A huge majority of parents who have a child with autism have tried some sort of unorthodox treatment to alleviate core symptoms and improve skills like communication or social behavior. A 2015 study found 88 percent of parents (1,084 respondents) had tried some form of complementary or alternative medicine for their child.

The treatments range from special diets and supplements — two of the most frequently tried interventions — to music or animal therapy. But parents have little guidance from medical science, because the evidence for alternatives is thin, if it exists at all.

That said, there is some evidence suggesting children may benefit from simple treatments like vitamin B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, says UCSF psychiatrist Dr. Robert Hendren, who specializes in autism. Hendren’s studies of small patient populations have found these supplements produced some positive results in improving social behavior and reducing hyperactivity.

“It’s not quite like they’re cured, that they no longer have any evidence of ever having had autism,” says Dr. Hendren. “But certainly people do a lot better.”

Autism can lead to chronic issues like intestinal inflammation and anxiety. Hendren says supplements can improve a child’s overall health. When the immune system is stronger, a child has more resources to handle stress; this, in turn, may reduce tantrums or self-injuries.

Alternatives Don’t Work for Everyone

I didn’t have to look far to find a family who had experimented with alternative therapies. In fact, a colleague of mine at KQED has a 15-year-old son with autism, named Leo Rosa.

When Leo was diagnosed as a toddler, his mother, Shannon Des Roches Rosa, was heartbroken, but after reading fervently about the disorder she learned a cure might be possible through a nontraditional approach.

Shannon saw a doctor who specializes in integrative medicine, and says he told her that treating Leo’s disorder was a matter of boosting his immune system and cleansing his body.

The doctor tested his blood, allergies, urine, hair and saliva.

“The tests came back and said that he was allergic to everything,” Shannon exclaims, “from, like, chocolate to milk to dairy to asparagus — all these really weird things!”

A yeast overgrowth was also identified. So the doctor prescribed numerous supplements and restricted sugar, dairy, gluten and soy in Leo’s diet.

Shannon created a color-coded Excel chart to keep track of the pills, shots and creams.

Then the doctor added Bioset to the mix — a combination of acupressure, plus muscle testing for the immune system. In muscle testing, practitioners often ask patients to extend their arm and resist downward pressure. The practitioner uses the level of resistance to check energy blockages, test the function of organs or uncover nutritional deficiencies.

Shannon was not convinced.

“It’s like laying hands on you,” says Shannon. “What rational person could ever think that could be useful? It’s like getting your aura read.”

Leo Rosa uses an electronic talker to help him communicate that he wants a snack to his mom, Shannon De Roche Rosa.
Leo Rosa uses and electronic talker to communicate that he wants a snack to his mom, Shannon Des Roches Rosa. (Lesley McClurg/KQED)

Shannon says she wasn’t seeing any improvement in Leo’s condition, but the doctor told her not to worry because the treatments were preparation for the final step, chelation, a detox therapy intended to remove heavy metals from the body.

But the Rosas were skeptical about the idea, after digging around on the internet and learning about potential dangers from the process. So they decided to draw the line on alternative treatments.

What Does Research Say?

The Food and Drug Administration now warns that chelation products sold over the counter can lead to serious mineral deficiencies by stripping the body of crucial elements, which can “cause serious harm, including dehydration, kidney failure, and death.”

As for dietary changes and nutritional supplements, it’s difficult to study them. Trials are often too short to track dietary changes adequately; blind studies are often challenging to conduct; and the research doesn’t offer the reward of a patent.

Dr. Hendren has led a handful of studies on popular options, including methyl B12, omega-3 fatty acids, and vitamin D, all of which he may prescribe based on slightly positive data and witnessing patient improvement in his practice. He’s also reviewed the science on more than 90 alternative therapies.

“But I would caution people about saying, ‘Well, if a little bit is good, then why don’t you take a walloping dose and maybe that would be better,'” Dr. Hendren says.

He’s continuing to look at alternative treatments, including three current studies on pancreatic digestive enzymes; vasopressin (a neurohormone similar to oxytocin); and sulforaphane (concentrated broccoli extract).

The supplement with the most evidence to support its use is the natural hormone melatonin.

People with autism often struggle with insomnia and melatonin helps patients sleep better, which seems to improve their social interactions, says Dr. Hendren.

“Their eyes seemed clearer, their face or interactions seemed brighter,” he says. “They looked at me or at others as though they were just fully realizing that those people were there.”

What About Dietary Changes?

One of the most popular things parents try is eliminating gluten or casein from their child’s diet. Gluten is found in wheat, barley and rye; casein is in dairy products.

