Can essential oils help children with autism?

Bottles of essential oils with a watch and mother applying essential oils to son

The children in Ohio State's essential oils study wear an actigraph (left) to track movement; Shannon applies essential oil to her son Sam.

For children with autism, getting to sleep can be a challenge.

In fact, it's estimated that as many as 3 out of 4 children with autism experience trouble sleeping – and there are currently no FDA-approved medications for pediatric sleep problems.

But what if essential oils could help?

That's the question researchers at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center are asking. In particular, they're looking at the growing trend of using essential oils to calm children with autism and help them sleep.

“All over the country, parents claim they’ve seen improvements in the quality of life and in the behavior of their children by using essential oils, but all those claims are anecdotal,” said Jill Hollway, PhD, who is leading the study at OSU Wexner Medical Center’s Nisonger Center. “We want to see if there is any science behind it."

Review the eligibility criteria and contact information for this study. If you would like your child to be considered for the study, call 614-685-3219.

In particular, essential oils like lavender, sandalwood and frankincense have been said to help children with autism better handle transitional periods, like going to school or to bed.

So Holloway and her peers will be testing two different mixtures of 18 different essential oils. Parents will apply the mixtures topically and use them at night through a diffuser, and children will also wear a device at night that measures their activity level to see if the oils help them stay asleep.

The study will follow two dozen children over the course of the next two years – with the goal of helping children and parents alike.

Learn more about this Ohio State study.