Hall, Sarah Elizabeth (2011-08). Factors Affecting Parents' Decisions to Treat Their Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder with Complementary and Alternative Treatments. Doctoral Dissertation. Thesis uri icon


  • Autism affects approximately one in 110 children in the United States. Many parents choose to treat their children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) with complementary and alternative (CAM) treatments. In this study, factors that contribute to parents' decisions to treat their child with ASD with a complementary or alternative (CAM) treatment were examined through the use of an online survey. Invitations to participate in the study were sent to approximately 800 support groups for parents of children with autism and information from 452 respondents was used in data analysis. Information regarding the impact of parental characteristics, children's behavioral symptoms, characteristics of specific CAM treatments, and possible barriers to treatment were obtained and analyzed.

    Overall, the responding parents/guardians were mothers, fathers, and grandmothers with a mean age of 41.58. The majority self-identified as White (86.7 percent), with 41.8 percent having attained a college education. The average income of respondents was $89,106.66. 100 percent of the participants in the study indicated they had tried a CAM in the past, or were currently using one.

    Results indicated a statistically significant relationship between severity of symptoms with having tried treatments in the past, and with currently using treatments. In addition, several specific treatments that were tried in the past and were currently being used were correlated with greater severity of symptoms. Severity of symptoms was not predictive of the total number of CAMs used. Educational level and marital status of parents were predictive of CAM use. In addition, individuals with a graduate level degree were more likely to use CAM than those with technical school/some college. Respondents who were married were significantly more likely to use CAMs than those who were divorced. Results indicated that accessibility and acceptance of treatments were predictive of CAM use. Possible barriers to treatment, as well as study limitations and implications, are also discussed. The findings of this study are important, as while the use of CAM treatments is growing among the population of children with autism, information regarding the reasons parents decide to use CAM treatments with their children with autism is relatively sparse.

publication date

  • August 2011