Dr. Hendren says he doesn’t generally suggest special diets because there is insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear benefit.

“I would try and encourage people to stay within the range of things that have been studied and are within the range of things that are known and effective,” says Hendren.

If parents are interested in going gluten or dairy free, he suggests they work with a nutrition expert.

Leo and Shannon Rosa riding BART together.
Leo and Shannon Rosa riding Muni together in San Francisco. (Susan Etlinger/ KQED)

Restricting Leo Rosa’s diet was a costly experiment that turned into a nightmare, says his mother, Shannon.

“He still ate, but he wasn’t happy about it,” she says. “He was such a little sad, hollowed-eyed Oliver Twist-looking dude at this time. It was so sad.”

Shannon Des Roches Rosa is no longer experimenting with Leo’s diet. In fact, she says she’d like to go back to the moment Leo was diagnosed and give herself advice.

“Your son is a great kid,” she says. “He’s going to be okay. Don’t think about trying to turn him into someone he isn’t.”

Shannon says the real miracle cure is acceptance and love.

Editor’s Note: This post has been updated to reflect that autism is a disorder, not a disease.

Do Alternative Treatments for Autism Work? 15 July,2016Lesley McClurg

  • Thanks again, Lesley, for sharing our cautionary tale, and emphasizing how much we love Leo, and our focus on supporting and understanding him instead of buying into the myth that autistic people need “fixing.”

    I do need to note a few things:

    Autism is not a disease. It is a disability.

    It is not fully understood why autistic people have higher rates of intestinal inflammation, etc., but it’s important for listeners/readers to understand that these co-occuring conditions are not part of autism itself — and in fact chronic anxiety is often either caused or exacerbated by the stress of not being accepted or understood or properly accommodated. Especially if it’s clear your parents are trying to “fix” you. Kids pick up on this, and trying to “fix” Leo is one of my biggest regrets.

    With regards to melatonin “improving” autism, most people feel better if they aren’t chronically sleep-deprived. This isn’t helping “autism,” this is helping people sleep better. Though it’s important to note that many autistic people report melatonin use leading to gnarly nightmares. That is something for parents and caregivers of autistic people with communication challenges to consider very seriously.

    Again, my thanks.

    • Kat Snow

      Thank you Shannon, for these thoughts. We’ve updated the post to reflect that autism is not a disease.

    • Emily Paige Ballou

      Likewise, most people feel more social and function better when their stomach doesn’t hurt. That’s not autism. Sometimes it seems like there’s this illusion where *everything* wrong with an autistic kid gets attributed to autism. It isn’t, and autism also doesn’t make you immune from other common human maladies, like GI troubles, anxiety, sleep problems, etc.

      That would be cool. But it doesn’t. Appropriately treating other common childhood medical problems will improve a kid’s quality of life, but it will not change their core neurological configuration. Somehow this isn’t controversial when it comes to non-autistic kids.

  • Matt Carey

    “If parents are interested in going gluten or dairy free, he suggests they work with a nutrition expert.”

    I would second this. With an emphasis on “nutrition expert”. Not someone who claims to be an autism expert who does nutrition, but someone who focuses on nutrition. There are many diets claimed to help or even cure autism, and it’s easy to find someone too invested in diets as cures rather than an approach that may (may) help.

  • Matt Carey

    While I appreciate that Dr. Hendren is trying to help–both in exploring possible therapies and in explaining that the evidence base is thin–I find his characterization of alternative therapies to be overly optimistic. Even as cautious as they are.

  • Matt Carey

    About 3 minutes in to the podcast we hear about how there are testimonials of how various alternatives to medicine.

    When I first went online to get autism information (just over 10 years ago), there was an alt-med pracitioner who was very prominent and whose story of her son was amazing. Her son had made amazing gains, I don’t recall if he was claimed to be non-autistic, but the claims were quite remarkable including giant gains in language.

    After a few years she went offline. In her goodbye she included a mention of her son’s goodbye to his church–which he gave through a talker as he was still nonverbal.

    Of course the most famous example is Jenny McCarthy. She went so far as to claim that her child was no longer autistic due to alternative therapies. Years later we see her discussing the challenges her son still has due to being autistic.

  • Martin Matthews

    Dr. Hendren is mistaken, and perhaps should be sanctioned for NOT recommending strategic attention to food/nutrition for EVERY patient he treats will sub-optimal health – including (likely) EVERY child with autism (known for routinely suffering GI issues, malnutrition, food reaction/aversions, immune system challenges, etc…ALL factors that lead to the intelligent choice to consider what’s going INTO the body). It is an overt MIStruth to state “insufficient evidence to demonstrate a clear benefit” – to the contrary, dietary intervention for autism is likely the MOST efficacious intervention for ASD, in that more science, more results, more common sense point to giving strategic attention to what we feed these kids. The positive influence of nutrition for autism has been known for 50 years (Rimland), measured scientifically for 15 years at least (Dr. James Adams, ASU), and well researched, written about, lectured, and much more by Julie Matthews.

