Why debunked autism treatment fads persist

By Carol Clark | eScienceCommons | March 2, 2015

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The emotional appeal of facilitated communication is "very powerful and understandable," says psychologist Scott Lilienfeld. "The problem is, it doesn't work."

The communication struggles of children with autism spectrum disorder can drive parents and educators to try anything to understand their thoughts, needs and wants. Unfortunately, specialists in psychology and communication disorders do not always communicate the latest science so well.

These factors make the autism community especially vulnerable to interventions and “therapies” that have been thoroughly discredited, says Scott Lilienfeld, a psychologist at Emory University.

“Hope is a great thing, I’m a strong believer in it,” Lilienfeld says. “But the false hope buoyed by discredited therapies can be cruel, and it may prevent people from trying an intervention that actually could deliver benefits.”

Lilienfeld is lead author of a commentary, “The persistence of fad interventions in the face of negative scientific evidence: Facilitated communication for autism as a case example,” recently published by the journal Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention.

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