Arman has uttered three words — “mummy”, “papa” and “tata” — once each over the past month. One would expect a three-year-old to be more talkative, but his parents are thrilled.
Arman has autism, a developmental disorder, and had not said a word for one-and-a-half years.
The change, Arman’s parents say, is because of breathing in loads of oxygen. Every day since January 10, Arman’s mother Hasina (name changed) has been sitting with him in an eight-ft-long cylindrical oxygen chamber for 90 minutes, trying to distract him while the gas seeps into his system.
“Arman also makes more eye contact and reacts to his environment now,” said Hasina,
who came to Mumbai from Upudi in Karnataka for her son’s treatment.
Arman is one of the 20 autistic children who have undergone the treatment — Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HBOT) — at south Mumbai’s Jaslok Hospital since last year.
Though there is no cure for autism, most parents who have tried HBOT are happy with the little improvements in their children’s condition.
“There is less blood flow to certain areas of the brains of autistic children. HBOT increases the flow, so more oxygen is carried to the brain and this helps. Children become less hyperactive,” said Dr Shoaib Padaria, director of the HBOT centre at Jaslok.
Children with autism are usually prescribed 40 HBOT sessions of 90 minutes each. Parents have to get into the chamber if the child is too young.
A trial published in the Paediatric Lancet in February 2009 established that autistic children benefit from HBOT. But large-scale studies are still underway so many doctors still don’t endorse the treatment.
“HBOT is useful for many other conditions but the data we have for autism so far is not very strong. It is better to go for established treatments like occupational and speech therapy,” said developmental paediatrician Dr Vibha Krishnamurthy.
HBOT is expensive with each session costing Rs 6,300. But the Karves (name changed) say the treatment paid off for their pre-teen son, Kunal. “He was too hyper and would just not listen to us. He is comparatively calmer now, so we have been able to start on occupational therapy,” said Kunal’s mother Reema.