    NO ONE claims that diet is either causing autism, nor is a cure for autism. So stop any conjecture that…”because you cannot say that diet causes autism that its nonsensical to consider improving diet to help autism.” Autism is a physiological disorder – what’s happening in the body affects brain function, learning, and behavior. MOST mainstream docs deny that unquestionable scientific connection because they MUST hold an inaccurate perspective of autism as psychological only – meaning they will NOT help you, they CANNOT treat you (even though they see the problems, and KNOW they can help treat them, they cannot, and will not).

    Improving what children eat is NOT “alternative” medicine – it is common sense and Hippocrates 101. With autism, SO much science, SO much information indicates to be “nourishing hope” – that is, making strategic food and nutrition choices to HELP them. Dr. Hendren’s OMISSION regarding this (suggesting improved diet) is akin to malpractice IMHO, as he overtly violates the Hippocratic oath of “do no harm.” By him NOT telling a parent that what they feed their kid matters (and can change their life!), he is no doubt doing harm.

    Learn much more about WHY food matters for autism here http://nourishinghope.com/get-started-guide/

    • Kathy

      This is basically spam for the exact type of thing Shannon warns about. This is your business with your wife. There is no scientific evidence to support your claims at all. Shame on you for spamming such nonsense.

      • Martin Matthews

        Really https://disqus.com/by/Kathy/ publication and long standing scientific study from a mainstream university has no veracity in your opinion? And indeed, it’s my life – parents (just like me) are being deceived about what’s happening to their children and what can be done to help them. Yes, I’m not okay with that. You are being irresponsible to infer to other parents, that it does NOT matter what they feed their ill child – that’s just wrong! If you and @shannonrosa:disqus would just step back from your ire and attacking to see the simplicity of what I;m saying here, then perhaps you could better help others. Autism is physical, food/nutrition matters, improving strategic attention to diet is exceedingly efficacious – you cannot disprove the validity of that, and it’d be ludicrous to try.

        Please let me and others know why Dr. Adams work is nonsense!

        • Kathy

          So, you have nothing to back your claims except your wife’s book, is that it? You are just a spammer.

          PS No one said that food doesn’t matter. What was said is that unscientific, unproven diets don’t cure autism.

          • Martin Matthews

            Terrific…so what’s your problem then? I’ve already posted this free scientifically referenced article for you – but here you go again, as just a place to start. http://nourishinghope.com/pdfs/GetStartedGuide_TheScience.pdf

          • Mr. Matthews, a non-reviewed book is not a valid source. If your claims have merit you can post the original literature. Most of us even know how to read it unlike camel-milk jockeys.

          • Martin Matthews

            What the heck are you saying https://disqus.com/by/science_mom/? Claims? Let’s ask you Science Mom, do you concur that its efficacious to strategically avoid problematic foods and aim to increase intake of healthy nutritious foods for children with autism? Or, as it would seem that others on this thread would have you believe – that because they have autism, food doesn’t matter/don’t bother/it’s not proven ?

          • As others have stated, proper nutrition is important for everyone. Some autistic children present challenges due to food aversions. Your wife’s blog is wooey BS which goes off the rails into territory which has not been evidenced. “Certified Nutritionist is not a protected term and anyone can call themselves that. Your wife is operating outside the realm of any expertise she claims. Surely you can do better than to spam your wife’s blog and provide actual citations.

          • Martin Matthews

            “Certified Nutritionist” does not exist on our website, you’re clearly not looking and not being very kind at all. You really should know whom your insulting – today’s leading integrative physicians gather yearly for the Integrative Medicine in Mental Health Conference, the thought leader you disrespect is highly lauded by integrative medical specialists around the world for her expertise, compassion, and helping thousands of children http://www.immh2016.com/

            Good luck to you!

          • What the Science Says
            By Julie Matthews, Certified Nutrition Consultant

            A “certified nutrition consultant” is just as vapid as certified nutritionist and is not a recognised expertise. Anyone can call themselves that. Your wife is not a “thought leader”, she’s a scammer and a quack with no scientific expertise in anything remotely involving autism. Now put up some scientific citations or take your spam elsewhere.

