Brandy Zadrozny at NBC:
When they aren’t working or taking care of their autistic children, Melissa Eaton and Amanda Seigler are moles.
Eaton, 39, a single mother from Salisbury, North Carolina, and Seigler, 38, a mom to six in Lake Worth, Florida, have spent much of their free time in the last three years infiltrating more than a dozen private Facebook groups for parents of autistic kids. In some of these groups, members describe using dubious, dangerous methods to try to “heal” their children’s autism — a condition with no medically known cause or cure.
The parents in many of these groups, which have ranged from tens to tens of thousands of members, believe that autism is caused by a hodgepodge of phenomena, including viruses, bacteria, fungal infections, parasites, heavy metal poisoning from vaccines, general inflammation, allergies, gluten and even the moon.
The so-called treatments are equally confused. Some parents credit turpentine or their children’s own urine as the secret miracle drug for reversing autism. One of the most sought-after chemicals is chlorine dioxide — a compound that the Food and Drug Administration warns amounts to industrial bleach, and doctors say can cause permanent harm. Parents still give it to their children orally, through enemas, and in baths. Proponents of chlorine dioxide profit off these parents’ fears and hopes by selling books about the supposed “cure,” marketing the chemicals and posting how-to videos.
Horrified by the treatment of these children, Eaton and Seigler research the parents online to determine their identity and location, then send screenshots of the Facebook posts to the local Child Protective Services division, though they rarely hear back on whether action was taken. The pair say they’ve reported over 100 parents since 2016. They also report the posts to Facebook and have submitted their findings to the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Justice and child abuse organizations.