Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy For Autism

Different theories for the causes of autism have been tested, as well as some potential therapies to either improve or cure the disorder. One theory in particular poses that children with autism have had an experience early on their young lives with encephalitis or some other severe brain injury that went undetected and looked like a simple illness rather than something more complex. This theory does have some potential as a cause, because neurological scans of the brains of autistic children show that there was a source of brain growth alteration at the age when most children start to show signs of the disorder. In conjunction with that theory, a group of research doctors in Pennsylvania decided to try hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) on a group of children and a group of adults to see what effects, if any, the therapy would have on them.

What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy(HBOT)? What is hyperbaric oxygen therapy used for?
Hyperbaric oxygen chambers are sealed tube-like rooms that are filled with pure oxygen. The patient breathes nothing but pure oxygen for a period of time as a therapy session, and after so many therapy sessions another scan of the brain is taken. At that time, any improvements or marked deviations from the original scan prior to treatment allows the researchers to see if A) there is any relevance to the theory of encephalitis or brain injury as a cause for autism, and B) there is any evidence that hyperbaric oxygen therapy may actually help turn the tables in the effects of autism or possibly cure it.

What are the benefits of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
Hyperbaric therapy has been shown to help average people and children who have areas of the brain affected by an aneurism or stroke or a narrowing of the arteries retrieve some functional use of the part of the brain affected. The shadowed areas that appear in their brain scans are obviously reduced after exposure to the chamber and a level of oxygen therapy conducive to their particular malady. It is with this idea in mind that the researchers in the Pennsylvania trial believed hyperbaric therapy might also help children and adults with autism that possibly suffered or definitely suffered a case of encephalitis in infancy.

What are the side effects of hyperbaric oxygen therapy?
The down side to this study is that it was the only one of its kind conducted in 2009. Less than 100 volunteers for the double blind study in Pennsylvania reported immediate improvement to the children with autism after treatment, but the effects were short-lived and no one has conducted any other studies since.

Does private insurance or medicare cover HBOT?
Medicare may or may not cover the treatments if the child receives Medicare as part of their disability benefits. Without insurance footing the bill, the treatments can run up to $1,800 a session, so if parents want to try it, they best be ready to pay for it. Without any other supporting evidence or studies, the 2009 findings were ruled inconclusive/not effective. Parents can put their child at risk on their own to see if hyperbaric treatment helps but it’s ultimately up to them to pay for it and accept the consequences of the choice because it’s not medically founded without another study to back it up.

Ergo, it may or may not work, and the study found that the effects are short lived. The theory has some relevance, but until other studies surrounding hyperbaric oxygen therapy can prove and support the original findings, it only splits parents on two sides of this treatment fence. Those that have tried it say it works, and those that haven’t because of the study itself won’t and are against it.

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