How to detect fake autism therapies

People can earn a lot of money for promoting fake autism therapies but nothing for debunking them. This is a reason why you will hear many more good things about various autism treatments but very few bad things. In order to tell what really works before you paying hefty fees, you will have to do your homework first.

 

The approach you take should be to go both wide and deep. Determine what is promising, then acquire the relevant knowledge to understand them. That does not mean learning only about the specific treatment that you wish to explore but educating yourself on the general knowledge of how this world really works.

For example, you can read university-level physics, chemistry, biology, and child development textbooks during your free time. If you have no time for all these, at least educate yourself on the scientific method and critical thinking using YouTube videos. Most conspiracy theories and fake therapies will not be able to stand up to even basic scrutiny and you will thus save a lot of money for just watching a few hours of videos. In addition, there are also many websites such as Quackwatch, RationalWiki and FactCheck that can put you on the right track.

When doing research, do not rely on individual case studies or personal accounts that may be concocted or biased. Understand that correlation is not causation. Put more emphasis on reading research papers about the therapy, if available. Learn to interpret the papers, paying attention to the warning signs of problematic papers – a small number of research subjects, the lack of a control group, the lack of double-blinding, jumping to premature conclusions despite lack of evidence, independently published or publication in dubious journals etc.

Consider the reputation of the websites that you are visiting; are they reputable university and government websites or are they set up by commercial parties with vested interests or for anonymous people to share their personal speculations.

 

Conduct research on the organization or therapist behind the treatment. Find out when they were established, what they offer, what they claim vs what evidence they provide, how they market their products and their credentials. Most important, search specifically for any bad news or information regarding the therapy, therapist, or organization.

There are countless examples of red flags and questionable practices, some of which include:
• So-called doctors who have never served their medical residency but only acquired a medical degree
• So-called doctors whose name were never in any official medical registry of any country
• Masters and PhD qualifications from paper-mill universities or in a totally irrelevant area
• Therapists claiming to have thousands of hours of experience with only a Bachelor’s degree and no records of prior autism work
• Endorsements by experts in unrelated domains (e.g. a kidney specialist working in a children’s hospital endorsing an autism center)
• Endorsements by a large number of organizations who, upon inquiry, have never heard of the said organization that they are supposed to be endorsing
• The pictures of the people providing the testimonials are taken from stock image libraries [use Google Image Search]
• Treatments that claim miraculous results
• Treatments that are based only on a single success story
• Treatments that offload all work to parents [refer to the IKEA effect]
• Websites that only list the benefits but provide no information about how the purported therapy works
• Unusually heavy investment in marketing and Public Relations
• The use of Multi-Level Marketing
• Organizations operating solely from a virtual office address that only offer home-based therapy
• Organizations claiming to be non-profit, but unwilling to open their books for public scrutiny
• Organizations operating from third world countries with lax regulations, such as Mexico

As always, caveat emptor. Those who do not learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

 

Examples of articles that paint a less flattering picture: