Autism and pseudoscience
|Style over substance|
Autism is a neurodevelopmental condition or disorder that manifests in early childhood and is marked by impaired social interaction, impaired communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior. The more serious types of autism are undeniably severely disabling.
Over recent years autism has attracted much attention from the crank and quack community. These individuals have been preying on the parents of autistic children and making a fortune peddling their false cures, theories, and therapies. This page is for the collection and collaboration of information at RationalWiki about this topic in our effort to shed light on the ideas, people, and current events surrounding the pseudoscience community and autism.
 Why has autism attracted so many quacks and cranks?
Even a topical reading of the rhetoric from the leading lights among the false-hope peddlers indicates that most of these people do not care about autism so much as they detest the entire idea of compulsory vaccination; the purported autism/vaccine link is just an excuse for these cranks to complain.
People with fringe ideas are after two things, money, and someone to give their ideas recognition. People in desperate situations who are told by the "establishment" that there is no hope are prime for manipulation. Parents of autistic children are in just such a category. They are desperate, helpless and want to help their children. Many will then fall victim to the people who use them as a vehicle to push an anti-vaccination agenda.
Autism itself carries several things with it that make it more susceptible to cranks and quacks. Autism usually doesn't manifest itself in detectable symptoms until after the first year of life. This means many parents believe their child was totally "normal" and then, at around one year of age, suddenly changed. While this is not actually what happens, the perception is real. The subtlety of this is lost on most people who search for the "cause" of what went wrong, and instead of looking at the beginning of development, they look for things that occurred right around the time of diagnosis. There are plenty of things that happen around the first year of life, and this leads many people to make the jump from correlation to causation.
Also, the definition of autism has become more encompassing (the "Asperger's Syndrome" complex), diagnosis is getting better, and the focus on diagnosis is stronger; at the same time, the growth of industries such as information technology has drawn many slightly autistic couples into close proximity: "Guys who might never have had a prayer of finding a kindred spirit suddenly discover that she's hacking Perl scripts in the next cubicle." The former has led to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism, while the latter has led, possibly, to an increase in the number of actually autistic children. All of this combines to lead people to believe there is an increasing "epidemic" of autism and that it's being caused by an external environmental toxin that the children are exposed to around their first year. None of this is true; our understanding of what autism is and how it emerges is increasing exponentially. All of the evidence points towards a genetic/developmental cause, and none of the environmental causes pushed by quacks and cranks have ever demonstrated any convincing evidence.
 Upset parents
Some ardent activists are upset parents angrily demanding an explanation from the world. This is more tragic than evil. Though some examples, such as Jenny McCarthy, have done so much objective harm that the point of motivation is moot. Sincerity makes them much more persistent than the typical woo-peddler, however.
 False therapies and cures
 Autism and vaccines
 Major players
- Mark Geier and David Geier
- Rashid Buttar
- Robert Kennedy, Jr.
- Marcel Kinsbourne
- Andrew Wakefield
- Bad Pharma