The Times Colonist has an article on yesterday's Autism Canada conference and its focus on treating autism as a whole body medical illness. Speakers included Dr. Derrick MacFabe of the UWO team which recently released its findings on proprionic acid and Dr. Martha Herbert of the Harvard Medical School. Much of the article though focused on Dr. Wendy Edwards, a Southern Ontario pediatrician whose son was diagnosed with autism at age 3. The message at the conference as summarized by the Times Colonist is that autism is a full body illness and is not limited to the brain.
Dr. Edwards advocates the use of biomedical treatments in addition to applied behaviour analysis in treating autism. She recommends diets aimed at eliminating toxins and reducing digestive tract inflammation and describes some elements of such diets including melatonin, antioxidants and the GF-CF free diet. Dr. Edwards acknowledges that her biomedical recommendations are not supported by scientific study but questions whether parents should wait while the studies are done:
"Why not do what we feel is working while we wait for the study to prove or disprove it? If we're not out there doing all these things and telling the researchers 'What about this?' the research won't get done."
There are good arguments against the use of experimental treatments for autism or any other medical condition. Financial resources are not unlimited, special diets can often add expense to a family budget already stretched tight particularly if the family is already strapped by the expense of paying for ABA, which although not curing autism, is an evidence based effective health and education intervention. Experimental treatments can also waste time and morale both of which are valuable to a family trying to help their child. Further, some seemingly innocuous interventions might in fact have unforeseen and possibly harmful effects on a child.
Still, if a family can afford the interventions, consults with physicians and does not get their hopes too high, it is difficult to see why they shouldn't try interventions backed by anecdotal evidence of other parents some of whom like Dr. Edwards are also pediatricians themselves. Especially if they do not forgo evidence based interventions in order to try experimental approaches. The UWO Proprionic Acid study grew out of parental observations. Although all parents are not also medical professionals like Dr. Edwards, they are the front line observers of their children's condition.