As anyone who has worked with people on the autism spectrum knows, these are only two of many therapies available - and they may or may not be appropriate for any given individual. They are, however, relatively easy to research because their application is consistent and structured, and outcomes can be compared based on agreed-upon standards.
That leaves caregivers, teachers, therapists and doctors with dozens - if not hundreds - of "alternative" treatments for autism, ranging from play therapy to chelation (removal of metals from the body in an effort to remediate mercury poisoning) to various supplements, diets, even clay baths. Some of these therapies are truly harmless (there's no way you can possibly hurt a child by playing with him); others, particularly the biomedical interventions, carry the possibility of doing harm.
While I would not advise a parent against doing what they believe is best for their child, I would recommend that, when attempting any new treatment, you follow the following guidelines:
- If this is a biomedical treatment (a treatment which involves any type of medicine, supplement, or other biological intervention), undertake it only under the direct and involved supervision of a qualified medical practitioner. This refers not only to chelation and supplements, but also to specialized diets which may have a negative nutritional impact on your child.
- If this is a new treatment, take scrupulous notes on what it is intended to do, and on its apparent outcomes - side effects included. Consider using a video camera to record your child's behavior before, during and after the treatment or therapy.
- Try one approach at a time. If you start, for example, a special diet AND a new school AND developmental therapy all at the same time, it will be impossible to parse out which approach is working (or causing problems). Wait at least three months to decide whether a particular approach is helpful.