Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: New Treatment for Autism?

Parents of children with autism will rattle off the list of treatments, therapies and diets they have tried in an effort to reduce or eliminate the symptoms or characteristics of autism.

The lists are usually long: gluten-free/casein-free diet, applied behavioral analysis, floor time, anti-anxiety medication, sensory integration therapy, etc.

One therapy that is gaining attention in the autism community is hyperbaric oxygen therapy, or HBOT, a treatment in which a patient breathes pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber. Typically utilized in patients with air embolisms, decompression sickness, or soft tissue infections, HBOT is covered by insurance companies for a small number of approved diagnoses, but most will not cover it for the treatment of autism.

The theory behind using HBOT in people with autism is that the increase in oxygen will reduce excess swelling of brain tissue, increase cerebral blood flow and stimulate cerebral tissue. The belief is that all of these results will allow the brain to do its job better, resulting in a person who is more "present" in regards to social interaction and communication.

Though increasing in popularity, HBOT is not without controversy. Supporters of the treatment cite increased eye contact, decreases in sensitivity to noise and an increase in general social awareness. Critics say possible side effects, which include onset of claustrophobia, bruised eardrums, sinus pressure, and seizures, are not worth the risk. The cost for treatment - between $120 and $150 per session - doesn't help sell this treatment to the general public, either.

As parents of children with special needs know all too well, there is no cure for autism, nor is there one single treatment that works for every child on the spectrum. Hyperbaric oxygen therapy is just one treatment on the list of many that parents are willing to try to improve the life of their child.

Jennifer Cerbasi works as a special education teacher at a public school in New Jersey. As owner of The Learning Link, LLC, she works with parents in the home to support children's academic, social, emotional, and physical health through a variety of services. Jennifer utilizes her training in the field of Applied Behavior Analysis in both settings to foster children's development. In addition to her work both in the classroom and at home, she is also a member of the National Association of Special Education Teachers and the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. For more information, go to www.jennifercerbasi.com.