We may be under water, but our kids aren't

Parents of children with autism often find themselves groaning under the financial burden of the cost of autism treatments. It was not uncommon for parents to borrow from their mortgages when times were good to pay for autism treatment, to the point where now they are “under water”, owing more on their mortgage than the house is worth.

In a recent
Google Autism Alerts, there was an article about a form of autism treatment that treats children with autism as if they have been literally deep under water, directing that they undergo oxygenation treatment in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, in much the same way as scuba divers who surface too quickly are treated for decompression sickness (the “bends”). This controversial treatment for autism is called Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy (HOT) and it is done using similar equipment.

In 2008, I did a comprehensive search of all the
academic data bases looking for new therapies, and HOT did not surface as a treatment (even though it could be found on several websites). In 2011, I did another comprehensive search and found that HOT was gaining a seemingly significant following on the Internet fueled by the media looking for the next miracle cure. In addition, there had been a peer-reviewed academic article published.

Taking an open-minded, but scientifically skeptical approach, what do the data have to offer? Even though autism has not traditionally been conceptualized as a disorder related to oxygen deprivation in the blood, perhaps researchers missed this possibility; it could happen. The HOT people have a theory (that I needn’t belabor) about how oxygen deprivation is implicated in autism. Theories are great; but where’s the data?

Where are the peer-reviewed journal studies providing evidence that this treatment improves the condition of autism? I challenge the inquisitive to google “autism and hyperbaric oxygen therapy”. Delivered up will be a treasure trove of testimonials, you-tube videos, and
mainstream reporters waxing poetic about Hyperbaric Oxygen Therapy. It’s such a warm and fuzzy feeling to have a treatment that doesn’t take a huge amount of work, and can help the little kiddies...

What about the nagging issue of data? I know, I know... it’s boring. Don’t blog about data! Everyone will click away! Sorry, folks, I’ve got no choice.

The data: when one actually looks at the latest
study with the best controls, children with autism show no improvement. No big surprise there; however, it is always worthwhile pursuing impartial evaluation of any purported autism treatment. This brings me back to my three key criteria for evaluating any autism treatment method: Show me the data. Show me the data. Show me the data.