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Therapeutic Animals, Chelation and Facilitated Communication

Tammi Reynolds, BA & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

Therapeutic Animals

dog and catDogs and horses are sometimes used to compliment therapy for people with autism. Therapists working with individual children with autism work their objectives and goals for therapy into children's interactions with animals. For example, animals may be incorporated into sensory integration activities featuring tactile, vestibular and proprioceptive stimulation. Working with animals during therapy has been found to be calming and motivating for individuals with autism. Animals also hold children with autism's attention wonderfully well.

Dogs and horses are the most commonly chosen therapeutic animals for autism work, although from time to time, cats are used as suits the needs of individual children and families. Dolphins have also been used therapeutically, although this usage is controversial. Dolphin therapy is very expensive and there is little or no evidence to suggest that there is any benefit to be had from a dolphin that cannot be gained from a dog or a horse.

Chelation

Chelation is a very controversial medical procedure that is supposed to rid the body of harmful metals. The procedure involves flushing the individual's system by injecting ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA) into the subject's veins. The EDTA binds to heavy metals and carries them through the body.

Chelation was traditionally used to rid the body of lead. There is no evidence that the procedure rids the body of mercury. Since mercury is now considered by some to be the leading cause of autism, chelation has become a rarer practice.

Chelation therapies are hard on the body, especially on the organs involved in filtration, especially the kidneys. The process may induce shock or cause irregular heartbeat and even heart failure. A number of deaths have been linked to chelation therapy. It remains a very controversial treatment.

Facilitated Communication

Facilitated communication is another controversial complementary technique used with children with autism. Its major appeal is that it appears to enable otherwise unreachable children with autism to communicate their wishes. Its major flaws include that it is based on a flawed premises, doesn't work, and may be easily abused. Because of these serious flaws, the American Psychological Association recommends against the use of this 'therapy' (http://soeweb.syr.edu/thefci/apafc.htm).

In facilitated communication, a therapist or caregiver guides a person with autism's hand over a picture or keyboard (letter board). The person is given hand-over-hand prompts to help him choose letters and pictures. The therapist or caretaker uses the autistic person's hand to touch the keys. The idea is that autistic children benefit from the presence of the guiding hand and are able to more easily choose letters and pictures that communicate what they are thinking and feeling. Children guided in this manner have been know to suddenly become quite fluent and conversant. However, all of the communications activity that is observed is prompted, and chosen, usually unconsciously, by the guiding therapist or parent in much the same way that a Ouiji board works. Unfortunately, the children are not active participants in the process and do not actually benefit from it. The process is almost certainly a psychological projection of the hopes and desperation of the involved caregivers. There is no reliable scientific support for facilitated communication.