          • Kathy

            Spamming your business is obnoxious

          • Martin Matthews
          • Kathy
          • Kris Provo

            Try the Autism Research Institute. Autism.com. I use it, and some of it works for my child. Not all autistic children are the same and if you don’t try, you could be depriving your child of a better outcome. Waiting 20 years for the government to “discover ” a treatment or supplement is not a better option. Of course, use common sense and caution.

          • ARI is too much associated with quackery for me. They do espouse Culter and Bradstreet therapies , which have been shown to be dangerous and not helpful in many studies. ASF is a much better source. Also, this is a very good site for figuring out what is science and what is pseudoscience.

          • Kris Provo

            Quackery is the conspiracy theory buzzword to dismiss any ideas outside of the mainstream. Sites like that which you mention are usually just foils for those who are beholden to drug companies or therapies. Bernard Rimland started the Autism Research Institute at a time when nobody was researching autism at all. He found therapies that actually help without the resources that major drug companies have at their disposal. The therapies discussed are researched and they poll parents and caregivers about the efficacy of them, to help parents understand what might be most useful. These are strategies to address the overall health of the person, instead of targeting undesirable behaviors, that drugs and other therapies target. This doctor mentioned above is most likely sticking his neck out by saying the things he does, as those who cross the corporate drug masters can pay with their careers. You don’t use a last name in your post. Are you a troll?

          • Well, when it comes to my health and that of my children, I go with what has proven efficacy. Quackery is the lay term for what is practiced without proven efficacy. I looked through the statistics on the therapies and found most worked well under 50% of the time. That is terrible.

  • Martin Matthews

    Attention Lesley McClurg…. please contact us should you genuinely like to understand and report on using science and safe and effective approaches to helping children with autism. I just listened your podcast, which ended on a sour note akin to “don’t bother trying to help your kid with autism.” As someone who’s personally met hundreds, and knows of THOUSANDS of children with autism…whose lives have been radically improved after their parents took charge of what they ate – I take offense to the inadvertent hopelessness of this story. Every child and family deserves the right to the truth about what they face, and that is NOT happening with autism – parents are deceived into doing little to help, when they could be – and it’s not their fault. Article like this perpetuate the myth that there is nothing of substance (beyond ABA, and coping) that can help these kids, and that’s wrong! See this as simple insight https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8LlAbuuX1oM

    • Kathy

      You are spamming your own business.

  • @martinmatthews:disqus: There is zero evidence that diet affects “autism,” because actual evidence indicates autism is inborn neurology, not an “treatable” acquired condition, and certainly not a disease (thank you KQED for the post edit).

    What we can do is help the significant population of autistic people who have co-occurring medical conditions like GI issues or food intolerances become healthier and happier, and recognize that acting happier due to feeling healthier is not treating or curing autism. And there’s no reason to pursue alternative pathways — parents can consult mainstream allergists, internal medicine specialists, and dieticians, just as they would for any non-autistic child.

    And the article’s ending message about love and acceptance would only appear “sour” and “hopeless” to someone whose livelihood is tied into convincing parents they need to “fix” their autistic kids. I’d especially caution readers that the Nourishing Hope site hits many of the autism pseudoscience red flags cited in our Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism checklist: http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/p/mission-statement.html.

    • Martin Matthews

      Why are you so caustic @shannonrosa:disqus? Don’t you realize that you fully contradict yourself? You agree that you can help with “co-occuring” conditions (like food intolerances) but state diet cannot affect autism? HOW would you aim to help those issues without giving though to what children eat or their nutrition? Your “zero evidence” statement is unfounded and frankly irresponsible IMHO. You’re also just plain wrong about contacting just any clinician…as a parent of an ASD child if their regular doctor truly understands that autism is a physical condition that suffers “co-occurring medical conditions” (as you note), most do not!

      Not a single word, phrase, or communicative page whatsoever at NourishingHope.com conveys the notion of “fixing” anyone, I caution you to mind your potentially slanderous, and just generally unkind comments (not good kharma at all!).

      Please submit, here or elsewhere (link) the support of your assertion that what children with autism eat (and the nutrition they receive) makes NO difference to the health, learning, or behavior of children with autism. Are their Autism Mothers on this thread that concur that there’s zero value in aiming to improve your child’s health by improving what they eat (i.e. aiming to AVOID foods/substances known or suspected to be problematic to them, and increasing foods that are easy to digest and greater in nutrition).

      • I am OK with the potential effects on my “kharma,” and stand by my statements.

        • Kathy

          He is spamming his own business, Shannon. He is probably sad that your claims point out the fact that his biz with his wife is not based on sound science.

