Autism is a disorder with no known cause or cure. Parents and advocates of children with ASD will understandably pursue interventions and treatments that offer the possibility of helping the student, 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. 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 (Myers, Johnson et al., 2007). School professionals play an important role in helping parents and other caregivers to differentiate empirically validated treatment approaches from treatments that are unproven and potentially ineffective and/or harmful.
Often referred to as CAM, or complementary and alternative medicine, these treatments commonly lack scientific evidence supporting their safety or effectiveness in treating the symptoms of ASD. Although growing in popularity, CAM treatments such as elimination diets, dietary supplements, and biological agents can have negative side effects and are not generally supported by scientific research. Several nutritional interventions are widely used by parents, most notably restriction of food allergens (e.g., yeast-free diet, gluten-and casin-free (GF-CF) diet) and dietary supplements such as vitamins (e.g., A, C, B-6 and magnesium, fatty acids, and DMG). There is a lack of objective scientific evidence to indicate that these CAM therapies improve the symptoms of ASD (Myers, Johnson, et al., 2007; Ozonoff et al., 2002; Stone, 2006, Baron-Cohen, 2008). Because CAM therapies have not been adequately evaluated, evidence-based recommendations for their use are not feasible (Myers, Johnson, et al., 2007).
Questions to Ask About ASD Treatments:
1. Is there reliable evidence to support the effectiveness of the intervention?
2. Has it been scientifically validated?
3. What is the rationale or underlying purpose of the intervention or treatment?
4. Does the intervention/treatment focus on one particular aspect or is it a general comprehensive approach?
5. Is there excessive media publicity surrounding the intervention or treatment?
6. How successful has the intervention been for children in the general classroom?
7. How will the treatment/intervention be integrated into the child’s educational program?
8. Is there a risk that the treatment will result in harm to the child?
9. What assessment procedures are involved?
10. Do school personnel have experience with the intervention? What training is required?