Caution Urged for Autism Treatments
Researchers Say 'Fad Therapies' for Autism Are on the Rise
WebMD News Archive
Fad Treatments Abound
Among the autism treatments that Mulick and his colleagues cautioned against
at the APA convention:
Facilitated communication. A facilitator holds the hands of those
with autism over a keyboard and helps them to communicate. Or a facilitator
helps the person with autism communicate by pointing at letters, images, or
symbols that represent messages. The goal is independent expression, according
to advocates. "In no case was it shown to be a valid communication" for
the autistic person, Mulick says.
Chelation therapy. A chemical that binds to heavy
metals -- believed by some to cause
autism -- is given orally, rectally, or infused intravenously, Mulick says.
"The chemical binds to heavy metals and allows the heavy metals to be
excreted, and the belief is it will cure autism." But chelation
therapy is unproven for autism, Mulick says.
Dolphin therapy. Advocates believe swimming with dolphins can help an autistic child
improve interpersonal relationships. Says Mulick: ''There is no evidence it
supports any effect except recreation."
Auditory integration therapy. Developed by an ear-nose-throat
doctor, this therapy originally was meant to help those with hypersensitive
hearing. The theory is that the person is overstimulated and the hearing is
overly sensitive at specific frequencies. The therapy involves listening
to music at different frequencies to normalize the hearing response across all
frequencies within the normal hearing range. "This is based on the theory
that kids with autism will often hold their ears," Mulick says, and that
they are overly sensitive to sound. "They do hold their ears, but they
don't have greater hearing acuity."
Dietary interventions. The gluten-free, casein-free diet,
or GFCF diet, is another approach. Casein is a protein found in milk and
cheese, and gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley, and rye. The theory,
says Mulick, is that in autistic children these proteins result in an
overproduction of opiates in the brain, in turn contributing to social
awkwardness and thwarting brain maturation. Scientific studies on the
effectiveness of the GFCF diet are lacking, he says. "And very few people
adhere to the diet."
Autism Treatment: What Works?
An intensive approach using behavior therapy, often called applied behavior
analysis, is uniformly recommended by experts, including a recommendation by
the U.S. surgeon general. The basic research for this approach was done years
ago at the University of California, Los Angeles. This program is intensive --
one-on-one for 40 hours a week. Similar programs are offered in major
metropolitan areas around the country, Mulick says.