Respectful Insolence

I thought they were just kidding…

This is disturbing.

Yesterday, I did a rather light-hearted edition of Your Friday Dose of Woo about “ionic foot detoxification.” A reader pointed out that in a story in which Randi had also discussed this woo, there was a comment along the lines of “I think autistic children should really do this.”

How prophetic! Sadly, it turns out that autistic children are already being subjected to this woo. For example, I found this particular video on YouTube that has to be seen to be believed:

It’s a woman named Ashley discussing “ion cleanse” foot detox for her 4 year old autistic son Braden. Her blather about the “foot detox” is so utterly inane, credulous, and without a basis in any science that I find it hard to believe anyone would publicly post it. Witness the part where she describes how the detox occurs through “reverse osmosses.” She also claims that the foot detox can get rid of mercury, the “bad yucky yeast,” nicotine in the air, and all manner of other unnamed “toxins.” I have to say, the part where she discusses how there’s “no way to know” if by “moving the mercury around” and not getting out all of the mercury this might cause harm is painful to watch.

The only good thing that can be said about this is that it’s probably harmless. Probably. Even so, it’s painful to watch a mother fall so hard for this quackery, to the point of posting in essence a testimonial for it on YouTube. One must remember that not all quackery is as seemingly harmless as this. The belief in the discredited concept that mercury in vaccines causes autism has led parents to subject their autistic children to all manner of quackery, such as chelation therapy (which can kill) and a number of “biomedical” interventions with no good evidence to support their efficacy.

Comments

  1. #1 Mark
    August 11, 2007

    I strongly disagree that this is harmless. It’s part of a childrearing context and constellation that is extraordinarily harmful. For confirmation of just how harmful it actually is, take a look at some of Alice Miller’s books or Peter Levine’s *Trauma Through a Child’s Eyes.*

  2. #2 Orac
    August 11, 2007

    I meant that it’s probably “physically harmless.”

  3. #3 Joseph
    August 11, 2007

    And she no doubt thinks it’s working wonders. That’s probably the reason why woo is so attractive to parents of autistic kids. It really “works” so to speak.

  4. #4 Jon
    August 11, 2007

    thanks – that’s a new one on me. Not sure if it’s related – I’ve also heard baths in epsom salts recommended as a way to remove mercury from people on the autistic spectrum…got only knows how/why…

  5. #5 Matt
    August 11, 2007

    This is pretty painful to watch. Poor Braden isn’t likely to get any better, is he?

    However, you can’t really critcize parent of autistic children all that much. They’ve got no idea why their kids are autistic, no one can really tell them, and there’s just about nothing that can be done, in addition to which the kids are extremely difficult to manage. It’s not entirely surprising that Ashley’s prepared to try anything, especially in light of the fact that her critical faculties appear to be about equal to a newt’s.

  6. #6 Jon
    August 11, 2007

    Poor Braden isn’t likely to get any better, is he

    Actually, there’s a good chance that Braden will develop in various ways: with apologies for stating the obvious, kids tend to do that. One of the interesting things to come out of the Autism Omnibus testimony was that, when treated with secretin, kids did improve. Those in the placebo group did slightly better (i.e. secretin was worse than useless), but both groups developed.

    Foot baths will play no useful role whatsoever in Braden’s development, but of course the mum may well attribute any gains to whatever snakeoil she’s using at the time.

  7. #7 Joseph
    August 11, 2007

    One of the interesting things to come out of the Autism Omnibus testimony was that, when treated with secretin, kids did improve. Those in the placebo group did slightly better (i.e. secretin was worse than useless), but both groups developed.

    The backstory on Secretin is quite interesting. Bernie Rimland, who started out as a respected researcher in the field and who turned to quackery in his later years, claimed that Secretin was effective in 70% to 75% of cases. Some parents believed it was a cure, plain and simple. And in fact, there were case reports and non-controlled studies that seemed to confirm its considerable effectiveness. But then the double-blind placebo-controlled studies came, many of them. Secretin is truly a historical lesson on the robustness of placebo effects in developmental disabilities and on how misleading studies without proper methodology can be (not to mention anecdotes). For more on this, see Volkmark (1999).

  8. #8 Joseph
    August 11, 2007

    However, you can’t really critcize parent of autistic children all that much. They’ve got no idea why their kids are autistic, no one can really tell them, and there’s just about nothing that can be done, in addition to which the kids are extremely difficult to manage.

    Well, I don’t think parents of autistic children should be immune to criticism. They are not martyrs, really, even though a lot of them seem to campaign to be seen that way. BTW, I am the father of a classically autistic son. While he doesn’t give the kind of trouble you describe (or I simply just don’t perceive it in such a negative way) he can’t be said to be “mildly” autistic, considering that he just turned 6 and does not have functional speech. He’s a happy and beloved kid though. I’m not going to whine about having an autistic son, and I don’t sympathize with those who do.

  9. #9 DuWayne
    August 11, 2007

    I don’t know about direct harm, the child might just enjoy it (though knowing a few autistic children, he may have a very negative reaction), but the gusto with which she has embraced this would lend one to believe that she would embrace just about anything to “cure” her son.

    The more people with autism I get to know, the more that I am convinced that the best thing for the development of autistic children is for parents to accept their child as they are. Making the goal to help their child develop into a functional adult with autism, rather than making the goal to “cure” it, goes a long way toward achieving a goal that can be reached. Whereas trying to cure the autism, can often work against the child’s development. I don’t have anything but anecdotal evidence for that, but it makes sense.

