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The Autism Treatment Debate: What Works?

Reported by Kristina Cruise
September 20, 2007

Autism spectrum disorders are difficult to treat. Children often have trouble communicating, socializing and may exhibit unusual behaviors. There are two schools of thought when it comes to treatment -- those that have been clinically proven and those that are alternative.

"We find that there is a huge demand for early intervention services and as the prevalence of autism has grown there just isn't the available services to meet the need," said Michael McKee with the Virginia Institute of Autism

Charlottesville's Virginia Institute of Autism serves 25 full time students year-round with a one-to-one student-teacher ratio, using the clinically approved applied behavior analysis, or ABA.

"We know that everybody responds to positive reinforcement, so we take whatever is reinforcing to them and we break down the skills we want to teach into the smallest compound," said McKee.

ABA has helped 6-year-old Camille Battiston transition to Stone Robinson Elementary School part time with a shadow from VIA.

"She needed to learn how to learn and once she got that under her belt, everything is possible," said Lee Anne Battiston, Camille's mother. 

But what works for one child may not work for the next child and some parents are willing to try just about anything.

"If you told me today that standing on my head in the middle of the street would help my son, I will be there in seconds and I will stand on my head for as long as it takes," said Coy Barefoot, father of an autistic son and author of "A Dad's Guide to Autism." 

Alternative treatments are often performed by Defeat Autism Now doctors. Dr. Eric Rydland is the only DAN doctor in the Charlotteville area. He moved his practice from Florida a few months ago. His methods range from diet to his special herbs to the more controversial.

"The kelation process is removing these heavy metals -- mercury, cadmium, lead -- by chemical processes," stated Dr. Rydland. 

Kelation, or chelation, can be accomplished with diet pills or creams. The thought is that metal from the environment or vaccines can get lodged in a child's brain and body because they can't release them as they are supposed to. Kelation is supposed to rid of that metal.

But Dr. Susan Anderson of the Kluge Children's Rehab Center advises parents against alternative therapies, such as kelation, that haven't been clinically approved.

"Where you are changing the metabolic status of the body and really those things like electrolytes and mineral need to be closely monitored potential of other harmful effects on organs or cases complications such as seizures," said Anderson.

Rydland say that, in the end, the decision is up to the parents. "I think it's a parent's right as long as they been educated and they know what they are talking about. In my practice, people have a heavy dose of education."

"You do everything that you can do and you don't shut the door on anything if it might help your child," insisted Barefoot.

Friday, we will conclude our series by trying to find out if your community is ready for the growing number of autistic children who will become adults.