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There are so many new treatments — some aggressive, some feasible, some downright wacky — for autistic children each year. But when it comes to your child, how far are you willing to go?
This week in Special Needs Living, CafeMom aurorabunny, mom to 3-year old Brody, who has autism, talks about ASD therapies she's encountered, tried, and steered clear from over the past few years and how she's found a way to make choices about the array of therapies for her son.
Alternative Treatments for Autism: How far is too far?
Although this is something I have heard about before, seeing a recent episode of The Doctors talk about medicinal marijuana as a treatment for autistic children got me thinking about the many different treatments and therapies that are out there. Although I feel strongly that marijuana should be legalized and believe very much that it holds healing powers, I'm still not sure how I feel about some of the claims that parents have made in regards to this topic. It's amazing though to realize how many different therapies and even supposed "cures" there are out there for our children on the spectrum. Some have been proven pointless, others downright dangerous, and then there are even more that have started to make parents sit up and take notice of the fact that there might be some science behind them.
I know that when Brody was first diagnosed with autism, I dove in head first with an "If we don't know what works, then we'll just try everything!" approach. Our first stop was a DAN doctor (DAN stands for Defeat Autism Now), who tested Brody for food allergies and recommended a special diet, treatments for leaky gut and yeast overgrowth, and chelation for the toxic load of heavy metals that he believed my son to be carrying in his body. The process of chelation itself scared me then and it still scares me now; more than a handful of children have died as a result of this procedure being performed improperly. We didn't really follow through with any of the DAN protocol and decided it wasn't for us, but I definitely believe that has helped other children on the spectrum, and it seems that DAN protocol is becoming more of a norm and less of a controversy in the world of treating ASD.
In doing some research, I've come across some very peculiar "treatments" for autism, ranging from seemingly silly to downright cruel. (Look up "Holding Therapy" if you want a laugh. To sum it up, you hold your wriggling, crying child for hours on end until you love the autism right out of them!) But I always try to remember that everything is subjective and things sure can evolve over a long enough time period. ABA therapy (Applied Behavior Analysis) has become one of the most common and proven effective treatments for autism today, though it is surely a different animal than when its protocol was first developed by Dr. Lovaas in the 1980s.
The ABA therapy of today involves repeated trials, activities, and rewards systems that are designed to encourage or eliminate certain behaviors in children, and I feel that ABA has truly been the most important and success-producing therapy that my son has received. Dr. Lovaas's original ABA therapy DID produce results (at what cost?); however, it also involved cruel aversives such as hitting, withholding food as punishment, and even administering electric shocks to a child who had not properly followed a direction. It's amazing how things have changed!
Keeping all of this in mind, it's hard to imagine what things might be like 20 or even 10 years from now. It's difficult as a parent to know if you're doing the "right" thing for your child with autism, or even what the "right" thing IS. The best advice that I've received is to try and achieve the desired results from your child while still staying on a level that you feel comfortable with and that fits with your parenting style. Accepting and acting on this advice (and abandoning the "We'll try ANYTHING!" philosophy) feels like one of the best parenting decisions that I've ever made.
What therapies have you tried or do you plan to try for your child with autism? Are there any therapies or treatments that you feel are dangerous or would never consider?