      • Carol Ann Greenburg

        I am an autistic co-editor at Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism with @shannonrosa, and it is your tone, not hers, that I find combative, and therefore unhelpful. The link she posted to our assessment of the current state of autism science


        seemed to me a measured, accurate summary of our experience covering the well-respected International Meeting For Autism Research. I see nothing “irresponsible” or “unkind” about differentiating my autism, or my father’s autism, or my son’s autism (We were all born this way) from common co-occurring conditions. Good nutrition strikes me, and I think most sensible people, as a good idea for our whole species, regardless of age and neurostatus, so in that regard I believe you, Shannon, and I are in accord. However, I have not seen credible, independently replicable evidence that any specific diet directly influences the treatment of any of the aforementioned conditions.

        I cannot speak to the issue of the kharma of anyone involved in this conversation, however a close friend of mine was ordained as a Buddhist priest a few years ago, so if you would like to consult with him on that matter, I’ll see what I can do.

        Carol Greenburg

        • Martin Matthews

          Hi https://disqus.com/by/carolanngreenburg/, thanks for chiming in with your opinion. I’m really really interested to comprehend your inability to see and understand something so straightforward as the efficacy of nourishing hope for autism. You state “I have not seen credible, independently replicable evidence that any
          specific diet directly influences the treatment of any of the
          aforementioned conditions.” So, either you’re not looking for it, or more likely cannot SEE it, perhaps because you don’t believe it – and WHY you don’t believe it is anyone’s guess. Do you not believe Dr. Adams’ research, measuring the influence of the nutrition and diet changes? Do you not believe that mind and body are connected? Do you not believe that a child with autism suffering physical pain that could be relieved by making diet changes should have that opportunity?

          No one here has asked or implied that you/anyone differentiate autism – that’s just you feeling imposed upon (for some reason), so no need to project ire upon others. Thanks!

  • Also, re: the caption under Leo taking cod liver oil: He does *not* take it to “treat” autism, or autistic symptoms. He initially took cod liver oil because of dubious alternative
    recommendations. He now takes it on the advice of a pediatric
    nutritionist to balance his diet, since like many autistic people he
    eats a limited selection of foods.

    • Martin Matthews

      @shannonrosa:disqus- WHY do children with autism eat a limited selection of foods? You CONTRADICT yourself by (it appears) understanding (as above) that the pediatric nutritionist aims to “balance his diet” while YOU claim “there is zero evidence that diet affects ‘autism.'” What’s up with that?

      • Autistic people often have sensory aversions to food tastes, textures, or smells. That can lead to a limited diet. Leo sees a nutritionist to ensure that he gets the right balance of nutrients in his diet. His sister, who is not autistic, *also* has a limited diet because she is a pickypants like her mom was as a child. His sister has *also* seen a nutritionist to ensure that her diet is sufficiently varied.

        Ensuring that autistic children get proper nutrition is about keeping them healthy, not about treating autism.

        • Martin Matthews

          Good for you that you understand that. Intelligent people realize the bind you’re in, as is the medical establishment, with using the word “treat.” That’s because they cannot acknowledge the actuality of the physical (medical) co-morbid factors you mention, because the DSM doesn’t see autism fully accurately.

          You still have not (or is it that to cannot, or will not?) explain WHY children eat that way? Too many people IGNORE that a child’s health and body function could have anything to do with their eating – instead they BLAME the child and think that it’s their “behavior” that makes them picky and selective, and then their “behavior” that leads to physical problems like GI issues and food aversions/reactions. It’s not okay to blame the child, to blame their behavior without giving intelligent thought to what might be influencing it. Do you agree?

          Check this report in Pediatrics, where doctor’s wrongly blamed an ASD child’s behavior for his medical condition, when in actuality he needed NUTRITION (as clearly understood for 50 years, and scientifically proven to benefit children with autism). http://nourishinghope.com/medical-journal-underscores-importance-of-nutrition-for-children-with-autism/

          • Kathy

            Martin, do you have any valid science to support your claims? Are there any studies supporting that Shannon is wrong and you are right?

          • Martin Matthews

            WATCH the VIDEO I posted, READ the scientifically referenced free book I posted.

          • Kathy

            You spammed your wife’s book. I am not buying your wife’s book to attempt to validate your argument. You can link to free abstracts of scientific literature to back up your claims and then I can use my university’s library to access the full articles for free.

          • Martin Matthews
          • Kathy

            I don’t see that any of those abstracts are supporting that all autists should be on the kind of diet you and your wife recommend. Read here for more: http://autismsciencefoundation.org/what-is-autism/beware-of-non-evidence-based-treatments/

          • Dana Lockwood

            TACA is an ableist hate group.

          • Dana Lockwood

            Well stated Kathy. It would be great if Martin quits posting about ableist junk science and even better if he could back his claims up without asking people to “just watch the video”. Quit spamming Martin.

