Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Autism


Woman in a yoga position

Complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) is a group of diverse medical and healthcare systems, practices, and products that are not generally considered part of conventional, Western medicine as practiced by medical doctors and allied health professionals.

‘Complementary medicine’ refers to the use of CAM together with conventional medicine. ‘Alternative medicine’ refers to the use of CAM in place of conventional medicine.

CAM practices are sometimes divided into two main subcategories: natural products and mind-body medicine. However there are various other sub-categories including whole medical systems, manipulative and body-based practices, movement therapies, energy medicine and so on. In practice, many forms of CAM fall into more than one sub-category. For example, qigong massage can be categorised as mind-body medicine, as a manipulative or body-based practice, or as energy medicine.

CAM practices (like standard healthcare practices) are used to treat a wide range of conditions (such as cancer, depression and stroke). Some CAM practices are also being used to treat some of the problems faced by autistic people, including the core features of autism (such as difficulties with social interaction) and some of the associated problems (such as anxiety).

The hypotheses behind different CAM practices vary from one practice to another, but practices within the sub-categories often share the same hypothesis. For example, practices based on energy medicine are all based on the idea of manipulating energy fields of one kind or another.


The scientific evidence for the use of CAM practices to help autistic people varies between different CAM practices. In most cases, either no evidence exists at all or the evidence has no significance for making decisions about treatment; it just indicates the need for more research. 


According to National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine: "As with any medical product or treatment, there can be risks with complementary therapies. These risks depend on the specific therapy. Each therapy needs to be considered on its own."

Specific Types of CAM 

We have categorised CAM practices as follows (although there are many other ways in which they can be categorised and many individual interventions will fall under more than one of the following categories).

More Information

Please see Publications on Complementary and Alternative Medicine and Autism

Related Pages

Related Glossaries

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26 May 2022