Celebrities and autism "expertise"

I’ve been hearing about recovery from autism due to diet and vitamins for the last 20 years. Every decade there is a new parent advocate pushing the message about the
gluten-free, casein-free diet and vitamin regimen (generally comprised of mega-doses of Vitamin B). The most vocal proponent of parents from this generation is Jenny McCarthy who has very successfully parlayed her celebrity into an amazing amount of publicity for these therapies. McCarthy’s testimonial regarding her son is very powerful; however, testimonials, as I have warned about before, are no substitute for research. Proponents will tell you that there is research; however, the research done on both diets and vitamin therapy is very poor. As is said often casually among researchers: “Garbage In, Garbage Out”. In other words, bad data is worse than no data because bad data motivates people to try therapies that they would otherwise not try. Some argue that there is no “harm” in trying some therapies; however, if the data is misleading, and a child receives therapy outside of a controlled research situation, there is NO way for the parent to know whether the therapy is effective. For years, children are on restrictive diets or on a regimen of mega-doses of vitamins without knowing whether it is the diet, the vitamins or some other influence which may create observed improvements in the child’s condition.

I have a huge amount of respect for parents who advocate on behalf of children with autism; I am simply saddened by all the potential energy and publicity being focused on therapies which are completely experimental at this point.

I’d love to see well-meaning celebrities such as Ms. McCarthy fund high quality, truly independent, research on these various, unsubstantiated treatments. A high quality study conducted by researchers who have NO agenda other than science, would be a valuable contribution to the field of autism treatment since we would be able to know whether diet, and/or vitamin therapy works for even a subset of children on the autism spectrum....