          • Kathy

            All children benefit from good nutrition. Nutrition does not cure autism.

      • Emily Paige Ballou

        Diet affects every human’s well-being. What it doesn’t affect is whether you’re autistic or not, in the same way it wouldn’t affect whether you’re gay or not. Because that’s just not how it works.

        Autistic people often have limited diets because we frequently suffer strong physical aversions to textures, smells, and tastes. Sometimes those lessen over time and sometimes they don’t, but they are the cause of poor nutrition, not caused by it.

  • William Davidson

    I’m surprised that camel milk wasn’t mentioned in the article. There’s evidence that it can it can help autistic children to become more sociable and can help children not to become agitated. There’s an article about it here:

    • That’s exactly the kind of pseudoscience people should run away from, at top speed. Autism is how one’s brain is wired, not a disease to be “treated.” Autistic people need understanding and supports, not quackery. Unsurprisingly, one of the main proponents of camel milk is the author of the book “A Real Boy,” about how she “recovered” her autistic son. There is no mention of camel milk in the book, she came across the treatment afterwards. But if her son was “recovered,” why would she need to “treat” him further? Because … he was still autistic, and the only way to “treat” autistic people is to get them the supports and accommodations they need to function in a world that is inherently unfriendly to them.

      • Martin Matthews

        Shannon is clearly UNDERinformed regarding autism and that when people remove the blinders they’re given by mainstream medicine, open their eyes and embrace am integrative perspective, an inclusive perspective that views the ENTIRE child (not just their brain) and aims to best support their entire system. And that doing that, is most genuine, natural, intelligent, etc… ie. WHY would one omit information that can help a child feel better, learn better, suffer less pain, JUST because they adhere to an antiquated perspective (that autism is behavioral only, lifelong and immutable). And seeking to HELP as much as possible is not antithetical to accepting a child as they are – you insult humanity when you infer that people following “alternative” (useful) approaches as NOT “accepting” their child they way they are.

        • Kathy

          All you have to do is post the links to scientific evidence to support your claims. Spamming your wife’s book is not evidence. Where is the evidence nutrition helps a child feel better, learn better, suffer less pain? Where is the evidence Shannon is saying parents should not help their children feel better? If diet does not work, as Dr Hendren is stating, then prove him wrong with evidence. Not your wife’s book.

          • Martin Matthews

            Boy https://disqus.com/by/p3patch/, something has you being so darned defensive? Just watch the video – trust a PhD professor if you require such letters. And, as ALREADY posted for you…but here’s a shorter read, just a quick easy to read narrative about scientific rationale for taking charge of what ASD kids eat (something you continue to deride me and my respected wife for advocating). http://nourishinghope.com/pdfs/GetStartedGuide_TheScience.pdf

          • Kathy

            I don’t like snake oil salesmen who take advantage of desperate people. People need to stick to proven science.

          • Emily Willingham

            Hi, Martin. I’m a “PhD professor.” There’s a scientific rationale for “taking charge” of what *any* child eats. Your efforts to derail the argument and turn it toward your cottage industry flogging pseudoscientific claims are soooooo 2006. You’re committing about 15 logical fallacies in your comments, which I always enjoy as a PhD professor because it gives me fresh examples for my classes. So thanks for that. Also some great examples of sea-lioning, concern trolling, and goalpost moving for panel presentations. So thanks for that, too. Isn’t it good to know that despite all of your self-serving and dangerous claims, you’re doing something useful?

        • I don’t see a single point in any of your statements about talking with and understanding autistic people themselves, and their sensory, processing, communication and unique developmental needs, or helping them learn to cope with an overwhelming world. And I am talking about helping people feel better, just not via baseless, pay-for-play quackery.

          As for being UNDERinformed, I get my information from autistic thought leaders and researchers, and by paying attention to what my son needs. When we tried to “fix” Leo via the kind of dietary approaches you are hawking, he was absolutely miserable. No other autistic person deserves to be put through that kind of suffering, from possibly well-meaning but completely misguided “alternative” approaches.

          Here a window on the actual state of autism science, BTW: http://www.thinkingautismguide.com/2016/05/the-state-of-autism-research-tpga.html

      • Martin Matthews

        And even Camel’s milk has been scientifically studied… Just because https://disqus.com/by/shannonrosa/ did not herself look into these things (i.e. ALL avenues of helping mind/body) does not mean they are pseudoscience as she protests. It’s become more clear on this thread, that Shannon is just uninformed about the bigger picture – which is understandable. I’ve traveled over 50 cities and countries to meet ASD parents with the SAME story…that no one told them their child’s health condition had affect on the severity of autism symptoms or that THEIR actions could help their child feel better and have improved life potential. No one told them (like Shannon), so they didn’t know – and didn’t do anything. And, once they DO know, and do something (sometimes as simple as omitting dairy) improvements occur.

