Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Drink Your Camel's Milk, Son

Oh, internet.  On good days you bring me humor and joy, with a side of salty gossip.  On bad days you bring me all the semi-rational rage.  Today we got the latter.  See if you can spot the cause:

It's subtle!  I'm sure you're mostly hung up on the fact that I was googling a farm that produces camel's milk, but let's move past that for a second.  I'll come back to it.  For now, just read the second line down in that ad.  You will see, "Helps with Autism."

Now, if there's one thing I know, it's that my son would never drink camel's milk, which they describe as tasting, "just like milk," except "salty." 

However, I'm also pretty sure that if I were somehow able to get him to drink it, I would not see any appreciable behavioral benefit. They base their claim that the milk "helps with autism" on a single (8 page) study of 60 autistic children, whose parents were asked to administer camel's milk for two(!) weeks.  The study was conducted by a government-run university in Saudi Arabia, which I'm sure was in no way influenced by any vested interest in finding medical benefits to a local specialty product.  The study found a very mild (approx. 2 points on a 60 point scale) decrease in CARS scores for subjects who drank camel's milk compared to a cow's milk placebo. 

Now I think the advertisers probably have themselves covered from a legal perspective.  You will note that the "science and research" link on the ad mentions "anecdotal studies."  They're admitting right up front that the claim isn't really based on a whole lot of hard science.  They also note on their website that camel's milk hasn't been tested or approved by the FDA to treat any medical condition. 

But as we know, autism parents are desperate to find anything that will help their kids.  Phony cures and treatments abound, and they range from relatively harmless to outright dangerous quackery .  And while this is on the "mild" range of that spectrum, it still pisses me off to no end to see that the attitudes behind these supposed cures are nowhere near changing.

Do I think anyone is likely to be harmed by drinking a few bottles of camel's milk?  No, probably not.  But it does make me mad that autism parents (who are often quite stretched financially as it is) are being sold on the idea of paying $18 per 16oz. bottle (minimum order six bottles!) for probably a quite minimal behavioral improvement at best.

Are there people desperate enough to do this?  Absolutely.  After last year's infamous broccoli study, parents on a local special needs listserv I follow were lining up to order broccoli extract to add to their child's regimen.

Now, more broccoli also has never hurt anyone, but . . . seriously, people.  Can we stop pathologizing autistic children to this extent?  I can't blame anyone for wanting more words, better functional communication, better executive function, or a greater ability to focus.

But . . . guys, what if there isn't a silver bullet out there?

You know what I have found that works for my kid?  Love and effort.  Lots of patience, tons of love, and a huge amount of hard work from all parties: him, us, his therapists, and his teachers.  Oh, and time.  All of that together has led to huge improvements.  And I'd take that over salty milk any day.

And to any salespeople out there who might be thinking of us as your target demographic because you think our kids are broken?  You can fuck right off.

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