- Fringe frenzy: As many at 75 percent of autistic children are receiving alternative treatments not developed by conventional medicine, which are often bogus.
- Risky medication: Some practitioners prescribe drugs that are approved only for other conditions, have serious side effects and have never been tested for safety or efficacy in autism.
- More science: In the past decade U.S. research funding for autism has increased by 15 percent a year, in part because of rising demand by parents for proved treatments and increased public awareness.
- Genetic promise: Recently discovered genetic variations in children with autism could reveal a cause, but related therapies may be years away.
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When Jim Laidler’s oldest son, Benjamin, was diagnosed with autism, he and his wife started looking for help. “The neurologists were saying, ‘We don’t know what causes autism, and we don’t know what the outcome for your son will be,’” Laidler relates. “No one was saying, ‘Here’s what causes it; here’s what treats it.’”
But when the Laidlers, who live in Portland, Ore., searched the Web, they found dozens of “biomedical” treatments that promised to improve or even cure Benjamin’s inability to talk, interact socially or control his movements. So the parents tried them on their son. They began with vitamin B6 and magnesium, the nutritional supplements dimethylglycine and trimethylglycine, vitamin A, gluten- and casein-free diets, the digestive hormone secretin, and chelation, a drug therapy designed to purge the body of lead and mercury. They applied the purported treatments to Benjamin’s little brother, David, who also was diagnosed with autism. Chelation did not seem to help much. Any effect from secretin was hard to tell. The diets showed promise; the Laidlers hauled special food with them everywhere. And Mom and Dad continued to feed the boys dozens of supplements, calibrating doses up and down with every change in behavior.