This week, the Chicago Tribune came out with a long piece entitled Autism treatment: Science hijacked to support alternative therapies and subtitled Researchers' fears about misuse of their work come true. In essence, the article is a condemnation of the Defeat Autism Now or DAN protocol and other biomedical treatments for autism. Among the article's statements:
Most physicians recommend intensive behavioral therapy and, if asked, warn parents away from experimental treatments.
Even so, studies have found that up to three-quarters of families with children who have autism try at least some alternative therapies.
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.
Later this week, another article came out entitled Autism treatment: Success stories more persuasive to some than hard data. The gist of the second article: kids with autism may improve with or without therapies, so it can be very hard to know what's "really" working.
As might be anticipated, the articles have raised a storm of protest -- and an equally hefty shower of approval. Two regular About.com commenters, Harold Doherty and Autism News Beat, take opposite perspectives. Harold is disturbed by what he feels is an anti-therapy stance by the Tribune, while Autism News Beat says "It's called journalism..... Get used to it. Expect more in the coming months as the news and entertainment media's narrative switches from "alternative medicine produces miracles" to "science is being highjacked to fool parents". Age of Autism, some of whose writers are specifically presented in a negative light in the Tribune articles, are predictably vocal in their criticism.
Whatever happens next, it seems clear that the autism wars are nowhere near over. In the present battle, the Chicago Tribune has made its point of view very clear indeed. It will be interesting to see whether Autism News Beat is right that the "narrative is changing."
My guess is that consensus is a very, very long way away.