Monday, October 08, 2012
Dear Ms. Dador,
Thank you for your news story and subsequent online article, “Aquatic therapy center helps those with autism, open to all” (September 17, 2012). As a single mother of twin boys with autism spectrum disorder, I am always interested in hearing about meaningful recreational experiences for children with autism. Given the risks involved, supervised and safe swimming opportunities are to be applauded.
Nonetheless, I am compelled to respond to your story as I feel you are misrepresenting the benefits aquatic therapy (also called “aquatic physical therapy,” or APT) may have on individuals with autism and that you may be providing false hope for those parents who want to “heal” their children’s autism. The boy featured in this article was reported to have a dual diagnosis of Duchene muscular dystrophy. This condition is not typical of children with autism and the vast majority are completely ambulatory.
Most of us would agree that being in warm water does provide a calming effect - regardless of whether one has autism or not – but there is no scientific evidence that APT heals the symptoms of autism. Perhaps the soothing effect may linger on for awhile after being out of the water; however, the effects are likely short-term and there is no published research to date that suggests otherwise. As a parent, I do not want to be bombarded with “theories” about why warm water therapy works; rather, I would like to be assured that there are objective data to demonstrate those claims.
As a result of your story, three unfortunate consequences may arise:
1. First, due to the lack of scientific research proving that aquatic therapy provides long-term healing effects, you have misled parents who may do nearly anything in their power to improve their child’s autism.
2. Second, because APT can be very expensive, parents who may already be in a financial hardship will be struggling even more to provide this type of “therapy” for their child. For those parents who believe APT will heal their child but cannot afford the treatment, you may have contributed a sense of remorse to their already stressful life (“I am not doing what I should be doing to help my child.”).
3. And third, for those who can afford it, these families will pay an enormous amount of money for something they feel will provide long-term benefits to their child. Even though providing small relief to children struggling with autism is a good thing, these children may not, as a result, be receiving scientifically-validated therapies they need, such as applied behavior analysis (ABA).
Although I am sure this was not done intentionally, please be more mindful when bringing such a story to the public. The life of families who have a child with autism, or any disabled child for that matter, is more demanding, hectic, and stressful than many parents of typical children can imagine. The inability to heal your suffering child is a feeling that is indescribable. Providing false hope to parents about a so-called “therapy” which will provide no long-term benefits is careless and negligent.
Dena Russell, MS
Board Member, Association for Science in Autism Treatment
Read More at http://abclocal.go.com/.../your_health&id=8814192