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At a glance: Secretin
Type of therapy
Alternative
The claim
Reduces the behavioural characteristics of autism
Suitable for
People with ASD
Research rating

Find out more about this rating system in our FAQs.

Research shows this approach is ineffective or can be harmful.
Warnings
Warning The way that secretin is injected might be distressing to the child. Secretin also has some substantial side effects such as diarrhoea, vomiting, constipation and irritability.
Time

Estimate of the total time for family in hours per week and duration.

0-10 Although it does not take long to administer secretin, this therapy might need to be repeated regularly.
Cost

Estimate of cost to family per session/item or week.

$30-120 The cost will vary depending on whether trained therapists are involved in administering the therapy.
Visit the Autism Service Pathfinder to browse Service Providers information.

About this intervention

What is it?
Secretin is a hormone naturally occurring in the human small intestine. It is important for a healthy gut and digestion. This therapy involves giving secretin to individuals to treat autism. Secretin can also be given to a person as a way to assess how well the pancreas is functioning, or to detect problems in the digestive system.

Who is it for?
This therapy can be used for anyone with autism. There are no age restrictions, although studies have focused on children and adolescents with autism.

What is it used for?
It is used to reduce the behavioural characteristics of autism.

Where does it come from?
This therapy came from observations made of three children with autism. These three children were given secretin when having endoscopies. It was claimed that the dose of secretin led to improvements in their behaviour. As a result, secretin gained popularity as a potential therapy.

What is the idea behind it?
This therapy is based on the idea that problems with the stomach and digestion in children with autism can hinder their ability to focus on and develop other skills such as communicating with others.

When these digestion problems are managed, it’s claimed these children are ‘freed up’ to focus on developing these other skills.

What does it involve?
The intervention involves giving the person with autism an injection of either natural or synthetic secretin. 

There are no standard therapeutic guidelines about the use of secretin for the treatment of autism. Most studies have given a single dose. Others have given more than one dose (usually 4-6 weeks apart).

Does it work?
High-quality research has shown that this therapy is ineffective or may be harmful. As such, it is not currently recommended by researchers.

Who practises this method?
According to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), secretin is not approved for use in Australia. If used, its use and administration must be supervised by a doctor (as with any medicine).

Parent education, training, support and involvement
There are no support or training services available for this therapy.

Where can I find a practitioner?
Secretin is not approved for use in Australia, so no information is available on who might provide the therapy in this country. In the US, secretin is approved for use in the diagnosis of problems in the gut. There is, however, still little information available on who provides this therapy for autism in the US.

Speak to your GP, paediatrician or a dietitian if you are considering this therapy.

 
 
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  • Last Updated 24-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 19-11-2012
  • Esch, B.E., & Carr, J.E., (2004). Secretin as a treatment for autism: A review of the evidence. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 34 (5), 543-556.

    Horvath, K., Stefanotos, G., Sokolski, K. N., Watchel, R., Nabros, L., & Tildon, J. T. (1998). 
    Improved social and language skills after secretin administration in patients with autistic spectrum disorder. Pediatrics, 135, 559-563.

    National Autism Center (2009). National Standards Report – Addressing the need for evidence-based practice guidelines for Autism Spectrum Disorders. Massachusetts: National Autism Center.

    Realmuto, G.M., & Azeem, M.W. (2008). Autistic disorder. In S.H. Fatemi, P.J. Clayton, & N. Sartorius (Eds.). The medical basis of psychiatry (3rd ed. pp. 355-373), New York: Humana.

    Roberts, J.M.A., & Prior, M. (2006). A review of the research to identify the most effective models of practice in early intervention for children with autism spectrum disorders. Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing, Australia.

    Romanczyk, R.G., Gillis, J.M., White, S., & Digennaro, F. (2008). Comprehensive treatment packages for ASD: Percieved vs proven effectiveness. In  In J. Matson (Ed.) Clinical assessement and intervention for autism spectrum disorders (pp. 351-381). Amsterdam: Academic.

    Weiss, M.J., Fiske, K., & Ferraioli, S. (2008). Evidence-based practice for autism spectrum disorders. In J. Matson (Ed.) Clinical assessement and intervention for autism spectrum disorders (pp. 33-63). Amsterdam: Academic.

    Williams, K., Wray, J., & Wheeler, D. (2005). Intravenous secretin for autism spectrum disorders. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2005, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD003495. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD003495.pub2. (3).