As much as I dislike typing these words, many parents have admitted they want a”cure for autism”. They don’t want a “cure” because they don’t accept or respect their child’s neurodivergence. It’s about expectations; we want our kids to be outrageously happy, healthy, and carefree. We want them to have a utopian life, even though we know it doesn’t exist. It’s undeniable that autism, despite the many strengths it may bestow on those on the spectrum, does not guarantee care-free.
One form of therapy that promises to “eliminate” symptoms of autism is CEASE therapy. It’s a tricky model to write about because, for many people on the spectrum, CEASE therapy is not only considered a false promise, it is viewed as an insult to neurodivergence. With this background in mind, let’s take a look at what CEASE therapy actually is and what it claims to offer.
What is CEASE therapy?
CEASE—or the Complete Elimination of Autistic Spectrum Expression—therapy is described as pseudoscience; even by Wikipedia. Dr. Tinus Smits, who died in 2010, is credited for developing the treatment.
Dr. Smits, a homeopath, hypothesized about the cause of autism which he seemed to attribute mainly to vaccines and other environmental toxins. He also suggested toxic medications and disease as possible causative factors. He believed the imprint of such toxic substances can be erased with CEASE therapy.
Erasing toxins with homeopathy
CEASE therapy has three different components: homeopathy (inspiring and classical homeopathy), isotherapy (isopathic treatment), and supplementing with nutritional supplements (orthomolecular support).
The role of isotherapy is the elimination of toxic substances by utilizing identical potentized homeopathic remedies. To support isopathic treatment, parents are encouraged to add orthomolecular medicine. Supplements like Vitamin C, Magnesium, Zinc, and fish oil are administered to support the healing process brought about by the isopathic treatment.
Extremely vulnerable brains
CEASE practitioners base their advice on the vulnerability of the brain of a fetus and young child. They talk about protecting a child’s brain, especially in the first two years of life. They see vaccinations as toxic to the brain of a young child; their claims suggest that, even before pregnancy, vaccinations in the energetic field of parents are transferable to the child by energetic transfer.
The great unknowns
CEASE therapy practitioners focus on events in the child’s life; they feel extensive knowledge about important occurrences like vaccinations and illness may be an essential key to healing. Cease practitioners assess the history of patients for potential insults like environmental toxins, vaccinations, illness, and even dental work; they see missing information from the child’s life story as an obstacle to curing autism.
Homeopathy, supplementing with vitamins, and digging in a child’s history for exposure to toxins do not sound too radical. In fact many parents with kids on the spectrum speak of the success of alternative treatment for challenging autism symptoms. But success, when talking about autism treatment, is about addressing symptoms that interfere with quality of life; success does not mean autism is “cured”.
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CEASE therapy practitioners are trained during a three to five day course according to the official CEASE therapy website. Apparently, practitioners are successful in treating not only autism, but also hyperactivity and other conditions. Dr. Smits based his development of CEASE therapy on the treatment of 300 cases, and his case studies detail the process of detoxification, mostly of vaccines. Other vague concepts like clearing out toxins in the right order are mentioned by CEASE therapists.
CEASE practitioners claiming to cure autism feel their success is due to the fact that the cause of autism is addressed; this seems to boil down to treatment reversing the toxic effects of vaccination and other “toxic” medications.
Stepping away from the pseudoscience
The claim made by CEASE practitioners (that autism can be cured because the cause is addressed through CEASE treatment) is problematic. Scientists, even after many clinical studies and extensive research, are still not certain about the causes of autism spectrum disorders.
A recent study (Bai et al., 2019) based on population data from five different countries, found heritability of autism spectrum disorder to be around 80%. Other research, particularly twin studies, has confirmed the major influence of genetics.
This does not mean environmental factors play no part in autism. A review (Sealy et al., 2016) revealed that relevant literature implicates several environmental factors associated with the development of autism. Factors include pesticides, air pollutants, and even fragrances.
To complicate matters further, a study (Castelbaum et al., 2020) found significant differences in autism severity in identical twins. Genetic predisposition is obviously at play, but the difference in severity of autism is interesting considering identical twins, for the most part, have a shared environment. Acknowledging just how little we know and understand about the complexities of autism speaks to the arrogance of claiming to cure the condition after assessing the cause.
Addressing bogus “cures”
The UK’s independent regulator of advertising, The Advertising Standards Authority, published an Enforcement Notice pertaining to CEASE therapy and the so-called “bogus” claims made by CEASE practitioners about curing and treating autism spectrum disorders. False claims and expensive treatments that don’t necessarily work leave parents out of pocket, and increasingly cynical.
Autistic individuals face many challenges including sensory overwhelm, stigma, and bullying. As they undergo treatment, autistic children may be exposed to damaging remarks about what it may take to “fix” them. Or if they happen to receive treatment, like CEASE therapy, they may be told how a practitioner will cure them. When such claims fail, autistic children may be left with a sense that there is something fundamentally “wrong” with them.
A number austistic adults advocate for funds to be channeled into the research and production of appropriate compensations, supports, and accommodations to make life easier for those on the spectrum. Campaigns to educate and advocate acceptance will make life easier for autistic children. Channeling funds into “cures” when there is so much uncertainty about autism feels inappropriate to many. Many feel we should instead focus on trying to make life better for autistic individuals right now.
It could be argued that practitioners pushing cures for autism are trying their best to get kids off the spectrum (often without consulting these children about what they want). Many autistic children want relief from challenging symptoms, but others are simply looking for acceptance and advocates who will help them create an autism-friendly world.
Bai, D., Yip, B., Windham, G. C., Sourander, A., Francis, R., Yoffe, R., Glasson, E., Mahjani, B., Suominen, A., Leonard, H., Gissler, M., Buxbaum, J. D., Wong, K., Schendel, D., Kodesh, A., Breshnahan, M., Levine, S. Z., Parner, E. T., Hansen, S. N., Hultman, C., … Sandin, S. (2019). Association of Genetic and Environmental Factors With Autism in a 5-Country Cohort. JAMA psychiatry, 76(10), 1035–1043. https://doi.org/10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2019.1411
Castelbaum, L., Sylvester, C. M., Zhang, Y., Yu, Q., & Constantino, J. N. (2020). On the Nature of Monozygotic Twin Concordance and Discordance for Autistic Trait Severity: A Quantitative Analysis. Behavior genetics, 50(4), 263–272. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10519-019-09987-2.
Sealey, L. A., Hughes, B. W., Sriskanda, A. N., Guest, J. R., Gibson, A. D., Johnson-Williams, L., Pace, D. G., & Bagasra, O. (2016). Environmental factors in the development of autism spectrum disorders. Environment international, 88, 288–298. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2015.12.021.