Pseudoscience in autism treatment can interfere with an autistic person's progress. While many different approaches suggest that they have scientific backing, many of them may not. Recognizing the difference between evidence-based treatments for autism and pseudoscience is an important aspect of developing an effective treatment plan.
What Is Pseudoscience?
Pseudoscience is a theory or practice that is presented as if it had scientific backing, but fails to hold up to its claims when under scrutiny. Treatment approaches should follow the scientific method, and they should be supported by clinical research. The problem with pseudoscientific methods is that they often do not follow a logical order, and they may not be able support their claims with testing.
The lack of scientific evidence, and the inability to test the hypotheses makes pseudoscience a frustrating matter for people in the fields of science or medicine.
Pseudoscience in Autism Treatment
Pseudoscience in autism treatment can be dangerous because it presents itself as a reliable resource for families to use. This is especially problematic if the pseudo treatment takes precedence over effective therapies that have scientific backing or clinical trials to prove that they work beyond a reasonable doubt.
Recognizing pseudoscience in autism treatment can be difficult because little is known about the cause of the disorders. It is hard to determine whether an approach works or not when you are not certain of the origin of the problem. For example, chelation treatments seek to remove heavy metals from the body, which suggests that heavy metals cause autism. Since heavy metal toxicity has not been scientifically proven to be a cause of autism, it makes little sense to use this treatment.
Red flags that can help you recognize pseudo treatments for autistic disorders are:
- Using exaggerated language, especially "miracle"
- Does not share clinical data supporting its claims
- Not open to discussion or scrutiny
- Takes criticism as a personal attack
- Testing cannot be repeated or verified
- Poorly organized concepts
- Lack of progression
- Relies on testimonies instead of empirical research
- "Proof" is not published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, but in newsletters, books, advertisements, and websites
Often, pseudoscientific treatments for autistic disorders involve companies that try to make a profit, and they are usually not part of a typical treatment plan developed by a behavior specialist or physician.
The Association for Science in Autism Treatment
One of the most outstanding resources to consider is the Association for Science in Autism Treatment. This organizations offers information about which autism treatments are supported by scientific data, and which are not. The ASAT article, Science, Pseudoscience and Antiscience offers insight into the dangers of discarding an evidence-based approach like applied behavioral analysis (ABA) and replacing it with one that doesn't have scientific backing, like Floortime.
This is not to suggest that a treatment approach like Floortime is ineffective; it just needs evidence to support its claims.
Developing an Effective Treatment Plan
Just as many aspects of the autism spectrum are veiled in mystery, treatments for the pervasive developmental disorders can be confusing. Developing an effective treatment plan involves adopting evidence-based techniques that clinical trials support. Incorporating experimental therapies and treatments that lack scientific backing should be done with caution, and they should not replace approaches that have been proven to be effective.
A diagnosis of autism can be very frightening, and families may be tempted to adopt an approach that offers thrilling testimony and glorious promises. When it comes to treatments for autistic disorders, time is of the essence. Avoid wasting time on alternative treatments that may or may not yield the desired results, and focus on creating a treatment plan that uses evidence-based approaches.