Bad Science Abuses Autistics

If you have not read them already I urge you to visit Kristina Chew’s and Interverbal’s blogs where they write on an extraordinary technique employed by French psychiatrists to “treat” autism.

And if anybody is fluent in French I would be interested to know what they are saying about it on Forum Autisme My own limited grasp of the language suggests that, thankfully, a lot of French people are outraged by this “treatment” as well.

“A French treatment for autistic children with psychiatric problems which involves wrapping the patient in cold, wet sheets from head to foot is undergoing a clinical trial for the first time, which critics hope will see an end to the controversial practice.

The treatment, known as “packing”, involves wrapping a child in wet, refrigerated sheets in order to produce a feeling of bodily limitation and holding, before psychiatrically trained staff talk to the child about their feelings. Critics have called the procedure cruel, unproven and potentially dangerous, but its proponents say they have seen results.”

This is not quackery from some fringe movement like DAN! This is quackery from the heart of the French psychiatric establishment where Freudian-based psychoanalysis still holds sway. Before we get too smug it is as well to remember that the Tavistock Centre in the  UK is funded by the NHS to treat autism with psychoanalysis. And according to the Lancet

Delion recently gave a course on the technique at the Tavistock Clinic in London, which is part of the UK’s National Health Service. Maria Rhode, a psychotherapist at the clinic, points out that there are currently no effective treatments for autism, and that caring for such children presents a major, long-term challenge to health services.

Thank you to Michelle Dawson for this. Writing on her discussion list, The Misbehaviour of Behaviourists she also informs me that Professor Hobson is a member of the Tavistock Centre. As I understand it Hobson believes autism  results from a failure of interaction between child and caregiver that he regards as “the cradle of thought,” the essential foundation of what it means to be human. Here we are again. Autism is seen as a deficit that makes you less than human. So abuse of these children is OK in the name of science. I am sure scientists who experiment on animals have to follow stricter codes of ethical practise than those that apply to autistics and other victims of psychiatric research.

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9 thoughts on “Bad Science Abuses Autistics

  1. Mike, if I remember rightly isn’t France the only country in the world that doesn’t have standardised diagnostic criteria for autism, and therefore tends to diagnose a large number of what the rest of the world would describe as autism, as schizophrenia?

  2. Can you imagine?! For someone with an overactive sensory system, that would be torture–the cold, especially.

    I could understand warm, wet sheets. That would be just like being wrapped in a blanket, which is a common sensory integration aid that feels quite comforting. But cold sheets? Literally torture.

    Let’s hope these children emerge from the trial with their sanity intact… because their parents have obviously lost theirs.

  3. “Mike, if I remember rightly isn’t France the only country in the world that doesn’t have standardised diagnostic criteria for autism, and therefore tends to diagnose a large number of what the rest of the world would describe as autism, as schizophrenia?”

    Actually, Darren, they do. They’re contained in the ICD-10 manual for diagnosis. It’s just that they, like most Finnish clinicians, prefer not to use it – thinking that they are more informed than the people – all experts in their fields – who were consulted on the task force that compiled the criteria.

    It’s called negligent/malfeasant professional practice. And it fairly much typifies the political attitudes in those countries.

  4. It would also make sense to me that this wrapping could not occur while a subject/patient is fully clothed. Adding the embarrassment of being mainly disrobed in the presence of someone who is not treating a medical condition. Why is this fact not included in the watered down decsription given in the articles? (Rhetorical)

  5. This looks like a particularly unpleasant if not downright traumatic version of “holding therapy”, which has also been long since tossed into the ash-bin of useless and sometimes dangerous “treatments” for various attachment disorders.

    I’m horrified that people would still consider the theoretical basis and method to be good practice, especially in the 21st century!

  6. My French is more than a little rusty, but the justifcation and explanation seems to be that it is, indeed, a variation of “Holding Therapy”.

    I weighed in on this at Autismvox, but the short version is that this is inhumane publicly funded woo. Dr. Delion needs to turn in his PhD.

  7. As a psychologist, I have read of wrapping to comfort a child to feel safe. The cold part is so clearly punitive and threatening a child into submission, any child, it’s shocking that it is used. It is also extremely ironic, as wasn’t it the psychoanalysts who once blamed autism on “Refrigerator Mothers”? I guess they only have a few ideas and milk them as much as possible.

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