In The Politics of Autism, I write:A May 18 release from the Federal Trade Commission: (h/t Disability Scoop)
The conventional wisdom is that any kind of treatment is likely to be less effective as the child gets older, so parents of autistic children usually believe that they are working against the clock. They will not be satisfied with the ambiguities surrounding ABA, nor will they want to wait for some future research finding that might slightly increase its effectiveness. They want results now. Because there are no scientifically-validated drugs for the core symptoms of autism, they look outside the boundaries of mainstream medicine and FDA approval.
The developers and marketers of the LearningRx “brain training” programs have agreed to stop making a range of false and unsubstantiated claims and pay $200,000 under a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission.
According to the FTC’s complaint, LearningRx Franchise Corp. and its CEO, Dr. Ken Gibson, deceptively claimed that their programs were clinically proven to permanently improve serious health conditions like ADHD, autism, dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, strokes, and concussions and that the training substantially improved school grades and college admission test scores, career earnings, and job and athletic performance. They also allegedly claimed that LearningRx brain training is 10 times more cost-effective than tutoring.
“Companies that say they can significantly improve serious health conditions or how your brain functions in everyday situations need to back up those claims with sound science,” said Jessica Rich, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “In this case, the defendants couldn’t show their training provides the health or other real-world benefits they claimed.”
According to the FTC, the defendants promoted LearningRx through LearningRx.com and affiliated websites, as well as through a blog, Facebook and Twitter posts, print and radio ads, and direct mail pieces. They also allegedly used Google search ads to target consumers searching for terms such as “cure for ADD,” “autism cure,” “Asperger cure,” and “severe traumatic brain injury cure.” The defendants, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, offered LearningRx training through more than 80 LearningRx centers that it franchised in 25 states.
The proposed order settling the FTC’s charges prohibits the defendants from claiming that their programs improve performance at work or in athletics, or improve the cognitive function of individuals with age-related or other health conditions, unless the claims are not misleading and substantiated by human clinical testing.
The order further prohibits the defendants from making unsubstantiated claims about the performance, benefits, or efficacy of their programs, including claims about improvement in school grades or scores on standardized academic tests, performance on everyday tasks, increased income, or superiority to academic tutoring. Finally, the order prohibits the defendants from misrepresenting the existence or results of any tests or studies, and from providing others with the means to make the prohibited claims. The order imposes a $4,000,000 judgment against the company, which will be suspended upon the payment of $200,000 as disgorgement of ill-gotten gains.
The Commission vote authorizing the staff to file the complaint and proposed stipulated final judgment and order was 3-0. The complaint and order were filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado.
NOTE: The Commission files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. Stipulated final orders have the force of law when approved and signed by the District Court judge.
The FTC is a member of the National Prevention Council, which provides coordination and leadership at the federal level regarding prevention, wellness, and health promotion practices. This case advances the National Prevention Council’s goal of increasing the number of Americans who are healthy at every stage of life. These cases are part of the FTC’s ongoing effects to protect consumers from misleading health advertising.
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