We aimed to summarize and critically evaluate the available evidence regarding the efficacy and safety of acupuncture for children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
We searched 13 databases for studies published up to December 2016. Randomized controlled trials (RCTs) evaluating the efficacy of acupuncture for children with ASD were included. Outcome measures were the overall scores on scales evaluating the core symptoms of ASD and the scores for each symptom, such as social communication ability and skills, stereotypies, language ability, and cognitive function. Effect sizes were presented as mean differences (MD).
Twenty-seven RCTs with 1736 participants were included. Acupuncture complementary to behavioral and educational intervention significantly decreased the overall scores on the Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS) (MD -8.10, 95% CI -12.80 to -3.40) and the Autism Behavior Checklist (MD -8.92, 95% CI -11.29 to -6.54); however, it was unclear which of the ASD symptoms improved. Acupuncture as a monotherapy also reduced the overall CARS score. The reported adverse events were acceptable.
This review suggests that acupuncture may be effective and safe for pediatric ASD. However, it is not conclusive due to the heterogeneity of the acupuncture treatment methods used in the studies.
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