      • William Davidson

        I can understand your point that autism isn’t a disease to be treated. I’ve heard this idea before, especially from adults with autism. I think it’s certainly valid to say that autism is a different way of experiencing the world. However, there has been a lot of research lately, and it’s still in its infancy, into the connection between the gut and the brain, and gut issues seem especially to effect the autistic. Maybe this is more true for children who are still developing and learning to deal with the world around them than for adults. Even neurotypical children become easily upset when something is going wrong in their bodies. The effect of camel milk on autistic children is to improve their overall health. It’s no magic autism cure, but parents with autistic children have said that it help them to sleep better and to be more calm, and this helps them to be happier and function better. I don’t think anyone can argue with that. And by the way, that article I mentioned does link to several scientific research reports. It’s not a proven fact, but I think it’s gone beyond pseudoscience.

    • Emily Paige Ballou


  • Kathy

    Great read. Love this part “Shannon says the real miracle cure is acceptance and love.”

  • @martinmatthews:disqus : One of us is selling alternative autism treatments. The other is the parent of a high-support autistic child who has personally witnessed the harm alternative autism quackery like yours does to kids like my son, as well as to the bank account of families like ours.

    My autistic son is disabled, but he is not sick. He needs acceptance, understanding, love, and supports. What kids like him do *not* need are people like you distracting parents from our children’s valid autistic support needs by convincing us to pay for bogus treatments.

    Please note that I will no longer respond to your comments. I have said my piece.

    • Martin Matthews

      Good for you! Nothing I’ve posted nor implied was meant to nor should really bother you at all, if you don’t think it applies to you. But by getting so defensive and insulting me (and countless others globally) you’re in effect pushing your perspective and your experience on others (my kids not sick, so others’ must not be).

  • gangulg

    The problem with a lot of articles about what helps with autism is that they present a series of anecdotal results. This is mainly because clinical studies are not carried out with any rigor. Since supplements and nutritional therapies do not benefit any of the pharmaceutical companies, no large extended studies are supported. One would hope that scientists would take on such research but it is clear that their work does not even get government funding unless there is a solution that can produce a capsule that can be produced by the pharmaceutical companies for a profit. My son who is now 22 went through typical symptoms of excessive activity followed by rest when he was between 3-6 years of age. We followed all the nutritional therapies and had his hair tested for heavy metals and then followed a nutritionist prescribed regimen. He is now a young autistic adult who is well behaved and spoken but still clearly has communication issues. I wish that we knew what caused the improvements and could confidently recommend to others in the same boat. No question that demonstrated love is very important to calm them down.

  • Scott Bunkelmann

    Thank you Lesley. Great article and a must read for anyone who has just recently had a child diagnosed with an ASD.

    Our son was diagnosed before he was 2. He just turned 12. He has had ABA therapy and speech therapy. He is very, very verbal and has been since before he turned 3.

    Our son has made significant progress. It has not been easy. In fact, at times it has been very trying. There were times when we felt a bit desperate and considered (briefly) alternative therapies including changing his diet. Fortunately we never went that route.

    Recently we had a conversation with a mother whose son had just been diagnosed. She was in the process of getting ABA therapy started and wanted to also try some alternative therapies. These parents are most vulnerable. I’ve seen parents who, if they have the means, have tried everything (gluten-free diets, vitamins, hyperbaric chambers, chelation, etc). The problem is that that if their child does make some progress it is very hard to determine exactly what “therapy” is helping. We cautioned this mother to start with ABA and give it some time and effort and also reinforcing that ABA was one of the only therapies that has backed up with scientific evidence.

    I also want to thank the contributors to The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism for adding their comments to this thread.

    • Emily Paige Ballou

      Interesting you bring ABA into this discussion, as there’s not a lot of reliable evidence for the efficacy of that, either, and a great deal of testimony from autistic people as to its long-term harm.

      • Scott Bunkelmann

        I disagree.
        ABA therapy is covered by many insurances and Medicaid as a treatment for autism. Diets are not.
        Like any therapy results do vary. The efficacy may depend on the BCA, the assistants administering the therapy and the amount and quality of follow up from the parents.
        Other than some speech and physical therapy ABA has been the only therapy our son has received. His behaviors have been assiduously documented and that data has shown vast, tangible and verifiable improvements.
        Currently I am do not have my laptop available so I cannot, at this moment, cite specific research supporting ABA. But the research is valid and it has been proven to be very effective.
        You don’t have to take my word for such. Research properly and you should be able to find very reliable evidence supporting ABA therapy as a viable treatment for children with ASDs.

