When frivolous fringe autism therapies lose the humor

Every couple of weeks I seem to find some form of quackery that is mostly humorous and harmless. Examples I’ve written about in the past that are worth a chuckle include Mushroom Supplements, Horticulture Therapy, Camel’s Milk and Surfing Therapy.

I’ve just come across another wacky autism treatment:
Horse or Equine Therapy. This therapy has been claimed to “recover” a child from autism. The child’s father authored a book that was so compelling it has now been made into a feel-good, Hollywood blockbuster. Testimonials make us feel hopeful and the movie industry laps up this kind of story. What is truly miraculous is the savvy nature of the parents who managed to get their book made into an award winning movie! It takes my breath away as to how talented these parents are to actually bring a project like this to fruition.

That said, it still remains true that autism treatment quackery is harmful and unfortunate because it takes away a child’s precious window of opportunity and parents’ money from treatments that are based on science.

Quackery backed up with a book and a well-made movie is a great fundraising conduit. As you read this, there is currently a “Horse Therapy” foundation raising money to provide this – ahem – treatment to help “recover” other children with autism. If they would only spend a fraction of this money on testing their therapy for efficacy using the scientific method, that would be a great use of the money!

Aside from expensive, mostly harmless quackery, every so often I run across a dangerous idea that stops me in my tracks. I was tempted to ignore this new therapy because the more publicity it garners, the more parents may get suckered into buying this snake-oil. However, after watching the presentation of these practitioners at a “conference” recorded on youtube, I saw how sophisticated their sell job was and I could not, in good conscience, ignore this latest “therapy” any longer.

Here’s what this new therapy entails. It is called the
Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS). What is it? Practitioners give enemas to the autistic child using a form of bleach! Occasionally, they also give it to the children orally. The fact that this unstudied treatment has practitioners administer a bleach concoction at either end of a child’s system alarms me greatly!

What is particularly important to note is the unbelievably persuasive talent of these practitioners. Their sale’s job is very professional, utilizing all kinds of scientific jargon to hoodwink parents to actually consider subjecting their child to this frightening procedure. If you want to get into the weeds with details describing the full horror of the procedure, I would direct you to
David Gorsky’s comprehensive analysis on MMS.

What is important to remember, though, is that there is no data published in peer-reviewed journals on the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS). The claims of recovering thirty-eight children are simply unfounded assertions with NO peer-reviewed data to support them. Remember, if there is no data, there is
no evidence!

In summary, I would just remind all parents that absent solid evidence, first assume your child’s health and safety may fall victim to quackery.

How to spot junk science, in fourteen minutes

Many of you may be familiar with the TED Talks site. They have a collection of lectures given by interesting people all over the world. One of the talks is focused on how science can be abused for an agenda. The talk is hilarious and will be of interest to every parent of a child with autism. In this fourteen minute TED Talks lecture, Ben Goldacre amuses while he educates regarding why good science is crucial and what bad science actually looks like.

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Although Goldacre touches on many areas that have nothing to do with autism specifically, the insight he provides in terms of the way science is warped and distorted to push an agenda is extremely valuable. The field of autism is replete with junk science and this lecture provides a very entertaining way to arm parents with the knowledge to critically evaluate the next treatment that’s introduced into the autism marketplace.

Autism Speaks should pause to listen, for just a moment

Parents have a very difficult time negotiating the world of autism treatments. Everyone is out there offering the latest treatment for the disability of autism. This is nothing new, and until there is actually a cure for autism, various forms of autism snake oil will continue to be sold through the unreliable, age old testimonial.

What’s different now is that the researchers have upped the ante. They now have a well-funded, well-heeled autism organization provide legitimacy to propagate autism treatment myth. The organization I’m referring to is
Autism Speaks.

The last thing we need is for
Autism Speaks, and the scientists who work under their umbrella, to be associated in any way with autism treatment quackery. Today, there was yet another feel good testimonial on the Autism Speaks Official Blog espousing the virtues of Floortime. This testimonial is the product of training from a $15,000 grant provided by Autism Speaks!

I’m floored! Here are researchers,
using a technique with no scientific evidence, receiving big money to train an army of therapists, teachers and respite providers across twenty-two states. Now the first kids to graduate from this program are being presented as success stories.

I’d like
Autism Speaks to listen, for just a moment:

Prior to giving money to train people in a technique that has no scientific evidence, it is incumbent upon
Autism Speaks to support well-designed research into the experimental treatment known as Floortime, to discern whether or not the treatment actually improves the condition of autism as compared to other treatments that are currently considered best practices.

I would like to say this to
Dr. Geraldine Dawson, Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks: you should know better! It does no service for children with autism, and the parents who advocate for them, for a leading autism organization to misinform about the efficacy of treatments; yet this is exactly what Autism Speaks is doing in this instance. By promoting and propagating quackery, Autism Speaks dilutes its legitimacy. In my view, this is shameful. Autism Speaks has enormous potential to change the lives of children with autism, if only they were to use that power responsibly.

The flavor of the month is calcium

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every new month, parents of children with autism are presented a new treatment to try on their children. This month’s treatment is: Natural Calcium Supplements. Read more ...

Is science coming back into fashion?

The Summer 2011 issue of the
Autism Spectrum News was just delivered to my doorstep with the leading story, titled, Use Science and the Scientific Method When Considering Treatment. In fact, the most of the issue is devoted to this goal, which is a refreshing change from what comes across my desk and through my e-mail on a daily basis. Read more...