Monday, December 7, 2009

Failed treatments for autism

The health section in today's LA Times has several articles about straws parents will grasp at in treating autistic kids. They look at a few "treatments" and explain why they don't -- can't -- work.

  • Anti-inflammatory medications; this is based on a misreading of a study that the study's author repudiates, that because autistic brains are inflamed, then reducing the inflamation will reduce autism.
  • Hyperbaric oxygen therapy; this seems to be just an expensive and useless anti-inflammatory treatment, but other doctors cite dangers in pumping above normal oxygen into kids
  • Chelation; this one is related to the discredited link between mercury and autism
  • Phenylbutyrate; A "nutritionist" with a doctorate "issued by Columbia Pacific University, an unaccredited institution that was shut down after a lengthy court battle with the state of California" claims that this drug will "burn off" certain very-long-chain fatty acids found in autistic brains. She also claims that ALS is just a buildup of neurotoxins in the blood.
  • Testsosterone inhibition; based again on a faulty reading of a study whose author is horrified that it is being used this way
Four of the treatments are summarized hereThis article explains why some treatments seem to work. Autistic kids are the most withdrawn at 2 or 3, so they often get better from there. If you start treatment when the autistic symptoms are at their worst, you risk confusing the effect of the treatment with ordinary progression.


  1. Columbia Pacific University (CPU), an innovative school founded in 1978 by a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and two former presidents of regionally accredited colleges, was accredited ("approved") by the State of California (that also closed CPU in 2000). CPU degrees are legal (in most states) and equivalent to regionally accredited degrees.

  2. It is true that the court ruled that CPU had issued degrees legally for a period of 19 years, and the degrees are "legally valid" in California, though not in a number of other states. Being legal to operate is not the same as being accredited and is certainly not the same as being good.

    And don't try to snow me with Harvard. I graduated from Harvard, and I know the quality of people "trained" there varies greatly. That's like saying George Bush must be right because he went to Yale and HBS.

    If Phenylbutyrate treatment is good for autism, point me to a study in a peer-reviewed journal that says so.

  3. Exactly! Graduates of Harvard, or of any other university, vary in quality, including Columbia Pacific University. Many CPU alumni excel in academia, industry, business, etc., (see CPU websites for its very succesful alumni). Accreditation means official recognition and CPU had it. And the United States Department of Education acknowledges that schools can excel and offer high quality of education without regional accreditation. Your Bush example is a classic non sequitur.I don't intend to comment on the autism debate itself. In any event you come across as an angry and abusive person...

  4. I don't think I am angry, but I'll admit to verbally abusing Columbia Pacific. I still don't think it's a real school.

    But I also agree that attending a fake school is not necessarily an impediment in any occupation that doesn't rely on a professional education from that school. There's no reason somebody from there can't be a good administrator, or writer, or accountant, or entrepeneur, or computer technician.

    I retain my skepticism about "scientists" from there.

  5. Skepticism can be healthy or detrimental, depending on your intelligence, education, experience and attitude. Preconceived notions and sloppy research erode the soundness of judgment. How much really you know about CPU? You seem to repeat uncritically the irresponsible allegations that galore on the net about the school. It certainly was not a "fake" school, but a serious place of learning, much smaller but rather similar to the Open University of England. Moreover, the fact remains that CPU was a pivotal participant in the most important educational revolution of the 20th century: Distance Learning. The programs of CPU now are copied by thousands of traditional universities around the world. And CPU's philosophy of adult education for accomplished professionals on a global scale is very much within the scope and range of President Obama's vision of education. A useful source on CPU can be found on the website of the European-American University: Competency Education by Columbia Pacific University.