Snake Oil

Note before I start: I can guarantee this is going to offend some of my readers.  If you’re the type to be offended – and you probably already know how, based on today’s title – either turn away or just remind yourself later that you chose to be offended. =p

Yesterday, the National Autism Association had a “Someone Needs Your Ideas” post up, with a parent asking about having a child with eating issues similar to the Monster’s (that the child really only eats chicken nuggets).  Most of the suggestions were very useful and utilize proven therapies (ABA, etc) to achieve some positive results in food broadening… but there were the usual fluttering of “fringe” cures that came in as well.

Chief among them, to me, is the usual admonition of “cut out the carbs/gluten/etc”.

Now, as has been discussed in several posts on my blog, there is no  proof – NONE – that a GF/GFCF/GFCFSF/whatever diet helps with Autism.  It has been shown – through credible medical studies – to treat GI issues that some children with Autism have, and these symptoms make the behaviors worse (or treatment of such behaviors more difficult), but the diet change is not a cure-all for children with Autism and can, in fact, do actual harm to their development.  (You can argue with me if you’d like, but please if you’re going to do so, present scientific proof.  Don’t just tell me “my child is cured from GFCF!” without presenting me valid scientific research to back up the claim. It’s just apocryphal without backing research, and I’ll take that as leave to mock you.)

So, I came home from work and happened to mention the whole thing to my wife… and she responded by showing me the Facebook group she’s in for local Autism parents.

Most of the conversations in the group were fairly normal for any group I’ve been in for Autism parents, be it Twitter or the other bloggers I follow… but here and there is a fringe suggestion for how to “fix” or “cure” or “treat” Autism.  Suggestions that a very specific, restricted GFCF diet are good for reversing Autism.  Suggestions that Autism is due to “parasites” that act up during the full moon.  Nudges towards ingestion of certain compounds to change the pH of the intestinal tract to see if that helps with behavior and education as a way to “balance” things in a child.  Conversations about miracle cures, even.

And none of it, of course, backed up by an iota of real research.  There’s plenty of things that were “proven” by science, but simple web searches quickly showed that they were little more than snake oil.  (I should note that one site, in its FAQ, even had something about “Is this snake oil?” and a serious answer followed that, to me, made me wonder if the person who wrote the site actually understood what the phrase means.)

I’m not going to lie.  If I could do something, give up something, change something in my life and have faith that it stood a good chance of improving the Monster’s situation – that it would help him catch up to other kids his age, minimize the symptoms we see, and improve the quality of his life – in most cases, I’d do it in a heartbeat.  And that “something” is fairly broad.  I would, without having to think heavily on it, give up any of my hobbies – curling, my foreign languages, movies, anime – in exchange for that.  I’d make real dietary changes if it was backed by genuine science that such would help.  I’d be amenable to moving to a different climate, etc.

But none of those “cures” exist, unfortunately.  Grasping at straws for a quick fix – any quick fix – to me seems like a recipe for more harm than good in the long run.  It sucks to throw up my hands and basically resign myself to the long game of the myriad speech-and-occupational-therapies that we’re pursuing at the moment, but it’s undoubtedly better for the Monster…

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