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. Studies have found that anywhere from 28 to 54 percent of autistic children receive “complementary and alternative medicine” (CAM), and these numbers probably understate CAM usage.Chris Benderev at NPR:
Although Brain Balance isn't the only purveyor of alternative approaches for developmental disorders in the U.S., the scale of the enterprise sets it apart. The company's approach is still relatively new and not widely known, meaning many experts in the field of childhood development have not vetted its effectiveness.
Brain Balance says its nonmedical and drug-free program helps children who struggle with ADHD, autism spectrum disorders and learning and processing disorders. The company says it addresses a child's challenges with a combination of physical exercises, nutritional guidance and academic training.
An NPR investigation of Brain Balance reveals a company whose promises have resonated with parents averse to medication. But Brain Balance also appears to have overstated the scientific evidence in its messaging to families, who can easily spend over $10,000 in six months, a common length of enrollment.
Yet a dozen experts in autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia and childhood psychiatry interviewed by NPR all identified flaws in Brain Balance's approach.
They said the company's idea of imbalanced hemispheres was too simplistic and built upon the popular, discredited myth of the logical left brain and the intuitive right brain.
"It doesn't make sense," says Mark Mahone, a pediatric neuropsychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. "In virtually every activity that one does ... both hemispheres of the brain are very, very active. ... It's not as simple as just being a left- or a right-hemisphere problem. Nothing is that simple."
As for the three-pronged Brain Balance regimen, experts NPR spoke with said there is no solid evidence suggesting gluten, dairy or sugar consumption affects ADHD, autism or dyslexia. And although physical exercise may have modest impacts on inattention and tutoring can help in school, these interventions can be found elsewhere for much less money. No expert suggested either as a front-line remedy for ADHD or autism.