What Was the DAN! (Defeat Autism Now) Protocol?

Get the Story Behind the Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) Protocol

Boy with Doctor
Boy with Doctor. John Howard

Dr. Bernard Rimland, founder of the Autism Research Institute, was one of the most important contributors to our modern understanding of autism. It was he who led the movement to end persecution of parents based on the false idea that autism could be caused by "cold" mothers.

But it was also Rimland who, incorrectly, led many parents to believe that autism was caused by vaccines. His approach to "curing" autism, which he called Defeat Autism Now!

(DAN!), led many to undertake risky and expensive treatments. 

While many parents anecdotally claim that the DAN! Protocol "cured" their children, there is virtually no research evidence to support this. More significantly, there are many large research studies which have found that Rimland's vaccine-based theories were incorrect.

History of DAN! (Defeat Autism Now)

Defeat Autism Now (DAN!) was a project of the Autism Research Institute, founded in the 1960s by Dr. Bernard Rimland. DAN! doctors were trained in the "DAN! Protocol," an approach to autism treatment which starts with the idea that autism is a biomedical disorder. Specifically, DAN! doctors believed that autism is a disorder caused by a combination of lowered immune response, external toxins from vaccines and other sources, and problems caused by certain foods.

The DAN! protocol was founded in 1995, and,during its brief heyday, was well-regarded by a subset of autism parents and researchers who believed strongly in the possibility that autism could be cured through biomedical interventions ranging from nutritional therapy to removal of heavy metals from the body (chelation) to hyperbaric oxygen treatment.

The biomedical approach was particularly popular during the late 1990's and early 2000's. At that time, debate was ongoing about the possibility that ingredients in vaccines (specifically a preservative called thimerosal and live measles virus) could be the cause of a sharp increase in cases of autism.

Massive international research studies have debunked both of these vaccine-related theories, though there are still those who believe that their autistic children are vaccine-injured.

Why Was DAN! Discontinued?

The Autism Research Institute discontinued the DAN Protocol in 2011. Part of the reason for this decision related to objections to the name "defeat autism now." While the name was appealing to some parents, many self-advocates on the spectrum found the concept to be offensive. In addition, according to the Autism Research Institute's press release on the subject:

Although clinicians receive similar and consistent information at the [DAN] seminars, there is no uniform way patients are subsequently treated, even acknowledging individual differences; many perceive the clinician list as a list of recommended doctors--in reality, the list simply contains the names of professionals who attended our clinician seminars.  We do not certify them, and as a result, we cannot assure people that every practitioner on the list always provides the highest quality service.  We do know that families need a way to locate quality practitioners in their community, and we have added a page of advice on that process to our website.

What Happened to the Autism Research Institute and the DAN! Protocol?

Today, the Autism Research Institute continues its focus on biomedical issues related to autism. It also, however, supports research on behavioral treatments and genetics. In addition, the Institute provides resources and information for and about adults on the spectrum. It also investigates some of the most troubling aspects of autism, including aggression and self-aggression.

While ARI no longer teaches or espouses the DAN! Protocol, it isn't difficult to find others who do. A simple Google search will reveal any number of practitioners who claim to be DAN!

doctors. For parents who are seeking a miracle cure, these individuals may seem to be offering hope. Let the buyer beware.

A Word from Verywell

The DAN! Protocol is not radically different from other questionable and potentially harmful "therapies" available today. Fortunately, however, we are better able, today, to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to therapeutic options. If you do decide to try an approach is that veers off the mainstream path, be sure to keep these suggestions in mind:

  1. First, do no harm. Some alternative therapies have few or physical or psychological risks. Others, however, can quite easily injure your child. Avoid that second group!
  2. Second, caveat emptor. As a parent eager to find a cure for what is usually considered to be an incurable disorder, you are a prime target for hucksters. Do your research, and never spend money you don't have.
  3. Third, hold therapies and therapists to the highest standards. Insist upon a clear description of what they do, how they do it, what side effects might occur, and what outcomes they anticipate over a specific period of time. Then follow up by insisting upon benchmarking, evaluation, and review of outcomes.

Sources:

ARI: moving forward. Autism Research Institute. Web. 2017.

Gorski, David. The autism “biomed” movement: Uncontrolled and unethical experimentation on autistic children. Science Based Medicine. Web. November 23, 2009

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