Autism Myths
1. CLAIM: AUTISM IS CAUSED BY “COLD MOTHERING” This destructive old idea promoted by psychiatrist, Bruno Bettleheim, has long been completely debunked.

2. CLAIM: AUTISM IS CAUSED BY VACCINES. Over 20 independent studies in different countries by unrelated research teams has revealed no connection between vaccines and autism. This idea arose from false claims by a London gastrointestinal doctor about a hypothesized link between vaccines and autism. Evidence suggests autism is most frequently associated with various genetic errors.

3. CLAIM: THERE IS AN AUTISM EPIDEMIC. It now appears autism has always been much more common than was recognized before modern diagnostic procedures were developed around 1990. The apparent “epidemic” was an artifact of how children were qualified for services in public schools in various states, regions and even parts of cities, which has provided very misleading statistical information. It is also influenced by availability of qualified psychologists to conduct diagnostic evaluations. For example, within Los Angeles, autism prevalence is 250% higher in affluent Santa Monica than in adjacent Compton, which is a largely economically distressed minority inner city community.

4. CLAIM : THERE IS NO EFFECTIVE AUTISM TREATMENT. 25 studies published in peer-reviewed journals indicate Early Intensive Behavioral Intervention for 30 hours per week for 2-4 years (sometimes called ABA therapy) enables half of children diagnosed with autism to function in the typical range by age 7. The other half improve, but less dramatically. Age is critical. A child with autism should begin intervention as soon as a diagnosis is made.

5. CLAIM: DEVELOPMENTAL PSYCHOLOGY AND BEHAVIOR ANALYSIS EARLY INTERVENTIONS ARE INCOMPATIBLE. The Early Start Denver Model explicitly combines the two approaches and has had very good outcomes. Our own work with Blended Intervention and Robert and Lynn Koegel’s and Laura Schreibman’s work with Pivotal Response Training using naturalistic incidental teaching methods indicates they can be compatible and complimentary.

6. CLAIM: CHILDREN WITH AUTISM NEED A COMBINATION OF VARIOUS THERAPIES TO PROSPER DEVELOPMENTALLY: There is no evidece that children who receive numerous therapies, such as combinations of ABA, RDI, Sensory Integration, Feeding Therapy, Floortime, Physical Therapy, Speech Therapy and Early Childhood Special Education, make greater gains than children who receive more focused intervention (e.g. ABA, Speech and ECSE). There is some evidence, children whose parents "Hedge their Bets" by providing the child with numerous therapies maker lesser gains. It is certainly true that such parents experience more stress.

7. CLAIM: REMOVAL OF HEAVY METALS FROM A CHILD’S BLOOD REDUCES THEIR AUTISM SYMPTOMS: There is no credible evidence from controlled studies that this is the case. As a precaution, pediatricians often test for lead in the bloodstream of young children with autism who put toys and other things in their mouths, but generally finding no elevated blood-lead.

8. CLAIM: PHYSICIANS DON'T BELIEVE IN ALTERNATIVE BIOMEDICAL AUTISM TREATMENTS: It is not a matter of of belief. Physicians (i.e. MDs) are ethically expected to only recommend treatments that have undergone scientifically controlled clinical testing similar to that required by the US Food and Drug Administration or for which there are controlled studies demonstrating efficacy and safety. Few alternative biomedical treatments have undergone such testing. Some physicians recommend over-the-counter remedies for children with autism that are available in health food stores, such as melatonin for sleep problems or fiber supplements for constipation. They may also recommend vitamin or mineral supplements for children who are extremely finicky eaters to assure adequate nutritional balance and dietary changes to reduce gastrointestinal symptoms (constipation or diarrhea). They generally do not recommend treatments when there is no laboratory testing or other scientific evidence indicating there is need for such treatment (e.g. hyperbaric oxygen, chelation, antifungals, megavitamin dietary supplements).

9. MYTH: WITHIN EACH CHILD WITH AUTISM IS AN ENTIRELY TYPICAL CHILD WAITING TO EMERGE. Some people believe children with autism have hidden within them, exceptionally intelligent and talented typical children who will emerge in full bloom if the right treatment is used. This is a very old idea made popular in fictional motion pictures of the 1950s and 60s. In reality, autism is a neurodevelopmental disability in which some parts of the child’s brain do not function typically. Many children with autism have a cognitive developmental delay, ranging from mild to severe. A small percentage with High Functioning Autism and Asperger syndrome have higher intellectual abilities, but usually have social and other challenges. With intensive, long-term therapy many children with autism spectrum disorders can function more like their typical peers, but usually have some residual symptoms.

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About Autism