There is No “Miracle Cure” for Autism

Autism affects the life of one in 68 children in the U.S., asserts the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, slowly increasing prevalence over recent years suggests the actual rates may be higher than officially recognized. Unfortunately, this has created the perfect opportunity for people to take advantage of those with autism and their families. Even behavior analysts and other experts in the field of applied behavior analysis (ABA) may be subject to hype over the fact, and you need to understand why.


What Is the “Miracle Cure,” and What Is Happening?

Recently, ABC News featured a story on a “miracle cure” for autism being offered as a faith-based approach to treating autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Sadly, thousands of parents flocked to the offering in the hope of immediate, fast and effective treatment for their children. Dr. Paul Wang, senior vice president of Autism Speaks, described the “cure’s” real life-threatening “poisons.” Meanwhile, people are paying up to $100 for five doses, and the manufacturers continue to tout their claims.

In a world where desperation is evident and treatment is lengthy, a “miracle cure” can seem like the answer to all problems. However, your organization needs to understand more about these “miracles” and share that information throughout your community before a child with autism loses everything, including his life.


Why Do People Hope for a Miracle Cure to Autism?

Families of children with an ASD may not know about government services for assistance, including behavior analysis. Meanwhile, the growing political unrest over public versus private education and health initiatives results in confusion and disarray. However, there is some evidence to suggest placebo effects and homeopathic therapies may improve certain conditions, explains Healthline.

For example, faith healing programs may combine ABA with access to spiritual counseling to help create a healing environment. The key to understanding the differences between “miracle cures” and placebo or spiritual healing is that true reports of faith-based measures do not usually follow a business plan. In other words, there is not a profit involved. While people cannot give up, they must not be ready to give in at the first opportunity.

Autism is not a simple diagnosis, but the simple decision to try a “miracle cure” could be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back. Additionally, the people who buy into the manufacturer’s claims of a “cure’s” benefits often ignore obvious warning signs due to their unrelenting hope for improvement.

No parent wants to see his or her child suffer from autism, and since the manufacturer’s use facsimile and fear in marketing, people take claims at face value. However, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a much closer view and opinion of these products’ claims.


What Does the FDA Say About Miracle Cures?

The FDA has an entire section of its website dedicated to health fraud scams, which range from “miracle cures” for diabetes and autism to over-the-counter erectile dysfunction pills. Per the FDA, any product “promoted as an effective solution against a condition and has not been scientifically proven safe and effective for [its] purpose” constitutes a health scam.

Proposed “cures” often do more harm than good. FDA laboratories have studied many health scam products and found disturbing results, indicating the risk for injury and subsequent health problems tends to be highest among these products. Furthermore, problems tracking a product’s distribution and manufacturer means the products continue to flow toward the most desperate of people, creating a bigger market for the product.


Warning Signs the “Cure” Could Be a Health Scam

There are warning signs that can help people know when a product may not be what it seems. Some of these signs include the following:

  • It is a catch-all product. There are medications that treat multiple conditions, but there are not any medications that treat everything. If a product claims to treat a vast array of problems, it is likely a scam.
  • Testimonials replace studies. Testimonials can be made up and unverifiable. If scientific evidence is not mentioned, the product’s claims have probably not been studied.
  • The road to recovery is short. Health scams promise immediate, fast results. The true healing process takes time.
  • It is called a “miracle cure.” This wording is designed to give a one-size-fits-all argument to anyone who claims the cure’s inadequacy.
  • It uses conspiracy theories to entice buyers. Products that use conspiracy theories, such as the pharmaceutical industry wants to keep people sick, may be health scams.


What About the Cases Where the “Cure Worked?”

There are times when the cures do some good, but in the case identified by ABC News, the proposed cure contained “industrial strength bleach.” No one should consume any form of bleach, especially industrial-strength formulas. Some of history’s most interesting medications come from “miracle cure” originations, but scientific evidence has proven their safety and effectiveness.

For example, acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), otherwise known as aspirin, was obtained in ancient times by boiling the bark of a willow tree, reports the Pharmaceutical Journal. By modern standards, this would seem like a “miracle cure,” but science has proven its truth. Ultimately, people should not be willing to try “miracle cures” unless they are part of a controlled, clinical trial or once proven and manufactured as an actual medication.


What Does It Mean For Your Organization?

Your organization is on the frontline of the fight between miracles and reality for parents and caregivers of people with ASDs. Unfortunately, you will be faced with the negative situations where the safety and health of children could be at risk from parental belief in “miracle cures.” Rather than focusing on these situations, your organization needs to help educate your community about fact versus fiction.

Advise parents and caregivers to continue ongoing ABA and other treatments for autism, even when considering alternative treatments. Make sure parents understand that proposed “miracle cures” can be deadly, and, if needed, you may need to contact the appropriate authorities if a child’s health is at risk, as was the case with the recent ABC News investigation. Ultimately, every person in your organization needs to be trained on how to recognize health scams and share their knowledge throughout your community and those you serve. 

Jason Vanover

Working in health care since 2005, Jason's body of experience encompasses dozens of care settings, including Senior care, psychiatric facilities, nonprofit health service centers, group homes for those with developmental disabilities and beyond. Jason understands the need to tailor his skills to each setting to encourage the best treatment outcomes and promote an inclusive, healing environment.

Connect with Us

to find out more about our training and resources