Autism is a condition with no medically known cause or cure. This leads some parents of children on the spectrum to search for unconventional methods to alleviate its traits, including most recently the false idea that the digestion of bleach and other harmful chemicals will “heal” autism.
According to an NBC article on the topic, one of the most coveted substances for parents searching for an autism cure is chlorine dioxide, a dangerous mixture that is highly similar to bleach. As the article describes, this chemical is best known commercially as Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), and it’s marketed as a cure not only for autism, but also for diseases such as cancer, AIDS, and malaria, among others. A recent piece published by the Association for Science in Autism Treatment (ASAT) states unequivocally that these claims have no evidence to back them up: “Besides reliance on testimonials (which are often used by promoters of fad treatments), there are no controlled research studies on this treatment due to significant risk of harm to the participants.”
The piece from ASAT urges consumers to “identify the quality of evidence behind a given treatment,” rather than trusting the claims of those that are peddling the products. Unfortunately, resources on the apparent “miracles” of consuming these potentially lethal substances are readily available to those who are searching for them, leading to the children’s safety being put at risk by their own parents.
A recent influx of outrage at these false claims has shone a spotlight on the failure of online giants like YouTube, Facebook, and Amazon to effectively manage the spread of misinformation on their platforms. According to a Rolling Stone article, an investigation found that simply typing “autism” into the YouTube search engine would lead users to videos detailing the “wonders” of MMS. Private Facebook groups allow for parents subscribing to this dangerous methodology to share tips and results with each other. Guide books meant for teaching parents of autistic children why and how to feed their children bleach and other toxic substances are available for sale on Amazon. Articles that have exposed these phenomena have prompted websites to initiate efforts to remove content that encourages these harmful practices.
Despite the warnings issued against these unsafe “cures” and now a closer monitoring of content by the websites, the current “whack-a-mole style of enforcement” that the NBC news article describes as being used by YouTube and Facebook does not seem to be having any permanent effects. As NBC’s piece explains, content is deleted but the accounts posting it are not, meaning that no long-term solutions are put into place.
Some frustrated and concerned individuals are even choosing to infiltrate the Facebook groups that are designated for discussing these autism “cures” on their own, in an attempt to report the child abuse they witness in the contents of the posts and the comments. Emma Dalmayne, self-advocate and mother of children on the spectrum, is one of these individuals. “The problem is if you manage to get one knocked down, it reopens the next day but it goes secret,” Dalmayne said in the NBC news article.
Parents and others should exercise caution when researching unconventional and experimental treatments for medical conditions online. ASAT recommends that consumers attempt to avoid pseudoscience in favor of scientifically validated treatments by prioritizing the presence of objective evidence in the product’s results.
OAR’s A Parent’s Guide to Research is a valuable resource designed to train parents to become informed and savvy consumers by providing them with the tools to properly evaluate the validity of information available to them.