Secretin in the Treatment of Autism

Revised and approved by Council June 15, 2002
To be reviewed 

Secretin is a polypeptide neurotransmitter involved in digestion. This agent has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration for use in the diagnosis of gastrointestinal problems in adults; repeated use has not been approved by the FDA. Several anecdotal reports suggested that secretin may ameliorate some of the symptoms of Autism and one open study of three children was reported. A series of well-controlled studies have now been conducted. These studies have involved several hundred children. Although it is possible that some subgroup of patients respond, the available evidence does not suggest that secretin is a useful treatment for children with autism. Accordingly, the use of this agent remains unproven.

Given the severity of Autism, parents and family members are often willing to try treatments that promise improvement, but are unproven. Such treatments are usually based on anecdotal reports that are often unsubstantiated by more rigorous research; the short-term change reported may be nonspecific and unsustained.

Families should be helped to make informed decisions about their use of alternative or unproven treatments, including careful consideration of risks and benefits. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry supports the study of all promising treatments by well-designed research.