Monday 18 December 2017

Dr Ciara Kelly: Alternative treatments for autism are a form of abuse

Vaccination scare: The controversial medic Andrew Wakefield whose research on autism and MMR was blamed for the fall in rate of vaccination. He was later struck off.
Vaccination scare: The controversial medic Andrew Wakefield whose research on autism and MMR was blamed for the fall in rate of vaccination. He was later struck off.

Ciara Kelly

I've been reading a lot about the rise of alternative treatments for autism. I've put that in italics because of course there is no actual treatment for autism and these supposed therapies offer no treatment at all but instead prey on the hope of parents, who are hugely vulnerable to the manipulations of charlatans.

And worse still, expose people with autism to harmful and cruel procedures that are of zero benefit to them and, in the case of bleach enemas - a current fad - violate them physically, in a way that is reminiscent of the brutal treatment of mental health patients, throughout medical history.

It's very important to remember that there is no prospect of these 'treatments' working - so clearly whoever is peddling them knows this, and has invented them purely as a craven, cynical money- making stunt.

Autism has received huge attention in the past 20 years and the rate of diagnosis of what was previously in fact a very under recognised condition has increased. The wealth of information and misinformation about it, has left many - in particular parents of autistic children - in a position where they've been encouraged to believe, there's someone or something to blame for autism and indeed some way of curing it. There was also the massive vaccine scaremongering by Andrew Wakefield - who tried to prove autism was caused by the MMR.

"Sure we've never had so many cases - there must be a reason" bleats one commentator. "I've seen the changes myself after X, Y or Z," cries another. Even Donald Trump has gotten in on the act, citing anecdote like it's evidence and further distressing families seeking understanding.

Autism is a neurological condition that affects behaviour and social interaction, and it appears to have a likely genetic cause. It has a spectrum of manifestations from mild to profound and can be compatible with relatively normal independent living or mean someone requires full- time care. Many people with autism view themselves as different but not disordered.

It's a very tough diagnosis to be on the receiving end of as a parent - partly because it doesn't come at birth, it comes usually in toddlerhood. So parents have to try to reassess to a certain extent how they think about their baby. Surrendering the idea of a 'normal' future - whatever that may be and coming to terms with the possibility of their beloved child having special needs. It's a very bitter pill. It's entirely understandable that they would seek, particularly when medicine offers them cold comfort, some other - any other - source of hope, of some reprieve. There's little any of us wouldn't do to try and alleviate the suffering of or ease the burden for our children.

However it's really important that these alternative treatments are viewed in the correct light. They don't treat anything. And they harm, and indeed violate, the people they're being used on. They are, in fact, a form of abuse of autistic people, however well-intended those seeking out these 'cures' may be. But certainly those selling them are not well-intended.

There have been a series of arrests this year in the UK of conmen selling products claiming to purge people of autism. And there's a whole industry dedicated to this in the US. But these arrests won't stop the trade. There will always be someone willing to profit from others' despair but they will push those selling these toxic chemicals underground.

Having a child with autism is immensely difficult. Parents have to fight for every bit of support they get. And even then they don't get nearly enough. But snake-oil salesmen performing unnecessary and dangerous procedures on people with autism is not the solution. It is, in fact, a whole new problem.


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