Thursday, January 10, 2013
Dear Ms. Keefe,
With great interest, we read your article entitled, “Autistic Child Finds Comfort from Non-Traditional Therapy” (December 13, 2012), regarding reflexology’s supposed success in treating a child with autism. We appreciate your attention to this topic. Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects an entire family as well as the individual, and often the difficulties associated with autism can be physically and emotionally exhausting. For example, people with autism often experience significant anxiety and related agitation. An effective, quick-acting way to manage anxiety, as is purported in your story, would be most certainly welcomed by the autism community.
However, we want to raise a concern regarding the veracity of assumptions made in this article:
When reporting on a possible intervention for autism, it important to inform your readers as to whether or not the approach is science-based. You stated: “Reflexology, though it seems to do wonders for children with autism is also beneficial for a myriad of issues…” Perhaps this is true (though we are skeptical); however, the efficacy of reflexology as a therapy and treatment for autism is not scientifically validated. Rather, it is based on personal testimonies and promulgated through science-like but wholly unsubstantiated concepts (e.g. “flow of…bioelectrical energy”). Ideally, personal accounts – or “case examples” - should spark further inquiry, and the intervention subjected to controlled research. The findings can then be replicated and validated by others over multiple studies, and published in peer-reviewed journals. Until there is a shared commitment to science and its relevance to autism treatment, parents will be left with the arduous task of sifting through hundreds of approaches available that are reported to have worked on a case-by-case basis. A journalist could spend his or her journalistic career writing about one treatment per month and find one person ready to provide a positive testimonial. Alas, many of these treatments do little other than to separate families from their hard-earned money. Families affected by autism deserve better.
We encourage you to remind your readers that science-grounded interventions are available to help persons with anxiety manage their anxiety and participate more actively in their communities. For example, strategies developed through the field of ABA, including functional assessment of challenging behavior, modification of the environment and instruction in effective coping skills, are validated ways of responding to “meltdowns” and other challenging behaviors.
Thank you again for your article. Researching methods for children with autism is essential to the growth of effective treatments and can only further the progress they make. Using appropriate methods, it is our hope that individuals with autism can progress in meaningful ways and truly realize their potential.
Rachel Binder, M.S. and David Celiberti, Ph.D, BCBA-D
Association for Science in Autism Treatment