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research & Development

The Search for the Magic Pill

The Search for Magic PillsWith almost any intervention, you will find some child that was helped by that particular approach. The problem is finding an approach that consistently works, especially in difficult cases. Our experience has made us acutely aware that medical and therapeutic trends are more often than not sparked by these unique isolated cases—from there develops a tendency to believe that a magic pill exists and this, unfortunately, is driven by prospects of financial gain.

We can look at the history of the use of secretin in the treatment of autism as an example. In 1998 a study was published reporting the amelioration in the symptoms of 3 children with autism who were given secretin.10 The results of this study were publicized on a television show, making secretin a highly sought after treatment for autism. Everyone was searching for the “magic pill” and it seemed to have been discovered. As the years passed, however, and after many children underwent treatment with secretin, it became evident that secretin was not the cure for autism; parents and children were left emotionally and financially hurt.

Numerous research studies failed to find any benefit from secretin. One study from 2011 concludes that secretin is not an effective treatment for autism; it is so ineffective that further studies into the use of secretin in autism are unwarranted. 11

The Risk of Harm

SupplementsIt is interesting to note that one of the main reasons parents turn to complementary and alternative medicine is because of their concerns with the safety and side effects of prescribed medications.12 Their concerns are warranted since the drugs that are given to deal with the various symptoms are an added toxicity for the system, resulting in additional metabolic disturbances and allergic reactions.

What most parents are not aware of, however, is that supplements and other alternative therapies are not free of risk. A “…review of 284 charts of children seen at the Regional Autism Center of The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, found that more than 30% of children were using some CAM [Complementary and Alternative Medicine], and that 9% were using potentially harmful CAM.”13

If you give too much of anything there is always a risk of damage—overdosing on supplements or nutrition can trigger complications in the already complicated metabolic functioning of the body. Great care must be taken to not overload the system with supplements and drugs to try to palliate the system; they can actually work in a destabilizing way. The consequences can be as tragic as death; one child has died during treatment by chelation with EDTA—A five-year-old boy with autism died in front of his mother during his third chelation round in August of 2005.14

The following, taken from the Chicago Tribune’s series “Dubious Medicine,” illustrates this point nicely:

“Thousands of U.S. children undergo these therapies and many more at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat, or "recover," children with autism, a disorder most physicians and scientists say they cannot yet explain or cure.

But after reviewing thousands of pages of court documents and scientific studies and interviewing top researchers in the field, the Tribune found that many of these treatments amount to uncontrolled experiments on vulnerable children.

The therapies often go beyond harmless New Age folly, the investigation found. Many are unproven and risky, based on scientific research that is flawed, preliminary or misconstrued.

Laboratory tests used to justify therapies are often misleading and misinterpreted. And though some parents fervently believe their children have benefited, the Tribune found a trail of disappointing results from the few clinical trials to evaluate the treatments objectively…

"They really should be seeing treatment of patients with unproven therapies as dangerous experimentation," said pediatrician Dr. Steven Goodman, a clinical trial expert at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics.

Many parents who try alternative therapies cite an analogy popularized by a luminary of the movement, a physician who wrote a book on recovering children from autism. They say they feel as if their child has jumped off a pier. Science hasn't proved that throwing a life preserver will save the child, but they have a duty to try, right?

Critics say that's the wrong way to think about it. "How do they know the life preserver is made of cork and not lead? That is the issue," said Dr. Richard Mailman, a neuropharmacologist at Penn State University.

"However desperate you are, you don't want to throw your child a lead life preserver."15


NeuroplasticityAre any of these nutritional supplements, special diets, and other complementary and alternative therapies curing the condition? Are any of the benefits of CAM treatments long lasting? Giving supplements and diet is treating symptomatically; if you stop them the problems return. At NACD we believe we need to provide enough nutrition and supplementation so that the body has the optimal resources to be able to undergo the therapeutic process in which permanent change can take place. What allows us to permanently improve the functioning of children with neurodevelopmental issues is neuroplasticity – we can change how the brain performs.

Doctors and scientists once believed, and it was commonly accepted, that the brain was fixed and unchanging – “People who were born with brain or mental limitations, or who sustained brain damage, would be limited or damaged for life.” Fortunately, scientists have proven that the brain is indeed malleable. They were able to show

 “that the brain changed its very structure with each different activity it performed, perfecting its circuits so it was better suited to the task at hand. If certain “parts” failed, then other parts could sometimes take over…They showed that children are not always stuck with the mental abilities they are born with; that the damaged brain can often reorganize itself so that when one part fails, another can often substitute; that if brain cells die, they can at times be replaced; that many “circuits” and even basic reflexes that we think are hardwired are not. One of these scientists even showed that thinking, learning, and acting can turn our genes on or off, thus shaping our brain anatomy and our behavior.”16

At NACD we use neuroplasticity to our advantage. We strive to change the brain’s function; as the brain becomes healthier we find that the physiology improves as well.

NACD is, and has for 30 years been, an eclectic organization that is philosophically driven not methodology driven. NACD’s philosophy based on neuroplasticity acknowledges that the more specific and individualized the intervention, the greater the potential for assisting the children in achieving their innate potential.

“Everyone working to help a child must operate with a philosophy that we can always do better and that we can never do it all well enough.” – Mr. Robert Doman, Jr.


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Disclaimer: None of the information presented here should be considered medical advice. While we believe the information contained in the site to be accurate, we are not in a position to provide independent verification. No medical treatment should be attempted for any child without the advice of a physician who thoroughly understands the developmental issues, physiological function, and developmental and medical history of the child, and who has thorough input from and consultation with the family.

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