Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Autism Pro and Autism Self Promotion

There is nothing wrong with self promotion. It is a necessary element of survival and progress in the real world. When self promotion arises in respect of a product aimed at providing health and education interventions for children with a serious neurological disorder like autism though it is critically important that self promotion be accompanied by a proven effective and reliable product. Autism Pro is a product offered by Virtual Experts Clinic a New Brunswick based company, despite its CEO's Aussie origins, which is an aggressive and astute self promoter. It's PR releases and web page are a compliment to VEC's Public Relations staff. The web site, in particular, is pretty as can be, with soft reassuring purple colors, icons with nice rounded corners, very stylish stuff. There is no doubt that AutismPro is very good at Autism Self Pro-motion. But what of the products it sells?

On that very important element the concerns that I have expressed since being exposed to Autism Pro in its conceptual stages remain and are in fact compounded by AutismPro's aggressive expansion into the area of training teachers and aides who work with autistic children. My concerns include delivery of an eclectic mix of interventions, including non-evidence based interventions, and to a lack of accountability for the results of product use. The expansion into education training has taken place, to my knowledge, without completion of research trials underway in respect of the primary Autism Pro product offered to families with autistic children. Education departments are now being solicited to purchase the AutismPro for Educators product even before completion of the research trials on the basic product.

"Dr Holden is currently undertaking a research trial consisting of 46 families across Ontario, including 63 adult care providers and 52 children aged 2 to 9, using AutismPro. The study is being done in partnership with Autism Ontario and Autism Spectrum Disorder - Canadian American Research Consortium (ASD - CARC) out of Queen's University. Participants have been provided with a one year subscription to the program."

AutismPro, Press Release, December 12, 2006

Dr. Holden is a respected autism expert in Canada. She is also an AutismPro research partner. She has already gone on public record as supporting AutismPro and the inter-net as a means of delivering autism interventions. Given her existing opinion, publicly stated, her objectivity in conducting the research trials is open to question. In the meantime I have seen no publicity notices or research articles from VEC or Dr Holden announcing the results of the "research trials". Yet, education departments, ever on the look out for cheap solutions to the demands for education of autistic students, and easily impressed by the glamor and ease of an inter-net solution, will likely be willing customers, particularly when some of the public servants deciding how education staff will be trained are predisposed to technological solutions and lack basic understanding of autism and autism interventions.

Virtual Experts Clinic is good at promoting AutismPro. But is it promoting the best interests of autistic students? Unfortunately, there is no evidentiary basis with which to answer that question.

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