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Caution Urged for Autism Treatments

Researchers Say 'Fad Therapies' for Autism Are on the Rise
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Aug. 20, 2007 -- Unproven treatments for autism have increased as the number of children with autism and related disorders has grown dramatically, according to a team of Ohio State University researchers.

"Fad treatments have grown as the numbers have gone up," says James Mulick, PhD, a professor of pediatrics and psychology at Ohio State University, Columbus, who led a symposium on the topic at the 115th annual convention of the American Psychological Association (APA) in San Francisco.

Today, one in 150 children has autism or an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which encompasses several related disorders, Mulick tells WebMD. In the 1970s, the commonly held belief was that three in every 10,000 children had autism. Autism and related problems, such as Asperger's syndrome or childhood disintegrative disorder, are all complex developmental disabilities that affect the development of social skills, communication skills, and behavior. Genetic vulnerability is suspected, and abnormal brain development during an infant's first months may also contribute.

As more parents hear these diagnoses, they are searching, understandably, for a way to make their children's lives better. "They desperately want their children to have a future," Mulick says.

"The average parent has tried seven different therapies," Mulick says, citing the results of a survey his research team found on the Internet.

Unproven treatments are often marketed aggressively, he tells WebMD, and information often includes testimonials from other parents, making them difficult to resist. As a result, he says, it's sometimes difficult for parents to evaluate the treatment objectively and to avoid totally unproven approaches. The unproven treatments can escape oversight from the FDA, says Mulick, because many are not drugs or devices.

(If your child has autism, you feel compelled to do something to help. What treatments are working for your child?What hasn't worked? Tell us at WebMD's Parenting: Special Needs Children message board.)

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