How to Avoid Autism Scams

Autism is a complicated and poorly understood disorder.  No one knows, for sure, what causes most cases of autism -- and there is no established cure.  No one can tell you how well a particular child will respond to a particular therapy, or how far they'll go in life.  With so much uncertainty, many people are desperate for "definite" information.  As a result, people living with autism are often the target of scams which offer just such certainty. 

When you buy into an autism scam, you spend money you don't have on a product or process that does little or none of what it claims to do.  Worse, you may purchase a product or process that actually harms your child.  Here are some keys to avoiding autism scams.

Avoid Anything That Claims to "Cure Autism"

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If there were a cure for autism, you can be sure it would be in general use. The simple reason that your doctor hasn't offered you a cure for autism is ...  there is no cure for autism.  There are treatments that may be effective in helping your child with certain issues, but there is no item you can buy and no therapist you can pay who will take away the autism.

Avoid Anything That Claims to Treat "All the Symptoms of Autism"

Symptoms of autism range, depending upon the person, from speech delays to sensory dysfunction to learning disabilities, low IQ, social challenges, aggression, anxiety, and more. Sure, speech therapy can help with speech...  sensory integration therapy can help with sensory dysfunction... and certain medications can help relieve anxiety.  But there is no single therapy or treatment that can address all of these symptoms at the same time. 


Avoid Products that Claim to "Heal" People with Autism

If a person with autism is injured, sick, or recovering from trauma, that person needs help to heal.  But short of these somewhat unusual situations, people with autism are not injured.  Thus, they do not need to heal.  "Detox" treatments, which claim to remove toxins from the body in order to allow "healing," may sound plausible.  But like detox and "high colonic" treatments for the general public, they are unpleasant, ineffective, and -- worse -- even potentially risky.  The reality is that autism cannot be healed, though it can be treated.

Avoid "Secret" Autism Treatments

There are websites and ads that offer families "secret" autism treatments that "only a few" people know about.  Obviously, anyone who is keeping effective autism treatments secret has a serious ethical problem (and almost certainly knows nothing about treating or curing autism!).

Avoid Autism Treatments Available Through Only One Source

Quite a few people believe, quite sincerely, that they have found the one truly effective treatment for autism. But they have done no real evaluation of their treatment -- they simply "see" that it works.  Sometimes they'll tell you they have "no time" to evaluate the treatment, because it is so obviously effective.  If the treatment is truly cost-free and risk-free, it can't hurt to give it a try.  But as a responsible parent, if there is any risk or cost involved, you'll want to wait and see whether the treatment stands up to evaluation, can be replicated in other settings, and is safe for your child.


Avoid Autism Treatments When its Impact Can't Be Evaluated

Two of the first questions to ask any autism therapist are: "What are the goals for this treatment?" and "How will you measure outcomes?"  If there are no specific goals, and there is no consistent measurement of outcomes, how do you know whether the product or process is working?  The truth is that most children with autism will develop new skills over time just as a result of maturation -- but if you aren't measuring the impact of a particular therapy, you'll never know whether that particular therapy did anything at all to hurry along the development process.

Avoid Trying Out Treatments Because of "Testimony" You Hear or See on the Web

"Judy wept as she told this reporter how Dr. X's new therapy gave her back her child."  Sound familiar?  These stories may have some grain of truth in them, but 99.9% are a load of horse poop.  If Dr. X is worth her salt, you'll learn about her therapy through a press release from a major medical institution, not in a Google ad.  The same is true of Dr. Y's "truth about autism" headlines and stories.  If this is really the truth about autism, why is it hiding out on a website that not medically reviewed?  If you truly want to know more about one of these treatments, do some digging -- but don't believe everything you see or hear.

Avoid Anything Called "Miracle," "Amazing," "Revolutionary," "Breakthrough"

Could there be a breakthrough in autism treatment?  Sure!  But any well-established, reliable organization that makes such a breakthrough will not use over-the-top language to explain or describe it.  Words like "miracle" and "revolutionary" are reserved for people who need to spend most of their time and money marketing -- because their product just isn't worth much.  In the case of autism, the product may even be risky or harmful for your child.

Let the Buyer Beware

It's not easy to be the parent of a child with autism and say "no" to a treatment that could -- at least in theory -- take the autism away. Detox mud baths, miraculous stem cell treatments, and "healing" elixirs are all available, and all sound like they could, just possibly, make the difference. As a smart, responsible adult, you need to sort it all out. It isn't easy, but by avoiding some of the most obvious scams, you can protect your child and your pocketbook.

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