Alison Singer's days became a blur eight years ago when her daughter Jodie,
now nearly 11, was diagnosed with autism.
Singer left the workforce temporarily and focused on her daughter. "I set up
the home program -- 40 hours a week of applied behavioral analysis therapy,"
says Singer, referring to a common autism
treatment. There were appointments for evaluations to schedule -- and then
get to -- and numerous decisions to make. "Your life becomes dominated by
autism," Singer remembers. "I used...
The pace of scientific research is frustratingly slow. Many treatments that
seem to make sense -- and that other parents swear by -- haven't been proven
effective or safe, ineffective or harmful. Compounding this confusion, any
number of charlatans stand ready to offer spurious cures.
"The information was so overwhelming and scary," remembers Debbie
Page, whose son Gabe was diagnosed with autism in 2005. "It was a scary
time of 'What is right?' 'What is real?' 'What do I need to focus on right
Paul A. Law, MD, MPH, and Kiely Law, MD, MPH, researchers at the Kennedy
Krieger Institute (and parents of Isaac, a child with autism), last year
launched the Interactive Autism Network (IAN). It's already enrolled the
families of nearly 8,000 children with autism, offering targeted enrollment in
research studies, rapid feedback on what is learned, and networking
"Quite a number of these children are on more than 30 or 40 treatments
at any given time, not including everything else they may have tried and
stopped using," Paul Law tells WebMD. "One child is on 56 treatments at
One problem is that as claims proliferate, it's difficult for parents to
separate the wheat from the chaff, says autism researcher Susan Hyman, MD, of
the Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities at the University of
"It's back to the future in autism: Everything that anybody has ever
tried, from guided imagery to vitamins, is still out there," Hyman tells
WebMD. "On the Internet, there is a tremendous explosion of information.
But I don't know there is any more capacity to discern medically reviewed data
from other data. And physicians are terrible at marketing. Evidence is just not
as effective as advertising."
At the heart of the issue is the fact that what most people
call "autism" is actually a spectrum of disorders that may or may
not turn out to have different causes. That's why experts prefer the term
autism spectrum disorder or
Normally, this includes the specific diagnoses of autistic disorder, Asperger's syndrome, and pervasive developmental
disorder-not otherwise specified or PDD-NOS. One thing that complicates
autism research is that different autism spectrum disorders may turn out to
have different causes, may respond better to different treatments, and, perhaps
one day, will have different cures. Today, however, ASD has no known cause, no
one-size-fits-all treatment, and no cure.
Earlier Autism Treatment Is Better Autism Treatment
Perhaps the biggest breakthrough in autism treatment to date is
the recognition that pediatricians can identify most (but not all) 24-month-old
and even 12-month-old children with autism.