Knowing and Evaluating Dangerous Fad Treatments

December 30, 2013, Linda A. LeBlanc, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Linda A. LeBlanc, PhD, BCBA-D, Licensed Clinical Psychologist

The history of autism and developmental disabilities has been littered with many fad treatments that have become popular due to media attention without evidence of effectiveness.

Many of these fad interventions have had documented negative effects on consumers and their families. Some of these effects are readily counted including death and danger of the procedure. Other negative effects are more subtle and include false hope, disappointment, and time and resources diverted from effective interventions.

Trumpet Behavioral Health utilizes Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), a scientific, systematic and evidence-based approach to understanding and changing behavior in order to improve people’s lives. Through our application of ABA, which is rooted in research and empirical evidence, we’re able to change lives and maximize potential for each person we’re fortunate to serve.

Watch an Autism Speaks video on Applied Behavior Analysis.

Why Does ABA Work?

An ABA program is a set of specific, comprehensive plans developed for each individual to target skills that need to be increased or decreased. An ABA program is based on an individual assessment of the child or adult’s current skill level, and takes into account many factors concerning their developmental, neuropsychological and functional skills.

Aside from its comprehensive analysis of each child and adults current skill level, ABA therapy can be used to teach individuals with autism a wide range of skills including communication, play, academic, social, work and self-care. The effectiveness of ABA therapy is largely influenced by the coordination of all professionals involved in the care. This includes Board Certified Behavior Analysts, paraprofessionals, speech language pathologists and occupational therapists who collaborate with educators, healthcare professionals, families, and most importantly, each person that is served.

Clinical team members at Trumpet Behavioral Health go the extra step in solidifying their knowledge of ABA therapy techniques. This is demonstrated by each team members’ participation in over 40 hours of intensive training, exceeding what is required by state mandates, to ensure that the care we provide is unparalleled.

Each person we serve receives an individualized treatment plan that is implemented and monitored by a Board Certified Behavior Analyst, a certification that cannot be obtained without a Masters Degree and successful completion of examination by the Behavior Analyst Certification Board.

Because so many destructive and failed therapies have been tested and continue to be utilized, it’s imperative that families seeking services do their research. Upon further investigation of autism therapies and providers, it will become apparent that ABA therapy is one of the most highly regarded treatments for improving an individual’s health, safety, ability to communicate, social relationships and independence.

The Research Behind ABA

ABA therapy is supported by an immense body of research spanning over 30 years, and is endorsed as an effective treatment for autism by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the U.S. Surgeon General.

Of particular importance in analyzing ABA therapy’s effectiveness are meta-analysis studies that help summarize the large body of literature which exists.

A meta-analysis study by the Kennedy Krieger Institute, a leading center in autism research and treatment, concludes that “Three meta-analyses (Didden, Duker, & Korzilius, 1997; Lundervold & Bourland, 1988; Weisz, Weiss, Han, Granger, & Morton, 1995) that collectively analyzed hundreds of studies published between 1968 and 1994 concluded that treatments based on operant principles of learning were more effective for reducing problem behavior displayed by individuals with ID as well as typically-developing individuals than were alternative treatments. The large body of literature reviewed in these studies provides empirical evidence indicating that procedures developed using ABA-based principles are effective at assessing and treating a variety of socially important behaviors engaged in by individuals with a variety of diagnoses. Furthermore, ABA-based approaches for educating children with autism and related disorders have been extensively researched and empirically supported (e.g., Howard, Sparkman, Choen, Green, & Stanislaw, 2005; Koegel, Koegel, & Harrower, 1999; Krantz & McClannahan, 1998; Lovaas,1987; McGee, Morrier, & Daly, 1999; Strain & Kohler, 1998).”

Learn more about Trumpet’s Executive Director of Research and Clinical Services, Dr. Linda LeBlanc, BCBA-D.

Knowing and Evaluating Dangerous Fads & Unproven Interventions

Aside from contacting one of Trumpet Behavioral Health’s clinicians through our “Ask an Expert” tab, there are many credible organizations whose exist solely to direct parents and families toward reputable and caring providers, including the Autism Science Foundation and the Association for Science in Autism Treatment.  Here’s a brief overview of some non-evidence-based treatments that should be avoided.

Chelation: Chelation therapy involves the administration of chemicals that are designed to bind heavy metals and eliminate them from the body. While appropriate for use in treating lead poisoning, mercury ingestion and other similar situations, chelation has been used in treating autism because of the belief and perceived correlation of mercury causing autism. No evidence-based research exists to support the process of chelation, yet there are groups that still promote its use.

Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy: You’ve likely heard of hyperbaric oxygen therapy, which is regularly used in hospital settings to benefit burn patients, decompression sickness and other issues, it has absolutely no proven benefit to children with autism despite recent publicity as an effective treatment.

Gluten Free-Casein Free (GFCF) Diet: While diet restrictions are appropriate reason for instituting a GFCF diet, proponents of this as a treatment for children with autism who have no diet restrictions do exist. There is no evidence to verify a GFCF diet has any effect on autism, and these diets have been found to cause lower bone density, among other health ailments.

Secretin Injections: Secretin, a hormone that controls digestion, is used to diagnose certain gastrointestinal problems such as ulcers and pancreatic function, but it has not been formally approved for use in treating autism. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development states in a report on the use of secretin in autism treatment, “Because its safety and efficacy have not been adequately tested for this purpose, the National Institutes of Health does not currently have a formal position on the therapeutic use of secretin in the treatment of autism.”

Chemical Castration: Chemical castration, a bizarre and dangerous form of treatment for autism, involves the administration of Lupron, a drug used in treating cancer, to stop a child’s body from making testosterone. The thought behind chemical castration is that the drug helps expel toxic mercury from the body while stopping aggressive or sexually explicit behavior by children with excessive levels of testosterone. The process, based on the unfounded idea that mercury causes autism, can cause bone damage, stunted growth and heart trouble, among other things.

Concluding the Evidence

The therapies listed above account for only a small portion of unproven and debunked autism treatments. When choosing an autism therapy for your child, be sure to research all aspects of possible treatments, and resort to your local autism resources such as the Autism Society, National Autism Resources, Autism Speaks, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and your local regional and state organizations. Parent groups are another great way to get firsthand insight to providers and therapy regimens.

Remember, knowledge is power and power is gained through SCIENCE!

 

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