The Autism Recovery Hoax
Many of these parents appear to be sincere, unlike the hucksters who tout their endorsements. However, their claims reflect a basic misconception of how an autism diagnosis is made. Quite simply put, it is not possible under the DSM-IV criteria to have a "trace" of autism. The diagnosis requires a showing of significant impairment in certain identified social and communicative behaviors. Therefore, if a child or adult has autistic characteristics but does not have (in a clinical psychologist's subjective judgment) any significant problems associated with those characteristics, the psychologist will conclude that he or she is not autistic.
Indeed, because many autistic adults have become familiar enough with society's narrow behavioral expectations to be able to blend in (at least superficially) with the majority population, it is often extremely difficult for a psychologist to diagnose an autistic adult. Some psychologists will not even attempt to diagnose an adult unless he or she comes to the evaluation accompanied by a parent or another older relative who can accurately describe his or her childhood development.
The flaws in this diagnostic approach are pretty obvious. It's basically the equivalent of identifying a young girl as female based on evidence of significant female behaviors such as playing with Barbie dolls, and then declaring her to be miraculously recovered from her gender when she outgrows the Barbies.
Yes, there are many parents of so-called recovered children who have in fact seen significant changes in their children's behavior over a few years. To a large extent, these changes are attributable to the natural process of maturation. Just as girls outgrow playing with Barbies, autistic children outgrow behaviors like jumping on the couch and climbing on the furniture. Children also develop better language skills over time.
Some changes also may be related to psychological factors in the family. That is, if the parents react to the autism diagnosis with shock and despair, the child is likely to become very anxious as a result of observing the parents' distress and probably will have more behavioral issues because of that anxiety. If the parents then become convinced that they have found a wonder cure and that everything will be just fine, the overall level of anxiety in the household will decrease greatly, and the child's behavior will improve just because he or she is no longer feeling as stressed.
On occasion, alternative diets do have beneficial effects. Gluten intolerance and lactose intolerance are both fairly common in the general population. If an autistic child who happens to have one of these conditions is put on the popular GFCF diet, the child's digestion will improve, and he or she probably will behave better as a result of feeling better. This doesn't mean that the child is no longer on the autistic spectrum, however; it simply means that he or she is a healthy and happy autistic child.
A biomed enthusiast or behaviorism supporter may ask, perhaps, whether it really makes any difference if a child is described as "recovered" or as an autistic child who has developed a socially accepted set of behaviors. In either case, they may say, aren't we talking about the same positive outcome? Does it really matter what language is used?
The difference is, of course, that using the word "recovery" implies that autism is a disease. This in turn implies that autistic people are damaged, that the autistic way of being is inherently flawed, that it is not possible to be both healthy and autistic, and that (as Autism Speaks would have it) the entire autistic population ought to be eradicated.
There's also a subtler set of implications. When social conformity is equated with neurological health, the objective of "recovery" then becomes conformity for its own sake; just looking normal (whatever that may mean), rather than developing truly useful life strategies, is the ultimate goal. Instead of valuing diversity and helping every child to find a niche based on individual strengths and interests, we end up crushing an ever-widening array of human differences as our society lurches toward Camazotz. Becoming socially accepted, regardless of what is lost in the process, should not be assumed to be a positive outcome.
And then, of course, there's the implication that the hucksters want to create when they speak of "recovered" children: that autism is a tragic disease, and therefore if you are a loving parent, you'll gladly go into debt to pay for the latest and greatest miracle cure. If they honestly acknowledged the simple fact that autistic children mature over time, they wouldn't be able to stampede so many parents into buying unproven and possibly dangerous products and services.
Parents—don't be fooled by this hoax!