FDA and ASAT warn consumers about ineffective autism treatments

FDA and ASAT warn consumers about ineffective autism treatments

The FDA recently warned consumers about products and services claiming to treat or cure autism. There is no cure for autism at present, so

"products or treatments claiming to 'cure' autism do not work as claimed. The same is true of many products claiming to treat' autism or autism-related symptoms. Some may carry significant health risks."

Several treatments were singled out by the agency:

  • Chelation: Chelation is an FDA-approved, prescription-only treatment for lead poisoning and iron overload. Sprays, suppositories, capsules, drops and clay baths claiming to "cleanse" the body of "toxic chemicals and heavy metals" by binding them and "removing" them from circulation, offered as a treatment or cure for autism, are bogus. In addition, serious and life-threatening outcomes can result from chelating minerals needed by the body.
  • Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: The FDA has cleared Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (breathing oxygen in a pressurized chamber) only for medical uses such as decompression sickness, not for autism.
  • "Detoxifying" Clay Baths: These products, added to bathwater, are falsely advertised as offering "dramatic improvement" for autism symptoms.
  • Raw Camel Milk: Marketed as a treatment for autism and autism-related symptoms, raw camel milk has not been proven safe or effective for autism.
  • Essential Oils: Also marketed for autism and autism-related symptoms, and equally unproven.

The FDA cites the non-profit Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT), which

"says that since autism was first identified, there has been a long history of failed treatments and fads."

Where medical science has yet to understand the cause of a disease or condition and offers few effective therapies, quacks quickly fill the gap with pseudoscience. Autism is one of those conditions. Anti-vaccinationists have manufactured vaccination as autism's cause and charlatans offer a plethora of bogus treatments. Even where plausible and well-intentioned, unproven treatments abound.

In addition to the FDA's list, ASAT notes these disproven or untested treatments, complete with a helpful explanation the purported treatment and the evidence:

  • Bleach therapy
  • Animal therapy
  • Art therapy
  • Auditory Integration Therapy
  • Bonding (Attachment) Therapies
  • Facilitated Communication
  • Holding Therapy
  • Oral-Motor Training/Therapies
  • Patterning
  • Psychoanalytic and Humanistic Play Therapy
  • Rapid Prompting Method
  • Sensory Integrative Therapy
  • Sensory-motor Therapies
  • Son-Rise Program
  • Vision Therapies
  • Anti-Fungal and Anti-Yeast Medication
  • Craniosacral Therapy
  • Herbs
  • Homeopathic Treatments
  • Iridology
  • Neurofeedback Therapy
  • Magnets
  • Secretin
  • Special Diets (Gluten-free, casein-free, sugar-free, removal of food dyes, "foods thought to produce maladaptive behavior")
  • Vitamins and Supplements

Interestingly, many of the treatments called out by the FDA and ASAT are used by naturopathic "doctors" who claim they can successfully treat autism. According to former naturopathic doctor Britt Hermes, who used some of these therapies herself when treating pediatric autism patients, vitamins, supplements "specially formulated for autism," "detoxification," herbs, special diets, homeopathy, hyperbaric oxygen and chelation, are all part of the naturopathic toolbox, sometimes recommended based on bogus testing. Pharmacist Scott Gavura found similar practices in his SBM post Naturopathy vs. Science: Autism, including bleach enemas and "detoxifying" foot baths.

In a medical climate that seems to bend over backwards to accommodate quackery, ASAT is refreshingly forthright in addressing pseudoscience. In addition to listing disproven and unproven treatments, ASAT's website offers tips on sniffing out bogus treatments.

"Parents and professionals can protect people with autism from the harms of bogus and ineffective treatments by exercising healthy skepticism, and asking several questions of everyone who claims to have an effective intervention for autism: What is the intervention, precisely? Exactly what is it supposed to do? Have its effects been tested in controlled experiments using direct, objective measures? If so, were those studies published in peer- reviewed scientific journals? What did studies show about positive effects and negative side effects? Did the effects carry over beyond the immediate treatment setting? Is there another scientifically validated treatment that is similarly effective but has fewer negative side effects? Who will administer this treatment, and how can I be sure they are qualified to do so? How will its effects on this individual be evaluated, and by whom? What will happen if we do nothing? Listen to the answers, but don't take them at face value. Seek out published research on the treatment, and, if necessary, someone with expertise in scientific research methodology to help you evaluate it. Also take note when no answers—and no solid supporting studies — are provided. What is not known or said matters, too."

Great advice for evaluating all treatments, not just those for autism. 

Points of Interest 05/21/2017
Points of Interest 05/20/2017