Complementary and alternative medicines (CAMs) and dietary interventions are widely used in the management of autistic disorders as pharmacological treatments offered by mainstream medicine are limited and often associated with significant adverse effects.

In this article, the rationale, safety and efficacy of a range of CAMs and dietary interventions used in the management of autistic disorders are discussed.

Despite many anecdotal reports supporting the efficacy of CAMs, evidence for their use in autistic disorders is either unclear or conflicting, and available data comes from a limited number of small studies. Large randomised controlled trials have not yet been conducted to examine efficacy in this population. Although most interventions are associated with only mild adverse effects, there is a lack of long term safety data. General practitioners need to be aware that the use of CAMs in autism is not risk free and often lacks sound clinical evidence. On the other hand, there may be subtle benefits to the child, especially if interventions are coupled with intensive behavioural and/or educational intervention.