Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder with no known cure. Parents and advocates will understandably pursue interventions and treatments that offer the possibility of helping the child with autism, particularly if they are perceived as unlikely to have any adverse effects. Unfortunately, families are often exposed to unsubstantiated, pseudoscientific theories, and related clinical practices that are ineffective and compete with validated treatments, or that have the potential to result in physical, emotional, or financial harm. The time, effort, and financial resources spent on ineffective treatments can create an additional burden on families. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is warning that many products claiming to treat or cure autism do not work and may present serious risks. In a notice to consumers, the agency said it has warned several companies that they will face legal action if they do not stop marketing products to the autism community using false or misleading information.
The FDA specified five therapies that may “carry significant health risks” and commonly rely on false claims in marketing to those with autism — chelation, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, miracle mineral solution, detoxifying clay baths and CocoKefir probiotics products. In a previous announcement, the FDA warned that hyperbaric oxygen treatment is not an approved or effective treatment or cure for autism. Companies and websites claiming hyperbaric oxygen can treat or cure autism are misleading the public, according to the FDA. "Patients may incorrectly believe that these devices have been proven safe and effective for uses not cleared by FDA, which may cause them to delay or forgo proven medical therapies," says Nayan Patel, a biomedical engineer in FDA's Anesthesiology Devices Branch. "In doing so, they may experience a lack of improvement and/or worsening of their existing condition(s)."
While there are legitimate therapies and interventions to address the symptoms of autism, there the public should be skeptical of any treatment advertised as a cure or promises recovery, the agency indicated. “Existing autism therapies and interventions are designed to remedy specific symptoms and can bring about improvement,” FDA pediatrician Amy Taylor said in the notice. Consumers should be distrustful of products that claim to be a “quick fix,” those that purport to treat a wide range of conditions and anything advertising a scientific breakthrough or a secret ingredient. What’s more, personal testimonials should not be seen as a substitute for scientific evidence, the FDA said. Professionals and parents should use caution with treatments that (a) are based on overly simplified scientific theories; (b) make claims of recovery and/or cure; (c) use case reports or anecdotal data rather than scientific studies; (d) lack peer-reviewed references or deny the need for controlled research studies; or (e) are advertised to have no potential or reported adverse effects.
Lee A. Wilkinson, PhD, CCBT, NCSP is author of the award-winning book, A Best Practice Guide to Assessment and Intervention for Autism and Asperger Syndrome in Schools, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers. He is also editor of a new volume in the APA School Psychology Book Series, Autism Spectrum Disorder in Children and Adolescents: Evidence-Based Assessment and Intervention in Schools.
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