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Desperation Drives Parents to Dubious Autism Treatments

Diagnoses have soared, but valid treatments are few. Parents have turned instead to dubious, and often risky, alternative therapies
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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.

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