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Why Research Into Autism Treatments Is Important

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Updated May 29, 2009

More than once, I've heard parents, researchers and practitioners say, in essence, "We know this method [whatever it may be] works to help kids with autism because we use it and see the results. Why take time away from treating kids to do expensive, time-consuming research to prove what we already know?"

Of course, the answer to this question is that there are many excellent reasons for spending all that "extra" time and money to validate the safety and efficacy of a treatment for autism. Here are just a few:

Validation of the Method

You and others may be absolutely certain that it's the special drug, therapeutic technique or diet that's making all the difference. But the truth is that you don't know what's making the difference unless you conduct double-blind research. The reasons for this include the fact that kids with autism usually develop and grow with or without treatment; parents often use more than one treatment at once; parents and researchers are both anxious to see positive results, and thus tend to observe them whether or not they occur (this is often called the placebo effect).

Examination of Potential Side Effects

Rigorous research is necessary to demonstrate that a treatment is safe and that the benefits of it are worth the risk of any potential side effects.

Funding

A treatment that has gone through appropriate evaluation is far more likely to receive financial support from foundations, government agencies, insurance companies and schools. If you truly believe in your treatment, surely you want to see it reach as many people as possible.

Positive Press

The reason some treatments receive negative press is because they have not been fully or appropriately researched. This becomes even more of an issue when only one or two individuals offer the treatment, and they refuse to "take the time" to do the research. If this treatment is so promising, surely others will be interested in learning about and evaluating it, too.

Peace of Mind

It's smart to be skeptical of claims such as "the drops in this bottle will cure your child's autism." Is it conceivably possible that a cure for some kids could be available in a bottle? Maybe. Is it likely that Dr. X's bottle contains that cure? Probably not.

On the other hand, if Dr. X and a group of colleagues have received funding, evaluated the contents of the bottle through appropriate methods, gone through peer review, published their findings, had their work replicated, and can still claim a cure, it's likely that their treatment has real merit.

The Bottom Line

Proper research is not a nice luxury. It's the only way to absolutely know for sure whether a treatment is safe and efficacious. It's also the best way to ensure that a treatment you believe in will find its way into schools, clinics and the medical mainstream.
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