While some doctors tell parents that alternative treatments can’t hurt, Schreck disagrees.
A child with autism may need as much as 40 hours of effective behavioral services a week.
When a family’s weekly involvement in seeking treatment includes four hours of massage therapy, six hours of sitting with head phones on listening to random sounds, and two hours having the child’s urine analyzed, valuable time is lost for methods that actually work.
“You can’t do it all. This dilutes, and in some cases, goes directly against what you’re trying to do,” Schreck said.
She and Foxx steer families toward applied behavior analysis (ABA), which teaches behaviors through a system of rewards and consequences. The National Institutes of Mental Health, the Surgeon General, and the American Academy of Pediatrics have endorsed ABA as the clinical standard-of-care treatment for autism.
Unfortunately, the fad treatments get more media attention than ABA does, Schreck said. She and her students have made a study of the topic, in what they dubbed the “junk science lab.”
Unproven autism treatments like vitamin therapy or facilitated communication get too much press attention in U.S. newspapers and magazines, Schreck said. She recently began analyzing television coverage as well, looking at how many times the media talks about treatments and the number of positive and negative comments.
Schreck and graduate student Brenda McCants are studying fad treatments from as far back as the 1800s, evaluating how they change over time. When a method stopped making money or hit a legal obstacle, practitioners would change the product name or change who they targeted. The fads did not disappear; they evolved.