Baseless, risky therapies for Autism

Writing in the Chicago (IL, US) Tribune under the headline “Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science” Trine Tsouderos and Patricia Callahan reported about the background and myriad problems with many treatments used as therapy for children with Autism. They expose the lack of evidentiary support for therapies ranging from mega-doses of vitamins to chelation and show the relationships between practitioners of these therapies and a couple of organizations well-known among those who follow Autism.

The Tribune found children undergoing daylong infusions of a blood product that carries the risk of kidney failure and anaphylactic shock. Researchers in the field emphatically warn that the therapy should not be used to treat autism.

Children are repeatedly encased in pressurized oxygen chambers normally used after scuba diving accidents, at a cost of thousands of dollars. This unproven therapy is meant to reduce inflammation that experts say is little understood and may even be beneficial.

Children undergo rounds of chelation therapy to leach heavy metals from the body, though most toxicologists say the test commonly used to measure the metals is meaningless and the treatment potentially harmful.

Reporters Tsouderos and Callahan conducted interviews with an impressive array of advocates for the therapies (including representatives of Autism One, Autism Research Institute, and Defeat Autism Now) and doubters (mostly serious scientists). They combed through the weak and barely related research that many of the advocates use as well as the evidence showing limited or no benefits of the therapies.

All in all, these reporters deserve kudos for the unflinching thoroughness of their reporting. I encourage readers to read, reread, and disseminate the article. Here’s a link to “Autism treatments: Risky alternative therapies have little basis in science.” Flash of the electrons to Liz Ditz, whose Twitter post about this article alerted me to it.

2 Responses to “Baseless, risky therapies for Autism”


  • The second installment is up. It’s really hard-hitting.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/health/chi-autism-science-nov23,0,6519404,full.story

    Short clip

    “Physicians and others in the movement — many affiliated with the organization Defeat Autism Now! — say their treatment protocols rest on a foundation of solid science. But the Tribune found otherwise after speaking with dozens of scientists and physicians and reviewing thousands of pages of research and court testimony.

    Pardo’s study is just one example. In May, the Tribune reported on another questionable use of research. A geneticist and his son who promoted treating children who have autism with a testosterone inhibitor had based their protocol, in part, on the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, a psychopathologist at England’s University of Cambridge who has explored the role of the hormone in autism.

    Yet Baron-Cohen told the Tribune that the idea of using the drug this way “fills me with horror.”

    Pardo said that since his paper came out he has received many questions about unproven autism treatments. He is particularly haunted by inquiries regarding powerful immunosuppressant drugs usually used on organ transplant patients, calling the idea “completely wrong.”

    Said the researcher: “People are abusing science for the treatment of autism.” “

  • Liz Ditz, thank you for tweeting and following up with part 2.
    EBD/JohnL, thanks for posting.

    Pretty alarming stuff. I’ve been reading versions of this for years and it remains stomach-turning in how willing some practitioners are to experiment (a term that some are taking exception to, but I think is right on the money) sans human rights committee and IRB, all while turning a healthy profit while doing so.

    “…Pardo said that since his paper came out he has received many questions about unproven autism treatments. He is particularly haunted by inquiries regarding powerful immunosuppressant drugs usually used on organ transplant patients, calling the idea “completely wrong.”

    Said the researcher: “People are abusing science for the treatment of autism.”

    More to the point, people are abusing CHILDREN for the treatment of autism.

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