Health Team

Some use experimental treatment for autism

Posted August 15, 2008 5:45 p.m. EDT
Updated August 15, 2008 9:09 p.m. EDT

Parents of children with autism are calling on researchers to test an unproven and controversial new treatment option.

Andrea Conte is the mother of 8-year-old triplets – Louis, Sam and Thomas. For Sam and Thomas, who have been diagnosed with autism, even small tasks can be difficult.
“The struggle is so hard every day,” Conte said.

However, Conte said that lately, it's been getting easier with the help of alternative therapies, including an unproven treatment called chelation. The children are given a drug that binds to metals in their blood and flushes them out.

“Some of the metals coming out of their body, especially the lead, were just off the charts,” Conte said.

Chelation has long been used to treat lead poisoning, but now some are applying it to autism on the basis of a theory that metals, including mercury from vaccines, contribute to the condition.

“Verbal skills are the first that we see (and) improvements in eye contact, cooperation,” pediatrician Dr. Giuseppina Feingold said.

The strongest dose of chelation is administered through intravenous therapy, but it can also be given orally or through a cream.

Chelation is a relatively new treatment and is very controversial. Insurance does not cover it.

Dr. Barry Kosofsky, a New York neurologist, believes potential side effects like rashes and blood complications are not worth the risk.

“These desperate parents will take money that they often don't have to spend on such therapies, which are experimental at best and likely not to work,” Kosofsky said.

Still, Conte insists she has seen real improvement and that is better than nothing.