Ever heard of the Amazing Randi - James Randi (1928-2020)? His professional career was as a magician, and later in life he spent his time investigating claims of paranormal phenomena. He wasn’t a disbeliever; he just needed to see proof. He placed a million dollars in escrow with a Florida Bank – money designated to the first person who could prove something paranormal. Proof was always subject to a very simple test.
For example, when one man arrived claiming to glow in the dark, Randi simply invited the man, along with a few persons who were standing at the nearby bus stop, to come into his office. Randi turned off the lights and nobody could see the man glow in the dark. Again, Randi wasn’t a disbeliever of paranormal; he just needed proof.
Randi disapproved of persons who made money by using fake paranormal stuff to prey on persons’ emotions – such as claiming to talk with deceased persons. Randi debunked several famous mediums by exposing how they did it.
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How does Randi’s work relate to autism and to autism grandparents?
It is common for us autism grandparents to be asked for opinions and support during discussions about our grandchildren’s autism diagnosis. Do you really think he has autism? She is so much better now; do you think she was originally misdiagnosed? Will you keep him at your house for a week while I attend a special training session that can teach us to cure him here at home?
There is a short answer to whether autism can be “cured”: While there is lots of anecdotal evidence of such, thus far there is no rigorous scientific evidence. In spite of lots and lots of examples of claimed autism “cures,” none has yet experienced scientific proof. Perhaps a role for us autism grandparents within our families is to be like the Amazing Randi – not to disbelieve, but simply to ask for scientific proof.
When we grandparents are asked to provide consultation and guidance regarding therapies and medicines for our grandchildren, we can be helpful by doing some basic research. Of course the website for a specific medicine or therapy is guaranteed to say only good things. Our research should include other websites such as those of reputable autism institutions like the Kennedy Krieger Institute, reputable medical centers such as the Cleveland Clinic, and reputable nonprofit autism organizations such as Autism Speaks. One thing that I find helpful when researching a therapy or medicine is to Google the name plus the word, “controversy.” That’s where you’re likely to find a Wall Street Journal article about a specific medicine or therapy being outed as a sham. (For example, Google “GcMAF controversy.”)
There has been an increasing level of research regarding whether autism can disappear. What we do know is that some persons do “outgrow the autism diagnosis” – meaning that they no longer exhibit a specific group of standards. But recent research shows that these persons continue to have difficulties that require various levels of support, including residual learning and emotional problems.
It has been proven that traditional ABA and newer versions can significantly improve thinking and language skills and various types of behaviors. But thus far there is no scientific proof or evidence that such can make autism disappear. The current science says that it is a lifelong condition. One study of a few dozen children who no longer exhibited autism traits showed, via MRI scans, that they had “recruited” different areas of their brains for certain behaviors. So instead of “recovery,” a better analysis was “compensation.”
There are lots and lots of unproven medicines and therapies that are, essentially, selling hope. The Son-Rise Program got its start from a real-life story that was featured in a made-for-television movie in 1979 about a couple who developed their own therapy systems that cured their son’s autism. Tens of thousands of families have now paid a lot of money for the Son-Rise Program’s training sessions, and the website features praise from such luminaries as President Jimmy Carter, Deepak Chopra, and Coretta Scott King. But now, after more than 30 years and lots of anecdotal evidence, there is still no scientific evidence that Son-Rise cures autism.
Other non-proven “cures” for autism include the domain of integrative and functional medicine – nontraditional medicine. This may, as claimed, be the future “best practices” of the medical field, but its practices are currently absent of the scientific proofing rigor of traditional medicine. Hello, Health is one company founded on integrative and functional medicine. On the website its founder tells how supplements were developed that cured her son of autism. The current products featured on the website contain non-FDA-regulated/inspected ingredients such as organic olive leaf extract, Indian frankincense, sunflower lecithin, fish oil, etc.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our grandchildren were neurotypical? If they didn’t have meltdowns? If they were able to have friends and to be invited to birthday parties? If they could grow up and have independent lives and careers? And wouldn’t it be great if there were a medicine or therapy that could make this happen?
We grandparents are usually, because of age and experience, equipped to evaluate claims of things that sound too good to be true. And we can take on the responsibility of doing some research when our children are considering such.