Autism and Pseudoscience
Several factors make autism especially vulnerable to ‘new world’ ideas and intervention approaches that make bold claims, yet are inconsistent with established scientific theories and unsupported by research (Herbert & Sharp, 2001). Despite their absence of grounding in science, such theories and techniques are often passionately promoted and marketed in the commercial sense, by their advocates as in the field of medical advances. The diagnosis of autism is typically made during the child’s years and, is often devastating news for parents and families. Unlike most other physical or mental disabilities that affect a limited sphere of functioning while leaving other areas intact, the effects of autism are pervasive, generally affecting most domains of functioning. Parents are typically highly motivated to attempt any promising treatment, rendering them vulnerable to promising “cures.”The unremarkable physical appearance of autistic children may contribute to the growth of pseudoscientific treatments and theories of etiology. Autistic children typically appear entirely normal; in fact, many of these children are strikingly attractive. The normal appearance of autistic children may lead parents, wider family, and teachers to become convinced that there must be a completely “normal” or “intact” child lurking inside the normal exterior. In addition, as discussed above, autism comprises a heterogeneous spectrum of disorders, and the course can vary considerably among individuals. This fact makes it difficult to identify potentially effective treatments for two reasons. There is much variability in the response to treatments and techniques. Psychotropic drugs may work for one child but exacerbate symptoms of other children. Some children with Autism can have periods where progress is manifest for unidentified reasons. This type of progress can be mistakenly attributed to treatment or technique. This ambiguity leaves the way open for any number of ‘practitioners’ to exploit the vacuum that exists in the management of autism.