much improved" or "much improved", compared to two of 26 (8%) of controls; 24 out of 30 children (80%) in the treatment group improved compared to 10 out of 26 of controls. Mean parental CGI scores significantly improved in the treatment group compared to controls in overall functioning, receptive language, and eye contact.

The researchers also found that children with autism in the treatment group had significant improvements in overall functioning, receptive language, social interaction, eye contact, and sensory/cognitive awareness compared to children in the non-treatment group. On the ABC, significant improvements were observed in the treatment group in total score, irritability, stereotypy, hyperactivity, and speech, but not in the control group. In the treatment group compared to the control group, mean changes on the ABC total score and subscales were similar except a greater number of children improved in irritability. On the ATEC, sensory/cognitive awareness significantly improved in the treatment group compared to the control group. Post-hoc analysis indicated that children over age 5 and children with lower initial autism severity had the most robust improvements. The hyperbaric treatment itself was safe and well tolerated. The study was published on March 13, 2009 in the open access journal, BMC Pediatrics, a publication of BioMed Central.

"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," concluded lead author Dan Rossignol, M.D., and colleagues.

Related Links:

International Child Development Resource Center
Center for Autism Research and Education



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