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Prevalence and correlates of use of complementary and alternative medicine in children with autism spectrum disorder in Europe


This study examined the prevalence and correlates of use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) among a sample of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) < 7 years in 18 European countries (N = 1,680). Forty-seven percent of parents reported having tried any CAM approach in the past 6 months. Diets and supplements were used by 25 % of the sample and mind–body practices by 24 %; other unconventional approaches were used by 25 % of the families, and a minority of parents reported having tried any invasive or potentially harmful approach (2 %). Parents in Eastern Europe reported significantly higher rates of CAM use. In the total sample, children with lower verbal ability and children using prescribed medications were more likely to be receiving diets or supplements. Concurrent use of high levels of conventional psychosocial intervention was significantly associated with use of mind–body practices. Higher parental educational level also increased the likelihood of both use of diets and supplements and use of mind–body practices.

Conclusion: The high prevalence of CAM use among a sample of young children with ASD is an indication that parents need to be supported in the choice of treatments early on in the assessment process, particularly in some parts of Europe.

What is Known:

Use of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) in children with autism spectrum disorder is common.

• In non-EU samples, parents with higher educational level and parents of low functioning children are more likely to use CAM with their children.

What is New:

This study provides the first data on prevalence and correlates of use of CAM approaches in a large sample of young children with autism in Europe (N = 1,680).

Rates of CAM use were particularly high in Eastern Europe and correlates of use varied by type of CAM across Europe.

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Analysis of variance


Autism spectrum disorder


Complementary and alternative medicine


Confidence intervals


Interquartile range


National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine


Odds ratio


Randomised controlled trial


Socio-economic status


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We are grateful to all the parents who participated in the study and to the parents associations that were involved in recruiting the participants. This research was supported by the COST Action BM1004 funded by the European Science Foundation. TC also received support from the Innovative Medicines Initiative Joint Undertaking under grant agreement n° 115,300, resources of which are composed of financial contribution from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7/2007 – 2013) and EFPIA companies’ in kind contribution. It was made possible by the clinicians and researchers who are members of the COST ESSEA ( and EU-AIMS ( networks. The COST ESSEA work group 4 also includes: Anett Kaale (Norway), Bernadette Rogé and Frederique Bonnet-Brilhaut (France), Iris Oosterling (The Netherlands), Selda Ozdemir (Turkey), Antonio Narzisi and Filippo Muratori (Italy), Joaquin Fuentes (Spain), Mikael Heimann (Sweden), Michele Noterdaeme, Christine Freitag, Luise Poustka and Judith Sinzig (Germany) and Jonathan Green (UK).

Conflict of Interest

All authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflict of interest.

Authors’ contribution

ES, TC, HMC and PW made substantial contributions to conception and design of the study and to theanalysis and interpretation of data. ES, TC, HCM, PW and all members of the Working Group 4, COST Action‘Enhancing the Scientific Study of Early Autism’ made substanstial contributions to the acquisition of data. ES drafted the article and all authors revised it critically and gave final approval of the submitted version.

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Correspondence to Erica Salomone.

Additional information

Communicated by Jaan Toelen

The Working Group 4 also includes: Anett Kaale, (Norway); Bernadette Rogé, and Frederique Bonnet-Brilhaut, (France), Iris Oosterling, (the Netherlands), Selda Ozdemir, (Turkey), Antonio Narzisi, and Filippo Muratori, (Italy), Joaquin Fuentes, (Spain), Mikael Heimann, (Sweden), Michele Noterdaeme,, Christine Freitag,, Luise Poustka, and Judith Sinzig, (Germany), Sue Fletcher-Watson, and Jonathan Green, (the UK).

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Salomone, E., Charman, T., McConachie, H. et al. Prevalence and correlates of use of complementary and alternative medicine in children with autism spectrum disorder in Europe. Eur J Pediatr 174, 1277–1285 (2015).

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  • Autism spectrum disorder
  • Complementary and alternative medicine
  • Europe
  • Diets
  • Supplements
  • Mind–body practices