Reporter falls for HBOT

On the heels of the report by D. Granpeesheh and colleagues that hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) did not benefit individuals with Autism comes a news story that uncritically describes the use of the therapy with children. In “Special Report: Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy for Autistic Children,” Jenni Joyce of TV station WHPTV (PA, US) fell for anecdotal reports and, apparently, did not check the evidence about effectiveness of the therapy, something that I used to think was a basic journalist duty.

It’s one of the newest treatments for children with autism and some doctors say the results are phenomenal. It’s called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. It’s being offered at the Robert M. Lombard Oxygenation Medical Center in Columbia, Lancaster County. It’s where one local toddler, Jonathan Musselman, was treated for his autism.

>>snip< < Jonathan lays [sic] comfortably inside the chamber. The toddler has no idea the great strides doctors believe his body is making in repairing damaged cells. “Wherever added oxygen is in the body, it’s gonna help to heal itself. We’re growing new blood vessels. We are increasing some nutrients in the body,” says [nurse Connie] Waltz. Science leads hyperbaric medical experts to believe the therapy is helping Jonathan’s brain, but they do not know for sure. Waltz explains, “It reduces the swelling in the body and in the brain and it helps children with autism process things better.” “He’s talking more. His verbal imitation has come up tremendously. Just last week in speech, I wrote 150 words that he said within a 25 minute period,” says Jonathan’s mom, Beth Musselman. “What we’re seeing in children is that, socially, they’re doing better in school. There are children who sit down and do book works now that haven’t been able to before,” says Waltz.

Nurse Waltz should (a) document those improvements she is asserting and (b) publish an account of why her case report trumps randomized trials showing null effects.

To her credit, Ms. Joyce noted that “the Food and Drug Administration has not yet approved these oxygen chamber treatments for autism because formal studies haven’t been completed.” Sadly, she or her informants are not aware of the studies showing null effects (Rossignol et al. and Granpeesheh et al.).

Link to Ms. Joyce’s article. Watch the video version (not sure how long it will be available).

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