Day #299 – Getting ‘Better’ Part 1

So many times over the past ten years I have been thankful that we exist in this time period.

Why?  Read on…I’m about to give you a brief history of ‘treating’ children on the spectrum. To begin with – I’m not a fan of using the word ‘treatment’ because that supposes that something is inherently wrong – but MANY folks use some type of treatment plan to help their children experience better integration with their neurotypical peers.

During the 1950’s researches believed that the cause of autism was the mother’s.  No, I’m not joking.  Yes, I would have punched someone in the throat.  Okay, maybe not…I am a peace-loving creature.  However, I would have thought about punching someone in the throat.  Because of this belief a leading researcher would remove children from the parents for a long period of time.  It was often termed a ‘parentectomy.’  (Herbert – see below).

I teach college students and while I would recommend the ‘parentectomy’ for many of our students, they are 18+ years old.


Between 1960-1965 scientists used LSD as a treatment for autism.  No, I’m not joking.  Bender and colleagues (see below) tried using LSD as a treatment by giving a daily maintenance dose. The children were observed to be overall happier and were in an improved mood after being given the drug.  Huh, no kidding.  Happier after being given a psychedelic drug?  Weird.

During the course of the late 1960’s until the late 1970’s electric shock therapy was used. Shock ’em!  No, I’m not joking. Children stopped negative behaviors when they would receive a shock.  It was believed for quite some time that the positive of this treatment simply outweighed the negative – therefore an acceptable ‘treatment.’ How original…and Pavlovian…

None of these ideas sound awesome.  To me there is a major issue will all of these – these ‘treatments’ suppose that something is ‘wrong’ with our children on the spectrum.  I often wonder about this reversal of fortune, who gets to designate that something is wrong?  Just because someone doesn’t think, act, or behave like me – does that mean they are wrong?

Again – it’s the issue I have with the line.  What and where is the balance?

I don’t know and am not sure anyone does…over the next few days I’m going to cover some of the current ‘treatments’ used to reduce the effects of autism.

Electroconvulsive Therapy

Obviously, this is a fairly controversial treatment.  A study (Wachtel – see below) found that this therapy helped an eight year old autistic boy. The boy had severe self-destructive behaviors in which he had to be restrained for his own safety.  The authors wrote that, “After the administration of the ECT three times a week for five weeks the child showed major improvements. The boy’s self injurious behaviors decreased from 109.3 per hour to 19.4 per hour.” The therapy may have been helpful in this case but is no longer widely used.

Diet Therapy

Remember when Jenny McCarthy declared that her son, Evan, was recovering from autism by a ‘gluten-free, casein-free diet, vitamin supplementation, detox of metals, and anti-fungals for yeast overgrowth that plagued his intestines?’  She claimed that after this diet was combined with speech therapy and applied behavior analysis that he quickly relearned skills that he could not learn while ‘frozen in autism.

Obviously, this fired quite a few people up.  Regardless – it happened and many believe there is validity in this type of diet.  In one study when gluten and casein were removed from the diets of 149 autistic children they saw improvements in three months (Elder – see below).  In this preliminary study parents noted improvements in behavior and language.

Holding Therapy

Just a note before you read on.  When I first read the title holding therapy…I thought, ‘Oh that sounds lovely. I may need holding therapy too.’

It’s not lovely – but some people do believe in it (I’m just not one of those people).

Holding therapy is a treatment for autism developed by Martha Welch (Foxx – see below).  It is not backed evidence. The process is to physically restrain a child and force them to make eye contact with caretakers.  This ‘therapy’ is based on two ideas.

  1. Parentectomy.  Forcefully requiring the child to make eye contact would fix the ‘broken’ relationship between child and parent.
  2. That the ‘problem’ can be fixed when the child is physically controlled (er…manipulated) by an adult.

Now – you have read my words when referring to how Tucker likes to be squeezed/hugged tightly and how that helps to calm his senses.  That is VERY different from holding therapy.  Temple Grandin actually developed a squeeze machine that provided this body pressure without anyone actually touching her (because she disliked the contact).

The squeeze machine and Tucker’s ‘taco wraps’ are  under the control of their own person.  Holding therapy is an adult asserting their physical strength in an attempt to control the child.

More of the current therapies tomorrow!

Bender, L., Goldschmidt, L., & Siva, D.V. (1962). LSD-25 helps schizophrenic children. American Druggist, 146(13), 33. Retrieved from

Herbert, J.D., Sharp, I.R., & Gaudiano, B.A. (2002). Separating fact from fiction in the etiology and treatment of autism. The Scientific Review of Mental Health Practices, 1(1), 1-35. Retrieved from

Elder, J.H., Shanker, M., Shuster, J., Theriaque, D., Burns, S., & Sherrill, L. (2006). The grluten-free, casein-free diet in autism: Results of a preliminary double blind clinical trial. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 36(3), 413-420. doi:10.1007/s10803-006-0079-0

Foxx, R., Glenn, S., Green, G., Jacobson, J., Lee, L., Lesto, S., Maurice, J., Niederberger, S., Perry, L., Romanczyk, R., Shook, G., & Taylor, B. (1999). ASAT supports proven treatments and informed choice. Science in Autism Treatment, 1(2), 1-14. Retrieved from

Mercer, J. (2009, September 17). Re: Child myths: Holding therapy and autism. Retrieved from

Wachtel, L.E., Conntrucci-Kuhn, S.A., Griffin, M., Thompson, A., Dhossche, D.M., & Reti, I.M. (2009). ECT for self-injury in an autistic boy. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, 18, 458-463. doi: 10.1007/s00787-009-0754-8

7 thoughts on “Day #299 – Getting ‘Better’ Part 1

  1. Pingback: Day #300 – Getting ‘Better’ – Part 2 | 366 Days of Autism

  2. Pingback: Day #302 – Getting ‘Better’ – Part 3 | 366 Days of Autism

  3. Pingback: Day #327 – Indexing | 366 Days of Autism

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s