by Leane Scoz
Autism is a developmental disorder defined by impairment in social interaction and communication, and the presence of repetitive or unusual behavior and interests. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 1 in 150 children under the age of 8 have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). With a cure yet to be found, parents of autistic children are seeking alternative treatments over the limited conventional treatments currently available.
Chelation is one alternative therapy gaining rapid popularity among the autistic population. The unproven treatment, which removes heavy metals from the body, is believed to help children with autism by removing levels of mercury from the body. According to a recent CBS News article, the theory behind the treatment stems from the believe that mercury in vaccines triggers autism.
Since this theory has never been scientifically proven and mercury (thimerosal) has been discontinued in childhood vaccines since 2001, scientists believe the proposed government study to test chelation treatment on autistic children is unethical and dangerous. Many parents of autistic children disagree and are even resorting to using chelation without results from a study to prove whether it is beneficial or not. In fact, CBS News reports the proposed study is on hold due to safety concerns after an animal study linked the treatment to lasting brain problems in rats.
The concerns are certainly not without merit since a 5-year-old autistic boy died after undergoing chelation therapy in 2005 and hundreds of lawsuits are currently underway because of the effects of chelation therapy. However, parents of autistic children are not deterred. An estimated 3,000 autistic children in the United States participate in chelation treatment at any given time. Some children are under the care of a physician during treatment and others under the care of their parents since chelation therapy can be done with a variety of over-the-counter dietary supplements.
Parents of autistic children simply want answers. They want their children to live a normal life, free of a developmental disorder. If regulated medicine can not provide them with the answers they are seeking, they have not choice but to resort to alternative treatments, such as chelation. But, at what cost? Is it really worth putting your child's health and well-being in danger in the hopes of possibly finding an answer? It is an ethical question autistic parents will struggle with until a cure for autism is discovered.