Evidence-based versus non evidence-based

It’s a painful reality that, just at a time when families need a clear and well-signposted path to follow, they are met with confusing and often contradictory messages on how best to help and support their child.

Whilst almost everyone agrees that early intervention is the most important thing to get started after an early diagnosis of ASD, that’s where the agreement seems to end.

You will find all sorts of people claiming all sorts of things. And, in amongst the mix, there are hefty doses of snake oil and downright dangerous ‘treatments.’

It’s just not fair!

Google ‘autism cure’ and you will find plenty of articles to read.

Try to find a child who is actually ‘cured’ and you will be struggling.

Look for a family whose lives have improved dramatically once given meaningful support, and you will find many.

Look for a school student doing well at school, not needing any support, and you can also find many.

Look for a family whose child or children are affected profoundly and who live a happy life, you will find plenty.

Our children don’t need to be cured, they need to be loved and supported!

But to get back on topic….

Evidence-based means that there has been some research to prove cause and effect.

Whilst many treatments claim to have evidence to prove they work, in many cases, there actually has not been robust, top level research done.

Top level research means trials which are randomised, double-blind and placebo-controlled. These sorts of trials are very hard to do, expensive and take a long time.

Research into treatments of all sorts is being done right now, but the results can be painfully slow.


It can be very confusing and confronting too when one paediatrician says that a treatment shouldn’t be done because there’s no evidence, then for example a naturopath says it’s important for your child.

You must realise that most traditional medical professionals will only recommend treatments which have robust evidence. They have to, it would be against their ethical training to do otherwise.

Mainstream medicos can be very much against alternative treatments because they have seen patients waste a great deal of time and money. They may also have treated children who have been harmed by alternative treatments.

The Good News Stories and the Bad News Stories

You will hear lots of good news stories both from parents and from alternative practitioners. Stories are very compelling, persuasive, powerful.

But you need to realise that parents and alternative practitioners tend NOT to mention the bad news stories:

The kids with low bone density and even broken bones because their milk-free diet never included enough calcium.

The child who has never been the same after undergoing round of chelation therapy

Because there are few medical treatments that assist children with autism, a huge alternative area has flourished.

When effective treatments both educational (early intervention) and medical are more widely available, then these non-effective treatments will be less appealing.

They’ll be edged out by treatments that are truly individualised for your child.

Until then, do try to keep a level head. If a treatment seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Your child is a child, not a problem that needs to be cured. Their autism is part of who they are but it’s not all of them.

Your child’s problems and difficulties can be treated and they can be improved. Family life can be made easier.

You don’t need to risk your child’s health to get there.

Helpful resources

Beware of non evidence based treatments – Autism Science Foundation

Fad therapies and supports for autistic children – Raising Children Network