Pseudoscience in Autism Treatment

Autism Treatment Awareness and Avoiding the Psuedoscience. Sound scientific research supports early intensive behavioral intervention.

Pseudoscience in Autism Treatment Unfortunately, pseudoscience in autism treatment is far too common. Because so little is known about the causes and so many people are interested in finding “cures,” plenty of companies are anxious to target this growing market. Numerous claims are made about treatments that vary widely—from dolphin therapy to hyperbaric oxygen chambers.

That’s not to say that certain treatments haven’t helped a few people, or that those offering such treatments intend any ill will. Unfortunately, there is seldom if ever any sound research to back it up and the harmful side effects are not always discussed.

The following list has been adapted from the American Arthritis Foundation and originally printed in Science in Autism Treatment, Spring 1999.

Warning signs of pseudoscientific therapies:

  • High “success” rates are claimed.
  • Rapid effects are promised.
  • The therapy is said to be effective for many symptoms or disorders.
  • The “theory” behind the therapy contradicts objective knowledge (and sometimes, common sense).
  • The therapy is said to be easy to administer, requiring little training or expertise.
  • Other, proven treatments are said to be unnecessary, inferior, or harmful.
  • Promoters of the therapy are working outside their area of expertise.
  • Promoters benefit financially or otherwise from adoption of the therapy.
  • Testimonials, anecdotes, or personal accounts are offered in support of claims about the therapy’s effectiveness, but little or no objective evidence is provided.
  • Catchy, emotionally appealing slogans are used in marketing the therapy.
  • Belief and faith are said to be necessary for the therapy to “work.”
  • Skepticism and critical evaluation are said to make the therapy’s effects evaporate.
  • Promoters resist objective evaluation and scrutiny of the therapy by others.
  • Negative findings from scientific studies are ignored or dismissed.
  • Critics and scientific investigators are often met with hostility, and are accused of persecuting the promoters, being “close-minded,” or having some ulterior motive for “debunking” the therapy. (

Increasing Autism Treatment Awareness
In recent years there has been a dramatic increase in autism awareness, no doubt due to the increase in diagnosis as well as the media coverage. However, we still have far to go, especially with regard to looking for and recognizing signs of autism in very young children to the ever-critical early intervention can begin.

At The Lovaas Center, we’re interested in increasing autism treatment awareness as well as autism awareness. Although sound scientific research supports early intensive behavioral intervention, there are many—far too many—alternative autism treatments that people have heard of but may not realize they’re ineffective or even harmful. We encourage you to examine a variety of reliable sources in order to learn more about autism treatments—those that are effective as well as those that are not. Then please, share with others what you have learned.