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As Autism Web Sites Boom, Experts Urge Caution
Date:5/25/2010

elpful information, but there is a lot of misinformation online as well," Reichow said. "When using it to gain online health information, parents need to be cautious."

The desire to help their children and the lack of mainstream medical treatments for autism drives parents to seek alternatives, according to Dr. Paul Law, director of Kennedy Krieger Institute's Interactive Autism Network.

"You don't see lots of ideas for how to treat ear infections, because the treatment for that is well established," Law said. In contrast, "there are very few autism-based treatments that the field agrees on, so we don't have complete answers for those who are suffering from autism," he said. "That naturally triggers families to seek answers."

For most of what's being peddled online, there's little scientific evidence it works, Law said. His organization has documented some 500 treatments for autism, ranging from diets and vitamins to hyperbaric oxygen therapy.

Anderson cautioned parents to be especially wary of testimonials, no matter how powerful they may seem. For every success story -- or a person believing or claiming theirs is a success story -- there could be many more failures. "There could be 10 people who have a good experience, and 1,000 who had a bad experience," Anderson noted.

Experts offered these tips for assessing autism-related information on the Internet:

  • Don't use the Internet as your sole source of info. Seek support from doctors, physicians, teachers and other professionals.
  • Pay attention to the domain names. In the study, ".com" sites were most likely to be selling unfounded "miracle cures." Sites ending in ".edu" or ".gov" tend to have oversight committees or quality standards. Government-sponsored "gateway" domains, such as the U.S. National Institutes of Health's MedlinePlus or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service's healthfinder.gov, which each offer a collection of link
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