In a hyperbaric oxygen treatment a patient breathes in additional oxygen inside a pressurized chamber, to address carbon monoxide poisoning and the bends. Though a small percentage of parents of autistic kids believe it helps their children, insurance usually does not pay for it, and most doctors remain skeptical that it benefit autistic patients.
However, new research in BMC Pediatrics makes therapy more credible for treating autism. The double-blind, controlled, randomized study of 62 kids found that those receiving 40 hours of therapy over a period of 30 days became less irritable, were more sociable, and made more eye contact than children who did not receive it. In addition, they were less sensitive to noise. Marked improvement was seen in children older than five with milder autism.
It’s not very clear exactly why the therapy helped, but the pressure could decrease inflammation thought to be restricting blood flow to regions of ASD kids’ brains, which regulate speech or enhance its ability in absorbing oxygen.
“We’re not saying it’s a cure,” says study co-author Dan Rossignol, a family doctor, “but if you can improve understanding so a kid doesn’t run in front of a car, or improve sleep, that would be a benefit.”
Although the study only treated and monitored kids for 30 days, kids receiving the same number of sessions outside of research settings frequently showed longer improvement. Others improved after 80 sessions, says Robert Hendren, executive director of the University of California Davis M.I.N.D. Institute.