    Certainly the two children that my son plays with, who are autistic, have responded very well to their parents acceptance of who they are. The teen I spend a fair amount of time with, seems to do very well with it. Even the least functional adult with autism I know, manages to make a substantial income, in spite of requiring a lot of care. And as long as he is around people who accept and understand his social dysfunction, he does just fine. Most of the autistic bloggers I have come across, seem to have been raised by parents who, if they wanted to cure their children, at least didn’t let it get in the way of doing everything they could to help their child develop as an autistic.

  10. #10 JohnF
    August 11, 2007

    Reading the comments below the video, this woman posted this two weeks ago:

    “We have just begun Transdermal DMSA which is a Chelator. I look forward to reporting Braden’s results.”

    I hope she doesn’t do any serious harm to her child.

  11. #11 JohnF
    August 11, 2007

    Reading the comments below the video, this woman posted this two months ago:

    “We have just begun Transdermal DMSA which is a Chelator. I look forward to reporting Braden’s results.”

    I hope she doesn’t do any serious harm to her child.

  12. #12 Badger3k
    August 11, 2007

    While there may be no physical harm, JohnF’s comment shows that there is the potential for further harm, especially if she has started chelating. Hopefully this child will not be killed like the others.

  13. #13 Mo LeCule
    August 11, 2007

    Drat, here both my feet are covalent …

  14. #14 Coin
    August 11, 2007

    “I’m not autistic… but my feet are.”

  15. #15 AnnR
    August 11, 2007

    I find the whole thing painful to watch, and not because she is putting her sons’ feet into a modified whirlpool bath.

    I think having a child with these problems has got to be so trying. One day, after he’s had a fancy foot massage, he talks and sings. Who knows, maybe the foot stimulation quieted whatever is preventing him from communicating normally.

    And then it’s over. My heart goes out to her. This is a situation she will worry about until her dying day.

    I”m sure as others have said that acceptance is the key. Today I am thankful that this is not among the things I must learn to accept.

  16. #16 sophia8
    August 11, 2007

    Epsom salt baths? Pah – that’s sooo 19thC! When I recently came out on a forum as having Aspergers, one woman recommended that I try “homeopathic chelation pills”. She was deadly serious.

    And “transdermal chelation”? That’s simply rubbing some smelly gunk on the skin in the expectation that the super-magic seecrit stuff in the gunk will banish the eeevil mercury. It doesn’t do anything, of course, so it won’t do any harm. Physical harm, that is.

  17. #17 jim
    August 11, 2007

    In our homeschooling* group are several “special needs” children. Some are very mild autism, most are just kids that are a little different in some way. (Sometimes, it seems like this. But I digress.)

    A common denominator is how much guilt the parents bestow upon themselves for their child’s perceived difference. Being able to absolve themselves by blaming mercury or seeking out cockamamie “cures” (magnets, chiropractics, weird diets, ionic detoxification, or whatever) is unfortunately tempting for them. At the same time, they’re immune to logic.

    (*No, we’re not right-wing wackos; we just have a lot of masters degrees and want to spend time with our kids.)

  18. #18 kristina
    August 11, 2007

    After every possible “treatment” for autism is suggested and praised, I would not be surprised if the “newest fad” becomes something familiar, like “blame the parents.”

  19. #19 Azkyroth
    August 12, 2007

    However, you can’t really critcize parent of autistic children all that much. They’ve got no idea why their kids are autistic, no one can really tell them, and there’s just about nothing that can be done, in addition to which the kids are extremely difficult to manage. It’s not entirely surprising that Ashley’s prepared to try anything, especially in light of the fact that her critical faculties appear to be about equal to a newt’s.

    Allowing one’s critical faculties to atrophy or remain undeveloped to the point where they’re equal to a newt’s is blameworthy in itself, and absolutely inexcusable when it leads to behaviors dangerous to one’s dependents. Speaking as the parent of a child with mild autism who has been subjected to no snake oil pseudomedical “cures” but who is rapidly becoming able to function competently, if not precisely “normally”, with other humans through behavioral therapy (ABA, for the curious), I strongly disagree that parents who, whether through desperation or not, stop thinking and start reacting when it comes to “helping” their children, should be immune to criticism. Anyone who is not prepared to take responsibility for making intelligent decisions in the best interest of their families, even when upset, should not become a parent.

  20. #20 Patience
    August 12, 2007

    Surely such a movie should be grounds for CPS to at least investigate her? Surely? Please?

  21. #21 Wornout
    August 13, 2007

    I looooove how under her personal profile she lists “ignorance” as the number one thing that bugs her. Oh, the irony…

  22. #22 Jon
    August 14, 2007

    re. homeopathic chelation etc., I’m in two minds when parents (generally seems to be the parents/carers, not the ‘patient’) rave about their benefits. On the one hand, this is nonsense that won’t do any good at all. On the other hand, there’s always the concern that when parents figure out that it’s nonsense they might try something worse.

  23. #23 Save Your
    August 15, 2007

    Hey, she looks pretty good. That counts for something. Would probably have a good TV presence, and that’s what is really important in this modern world.

  24. #24 Prometheus
    August 15, 2007

    “We have just begun Transdermal DMSA which is a Chelator. I look forward to reporting Braden’s results.”

    The good news to that story is that DMSA is not absorbed through the skin to any significant degree, so Braden will not be harmed by it.

    An interesting study back in February (EHP, 2007) discovered that “normal” (i.e. not poisoned with lead) rats who received DMSA developed a long-lasting (probably permanent) cognitive deficit.

    ( http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?tool=pubmed&pubmedid=17384765 )

    This may not be a repeatable finding – so many subtle neurological findings in lab rats are not – but it certainly points up a possible flaw in the “it can’t hurt” argument.

    Prometheus