This story dangles hope of recovery in front of parents of children diagnosed with autism. Indeed, the word "hope" is invoked four times. However, the story provides neither evidence that the therapy program is responsible for the improvement in the featured patient nor any details of how this intervention differs from standard therapies used to manage the symptoms of autism.
To be fair, the hook for this story is a research study that is still underway. Both the reporter and the featured researcher point out that not only is there no evidence that this intervention can produce a recovery from autism, but that it has yet to be documented that recovery through any specfic therapeutic intervention is even possible. Nevertheless, by featuring a child who lost the ability to speak, was then diagnosed with autism, but after embarking on an intensive regimen of therapy is now "indistinguishable from his peers," the story creates an indelible impression that the therapy produced a full recovery.
While the reporter notes that "skeptics" say recovery from autism is impossible, the only scientist interviewed in this story claims that some children she has examined have recovered. In addition, the mother of the featured patient is presented as an expert who wrote a book about autism and that the experience of her child is "living proof" that recovery is possible. What’s more, the physician-reporter advises parents of children diagnosed with autism to use early intervention that is intense, apparently endorsing the actions taken by the parents of the featured patient.
Although the story does include some caveats about the preliminary nature of the research into this variety of autism therapy, in her final remarks the reporter drowns any caution by calling the therapy program an "extraordinary glimmer of hope" with "real science behind it." The only science mentioned in the story is testing to document improvements in some children with autism, but the clear impression is that there is proof the intervention produced those improvements, even though no such evidence is provided.
No cost information is provided, although it appears to be a long-term intensive intervention that would incur substantial expense. The story does not mention whether health care insurance generally would or would not cover this type of therapy.
A researcher said that children her team evaluated "really were autistic and now they really are recovered." The story said the percentage of patients who recover is small, though the degree and rate of response were not provided.
Other than saying the intervention required hard work, potential harms of treatment were not discussed.
While the story pointed out that a study of the featured variety of autism intervention has yet to produce results, and a quote from the researcher claimed only that the patient no longer fit the definition of autism, without saying the intervention produced the improvement, viewers were then presented with an emotional statement from the patient’s mother giving the intervention full credit for her child’s improvement.
The story does stress that parents should get a reliable diagnosis of autism before considering a therapy program. It also points out that the autism label encompasses a broad range of behaviors and characteristics.
However, while the story says parents should "go to the right people" in order to get a child evaluated, it does not offer any information about how to determine who "the right people" are.
No independent sources were quoted. The reporter merely made reference to unnamed skeptics. There is no information about whether the researcher quoted has any relationship to the intervention.
The story said children who have been given a diagnosis of autism receive multiple therapies, but it did not provide any details about what the alternative therpies are or whether any provide benefits.
The story implies that the program used by the featured family is generally available, but it does not offer any details of what the program entails nor does it provide any specific information about how to locate any practitioners other than the researchers named in the piece.
No details about the components of this specific intervention were presented, so it is impossible to determine whether or not the treatment is novel or merely involves an intensive form of standard therapies applied to children diagnosed with autism.
With only a single source, we could have suspicions – but can’t prove – that it was influenced to a large degree by a news release. But without proof we can’t rule it unsatisfactory. But we certainly can’t rule it satisfactory either.