An autism summit in Dallas this weekend features medical professionals who have been disciplined for mistreating children, alongside celebrities who shun science and claim vaccines are dangerous. Autism advocates say the event offers false hope to parents by promoting miracle cures and treatments proved to be dangerous and ineffective.
The Autism Education Summit is hosted by Generation Rescue, an organization co-founded by anti-vaccine advocate Jenny McCarthy, who has a son with autism. McCarthy will be joined by Bexar County District Attorney Nico Lahood, who also claims vaccines cause autism.
"A number of these speakers are opportunists and predators who prey on the fears and the desperation of parents who have kids with autism," said Dr. Peter Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor Medical Center in Houston whose daughter has autism. "I understand how desperate and hopeless a parent can feel having a child with autism and it doesn't get better with age because now we're dealing with a young adult with autism."
Studies show one third to 43 percent of families pay for sometimes costly and often unproven alternative treatments for children with autism.
Hotez is concerned that the autism summit is using high-profile speakers to sell false hope to parents like him. "These speakers are offering every type of flim-flam therapy you can imagine, from hyperbaric oxygen therapy to chelation. There's one guy who says autism is caused by parasitic worms," Hotez said.