The Texas Observer published an article two weeks ago: Autism Inc.: The Discredited Science, Shady Treatments and Rising Profits Behind Alternative Autism Treatments. In the article, author Alex Hannaford discusses the alternative-medicine/vaccine-causation community, the therapies they promote and the lack of evidence behind them. Mr. Hannaford argues that Texas, in particular, is a center for this movement:
To compound the problem, a host of celebrities act as unpaid marketing reps for these unproven treatments, touting a pervasive (but incorrect) belief that autism is caused by childhood vaccines. This misinformation campaign has led, in the last few years, to a decline in the number of children receiving lifesaving inoculations. And Texas has become a center for alternative autism treatment and the anti-vaccine crusade.
Texas, of course, is the home of Andrew Wakefield. Mr. Wakefield, as most will recall, made his name in the autism community promoting the idea that the MMR vaccine was causal not only in some autism cases, but in giving rise to the rise in autism diagnoses observed in the U.S. and the U.K.. Mr. Wakefield’s primary paper has been retracted, his license to practice medicine pulled for unethical practices, he has resigned his position at what was then called “Thoughtful House” and multiple studies have demonstrated the lack of substance in his ideas.
Mr. Hannaford discusses much of this, including extensive quotes from Michael Fitzpatrick, a U.K. autism parent who has been a long-time critic of Andrew Wakefield’s work, James Laidler, whose work with the alternative medicine movement has been documented and, while not calling him out by name, Brian Deer‘s work in the BMJ is also cited. Mr. Hannaford also cites Wakefield supporters Jane Johnson, for whom Thoughtful House is now named (the Johnson Center), filmmaker Robert Rodriguez and, of course, Jenny McCarthy.
I am unconvinced that Texas is a particular hotbed of the alt-med/vaccine-focused autism community. But perhaps this is colored by the fact that my home town is now headquarters for TACA, AutismOne, SafeMinds and more. However, the idea that a great deal of untested and scientifically unsound “therapy” is promoted to the autism parent community is something I do not contest in the least.
Mr. Hannaford concludes his article, citing Dr. Jody Jensen, director of research of the Autism Project at the University of Texas:
“We are not doing anything special,” Jensen said. “What we are doing is providing the resources to allow these kids to be safe and to explore and experience things like every other child. That’s what’s often lacking. It’s about trying to restore some sense for them of what a typical childhood looks like.”
That is what parents of kids with autism disorders want more than anything for their children: a normal childhood. Those children just might have a fighting chance to get it—if they don’t have to undergo therapies and treatment unsupported by any scientific evidence, therapies and treatments that are time-consuming, costly, and benefits only to the people administering them.
By Matt Carey