  • Emily Willingham

    Really, KQED, do you have any comment policy about this spammery and self-promotion?

  • Lisa Mary T

    I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder last year and my local newspaper published my story recently that includes info on my special diet http://www.valleycenter.com/news/2016-06-09/Valley_Life/Detoxing_and_eliminating_lead_helps_fight_fibromya.html. I had genetic testing done in 2013 and have many similarities to Amy Yasko’s autistic patient genetic database including +/+ for all BHMT http://dramyyasko.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/03-A1-Mutation_Breakdown.pdf. I re-read this to help me better understand, accept, and adapt http://larrynewman-kirkman.blogspot.com/2011/01/how-to-support-biochemical-pathways-in.html

  • Sally Park Rubin

    I really didn’t understand the point of this particular broadcast. First of all, it was too short to be useful to parents seeking real help for their kids with autism. As the mother of a young man now recovered from autism who really did try a lot of things, both allopathic and alternative, including love and acceptance, some of the claims in this broadcast were completely unsubstantiated.

    Let me just take on one of them: The gf/cf diet. Statistically, 2/3 of kids on the AS are diet responders. Half of those kids are total responders (both gluten and casein intolerant), half are partial responders (either gluten- OR casein-intolerant). My son made great strides with these limitations in his diet. I read the book “Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and PDD” by another mother, Karyn Seroussi, whose husband was a chemist and tested out what she presents in the book. There is a lot of information that substantiates trying the diet as one piece of a multi-pronged approach towards moving towards optimal outcomes for your child. Also, a book by nutritionist Kelly Dorfman, “Cure Your Child With Food,” is another great resource for this inexpensive approach to dealing with the metabolic side of an autism diagnosis.

    Of course, that isn’t the only thing to do. There is much to do, as any parent will tell you. But, I think it’s not helpful to discourage parents out of hand against “alternative” approaches. Some of them can be successful.

    Another one that jumped out at me was chelation. I agree that chelation is tricky and should not be done without a doctor on board. But, when it works, it can be one of many useful tools in the toolchest. I’d rather have seen a pro-con comparison about chelation. For example, many children with autism have gut dysbiosis which can include overgrowth of unhealthy yeasts. Chelation can aggravate that condition, causing a yeast flare up. So, you have to stop, clear up the yeast overgrowth, and then try again. But, from my experience, just tossing chelation out as “not good” doesn’t really explain either the mechanism of chelation (why it works), nor does it examine the precautions (when it shouldn’t be used or should be stopped).

    Of course, love and acceptance, are an excellent grounding for dealing with autism in the family. But, if the child has measurable blood metal levels, evidence of gut problems from a complete stool analysis, enzyme depletion markers from urinalysis, anti-bodies to the myelin sheath…or any number of scientifically measurable biological problems that could be at cause to this condition, just going with love and acceptance is short-changing the options for healing.

  • Jessica scott

    it still surprise me how Dr ODIA did it all with the autism herbal cure he sent to me when my 5 years old daughter with autism who don’t play with friends, and doesn’t sleep, has also never cried ever since i gave birth to her of which i have gone to many hospitals for solution and i have uses so many medicines but still no hope not until i came across Dr ODIA email (odiaherbalcenter@yahoo.com) here on line who sent me his herbal autism cure and asked me to use it for just three days morning night and evening on her and also a seed oil to rub on her body after bath. I did has he instructed me to and later on i started seeing so many changes, today my daughter can able to walk and talk she was completely healed i’m glad to come out here online and share my own testimony. you out there also having an autistic child suffering from autism hurry Dr ODIA will surely have a cure for you. contact him via email: odiaherbalcenter@yahoo.com


Lesley McClurg

Lesley McClurg reports for KQED Science primarily on medical and mental health with a sprinkling of stories about space, environmental toxins and food.

If there’s a natural disaster brewing Lesley can usually be found right in the midst of a catastrophe. She’s reported on disastrous floods, fires, droughts and earthquakes.

Her work is regularly rebroadcast on NPR and PBS. She is an Edward R. Murrow and Emmy award winning journalist. The Society of Environmental Journalists recognized her beat coverage of California’s historic drought.

Before joining KQED in 2016, she reported for Capital Public Radio, Colorado Public Radio, KUOW and KCTS in Seattle.

You can find her on Twitter at @lesleywmcclurg.

You can find her KQED medical science stories, her environment stories, and general news stories.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor