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Providing hope for autistic children

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For a newly-married couple, having a baby is a fulfilling addition to the family – especially when the child says the first words like “mummy” or “daddy”.

The hyperbaric chamber in Vachira Hospital has already shown positive results for autistic children. But what you would do if your child doesn’t speak when he or she is expected to? Or if your child behaves strangely, or screams for no reason?

Phuket father Kittisak Lohakarn faced the same problem when his daughter Mew was two years old. She is now five years old. Mr Kittisak told The Phuket News the family lived separately from Mew’s grandparents, so no one had guided them on how to raise a baby, or what normal development was.

“We didn’t think our daughter was normal. She behaved strangely, but we thought she might be slow at developing. She couldn’t speak a single word at two years old, she tiptoed around, screamed when she didn’t get what she wanted, and flicked her hand when she was angry,” he said.

It wasn’t until Mr Kittisak’s brother arrived from Bangkok, armed with information about autism, that the family went to see a doctor. When the family arrived at Vachira Phuket Hospital in Phuket Town, a doctor diagnosed Mew with autism and suggested she have hyperbaric treatment to help with the condition. But opinions on the therapy vary worldwide. Despite the study at Vachira Phuket Hospital, as well as several others around the world showing the chamber improves the behaviour of children with autism, research conducted by the Centre for Autism and Related Disorders in the US showed that hyperbaric oxygen therapy does not have a significant effect on the symptoms of autism.

In Phuket, Bangkok Hospital has a hyperbaric chamber where two children are getting treatment for autism. Phuket International Hospital has a chamber but it is only used for decompression, and the Mission Hospital does not have one. But the chamber at Vachira Phuket Hospital is getting results for many children using it. The children are also taking part in development related activities. The chamber treatment is expensive – B50,000 per session (which includes one 1.5-hour stay in the chamber for 40 consecutive days), but Mr Kittisak said it is worth it.

“My daughter is becoming more calmer and concentrating more on what she’s doing. We have finished the first session of using the chamber for 40 days, and my daughter has stopped walking on tiptoes and stopped flicking her hand. She has already started to speak.” “I’m now requesting the second session for my daughter. We are really impressed with the results, and I’m sure we are making the right decision,” Mr Kittisak said. Even though Mr Kittisak thinks there is not much chance Mew will ever be as developed as a regular child, he hopes she will be able to live on her own one day and his hope lies with the hyperbaric treatment chamber.

How it works: The hyperbaric chamber uses oxygen therapy to help improve autism behaviour. The treatment aims to increase blood flow and the amount of oxygen delivered to areas of the brain which are thought to be oxygen deficient, and hence stimulate brain development. The therapy also reduces excess fluids and swelling of brain tissues which help neurological functions. The chamber can also be used in the treatment of decompression sickness or situations where gas bubbles end up in the bloodstream, as well as for cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis and other conditions.

Study shows good results: Vachira Phuket Hospital was the first hospital in the country to conduct a study on using hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) for the treatment of autistic children, psychiatrist and Deputy Director of Health Medical Personnel of the hospital, Dr Tappana Sumpatanarax said.“The director (Dr Jessada Chungpaibulpatana) was interested in autistic therapy and had read research that showed HOBT could be used for autistic children. There are an estimated 400 children with autism in Phuket,” Dr Tappana said. A total of 21 children were tested during the 2008 study, and were evaluated after every 10 sessions using the chamber. Results showed children who used the chamber with higher levels of oxygen experienced better development over time. The research has been published in several medical journals. “It is good to use this therapy along with other alternative therapies for holistic care, such as combining it with animal therapy, aqua therapy and music and art therapy,” Dr Tappana said. “Many parents are impressed with the results of the treatment – some even cried when they heard their children say “mum” after such a long time. It’s really a good alternative treatment for autistic children,” Dr Tappana said.

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