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Beware Magic Potions That Claim to Cure Autism

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Updated November 08, 2010

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Good news everyone! It turns out there are all sorts of cures for autism on the market -- and some are as cheap as $30 or your money back!

Extraordinary as it may seem, magic potions and elixirs to "cure autism" are not only available, but apparently they are selling. To find them, you need only peruse the ads that spring up when you type in the words "cure autism" on Google, in Facebook, and on other sites that host keyword-based ads. Among my most recent findings (please excuse the fact that I'm not linking to these outrageous sites):

  • A cocktail of vitamins, supplements, and who-knows-what-else (patent pending) which "cannot be duplicated by vitamin drinks, multiple vitamins, amino acid supplements or commonly prescribed neuroactive drugs, even if taken together." The ad claims that the concoction can treat or even cure autism -- as well as migraines, fatigue, and joint pain.
  • A system which uses colored lights and "cranial dynamics" to "accelerate the repair of the seven developmental switches." According to the website, we don't know about the success of the program because its creator only provides it to a select few families. How do we know it works? Here's how (typos included): "I would rather believe the insight received from some one like myself who grew up autistic, defeated autism, and developed the research and technology to assist children in their recovery then believe the 99% of all practitioners who do not come home to an autistic child."
  • A stem cell treatment that places fetal cells "under the skin," after which "The Fetal Stem Cell searches out, detects and then attempts to repair any damage or deficiency discovered, as well as releases growth factors, which stimulate the body's own repair mechanisms." This method claims to use "fetal" cells that are NOT from an infant's umbilical cord, because such cells are "more effective." Where do these fetal cells come from? A lab in "eastern Europe."

I'm quite sure no one who is reading this article is likely to dose their child with stem cells from a dead baby somewhere in eastern Europe. But just in case an apparently credible treatment you've never heard of happens to cross your desk, be sure to apply the following criteria:

  • Is the claim too good to be true? In the case of autism, claims of a guaranteed "cure" or "recovery" are, quite simply, scams.

  • Is the claim supported by peer reviewed research studies, or by anecdotes alone? If anecdotes are the only supporting evidence, say NO.
  • Does the claim suggest that traditional practitioners reject the treatment out of jealousy or financial concerns? If so, look very carefully into other reasons why traditional practitioners say this claim is bogus. Don't assume the claimant is telling the truth.
  • Does the ad suggest that one type of treatment can "cure" multiple, unrelated disorders (e.g., autism, migraines and digestive disorders)? If so, it is probably a fake.

    Autism is a difficult diagnosis to live with. And, in most cases, autism is a lifelong disorder. It is very important to know, though, that MOST children with autism will improve, some dramatically, with ordinary, well-established treatments such as developmental or behavioral therapy, speech therapy, and the like. When you fall for a "magical elixir" type of ad, your child's behaviors may well improve -- over time. But unless you are incredibly rigorous about recording the incidence, type and quality of changes before, during and after the treatment, along with information about ALL your child's activities and therapies, it will be impossible to know what caused the improvement.

    Bottom line: as the parent of a child with autism, you're going to be a target for fraudulent advertising. But as the parent of a child with autism, it's up to you to make sane, positive choices for your child's future.

Sources:

FDA Article "What are some tips on searching the web for information on dietary supplements?"

NIH "Medline Plus" article on Health Fraud

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