Alternative Autism Treatments Unproven, Unsafe
> 12/6/2009 5:06:07 PM

Parents frustrated by a lack of results under standard autism treatment plans are turning, in larger numbers, toward alternative "cures" that have never been tested on humans in clinical settings and have no basis in established science. This is not an isolated problem: studies indicate that a vast majority of affected families (up to 75%) try alternative treatments at least once.

independent investigation by reporters from the Chicago Tribune uncovered troubling practices in what's colloquially known as the "autism recovery movement." One extreme example is chelation therapy, a practice in which affected children are repeatedly injected with a man-made amino acid supposedly designed to purge their bodies of heavy metals by binding to these substances in the blood and creating a compound that will then exit the body through the urinary tract.

This treatment arose from the
now discredited belief that the presence of these substances (lead, mercury, etc.) in past infant vaccines actually causes autism. In the past, promoters marketed chelation as a cure for artherosclerosis that would miraculously remove much of the offending plaque from affected arteries.

No major American medical groups have endorsed this practice and it has never been tested on humans. It has, however, been recently tested on rats. The rodents who underwent chelation in the lab suffered cognitive damage after being injected with its key substance. In the wake of this finding, the
government cancelled a planned study examining its potential effects on humans.

Unfortunately, despite the fact that these treatments are experimental at best, parents often hear about them from physicians, some of whom may be paid to promote them. Proponents' arguments often arise from the fact that most treatment plans simply do not improve the daily lives of affected kids and that many parents are more than willing to risk time and money on unproven "cures." They may be placing their children in greater danger: Chelation, for example, carries the risk of severe kidney failure, and at least one child has died while receiving the treament.

While recovery movement representatives offer studies that supposedly confirm the effectiveness of the treatments they recommend, a group of scientists that was originally convened to address claims related to autism and vaccines has reviewed the research and found it to be less than credible. Fortunately, most of the treatments recommended by the movement and
associated advocacy groups focus on vitamins and specialized diets that don't carry the risks of extreme practices like chelation.

Many experts still
voice concerns about a growing industry that effectively encourages parents to experiment and spend considerable sums in the hope of "curing" a complex and little-understood condition. We can appreciate the frustration experienced by parents who want desperately to improve the lives of their children. But many of the alternative treatments endorsed by those who claim to have the kids' best interests in mind threaten to do more harm than good. - Patrick Coffee

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