Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Dear Mr. Conrad:
We commend you for covering the important topic of autism ("Shelby coach steps down to help son battle autism" February 22, 2011). The number of children affected by this disorder is certainly on the rise and we appreciate your effort to highlight some important issues of autism in the print and online media. However, several of the statements in your article are false and misleading.
First, you imply that the work of the physicians in the Defeat Autism Now (DAN) project is innovative and cutting-edge: "DAN doctors believe autism is the result of biomedical factors such as toxins and immune system deficiencies. They often prescribe treatments and diets that mainstream doctors disregard." This could lead readers to believe that these DAN treatments are effective and worthwhile. To the contrary, there are no published research studies supporting the effectiveness of the DAN protocol, and furthermore, many of the techniques practiced by DAN physicians are considered to be harmful by the medical community at large. With all due respect, the lack of research to substantiate such claims made should give you pause.
In portraying the experiences of the
Solis family with the Son-Rise method, you report the success of one child
enrolled in the program: "Raun,
who didn't speak and had an IQ of less than 30 when his parents began their
treatment, graduated from Brown
University with a degree
in biomedical ethics..." Although this quote suggests that the Son-Rise approach is
an efficacious treatment for autism, there are no substantive data or studies which
back this up. In fact, the use of the Son-Rise method has been opposed by
Autism Speaks (a nationwide autism advocacy organization) due to its lack of
scientific support, stating, "There is no empirical support for this method." Furthermore,
the Option Institute (of which the Son-Rise program is a division) was
reprimanded for false advertising by the Advertising Standards Authority, an
independent regulator of media advertising in the United Kingdom.
Finally, the long and proven track record of Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) is brushed aside by including a quote from Chris Solis in which he describes ABA as "Pavlovian." The use of this term implies that Applied Behavior Analysis results in producing little more than rote responses. The reality is that children in an ABA program learn a variety of skills ranging from expressive and receptive language to self-care and social interaction. The acquisition of these important skills is documented in hundreds of research articles that are published in peer-reviewed scientific journals.
Unfortunately, the perpetuation
of this type of misinformation may result in parents spending their hard-earned
dollars enrolling children in unsubstantiated treatments without the benefit of
scientific validation. Not only does
this deplete the financial resources of families, but it may preclude their
child's participation in other scientifically validated interventions, such as
those grounded in Applied Behavior Analysis.
While we applaud your focus on interventions for children with autism, we encourage you to adopt a more critical eye in your reporting. Children with autism deserve nothing less.
Geoffrey DeBery, M.A., BCBA
Media Review Committee, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Read More at http://www.asatonline.org/pdf/shelby.pdf