Autism & Alternative Medicine: The Case of Lupron

Since my teenage son Charlie was diagnosed with autism almost exactly 12 years ago in 1999, we’ve learned about a baffling array of treatments. Special diets without gluten and casein; supplements galore; hyperbaric oxygen therapy; secretin, a digestive hormone from pigs; prism lenses; “holding therapy”; swimming with dolphins; stem cell therapy; chelation; saunas. We’ve tried a few “non-traditional/alternative medicine biomedical treatments and mostly stuck with education and school and some medications.

Charlie has made good progress with these. Things can be extremely challenging — my son’s on the moderate to severe end of the autism spectrum — and it’s no wonder that parents try treatments that are experimental and potentially dangerous. When your child who requires 24/7 care at the age of 14 doesn’t sleep for a few nights — meaning, you don’t sleep for a few nights — or throws himself against the window of your car because of what you suspect (because he can’t tell you in words because he can’t) is massive constipation (sorry for the gritty details), you can be willing to try anything, including something like lupron.

Lupron is a drug prescribed to men with prostate cancer, women with fibroids and sex offenders (using lupron has been called “chemical castration”). It can be prescribed for children who have a rare condition, precocious puberty. It’s not approved for use with autistic children but a Maryland doctor, Mark Geier, has been doing so for some years, with some parents quoted in a recent Baltimore Sun article like Lin Wessels and the Rev. Lisa Sykes swearing by the drug’s effects, even though Mark Geier’s the medical license was recently suspended by Maryland Board of Physicians.

A recent article in The Atlantic about the “triumph of new-age medicine” points to one reason parents and others use treatments like acupuncture, even as scientific studies often find they are no better than a placebo. A major reason is not about the treatments themselves but the care and attention communicated by many practitioners of alternative medicine. As David H. Freedman, this is why “the medical community seems to be growing more open to alternative medicine’s possibilities, not less”:

This “healing” approach to patient care clearly isn’t found in the typical visit to the doctor’s office. Studies show that visits average about 20 minutes, that doctors change the subject back to technical talk when patients mention their emotions, that they interrupt patients’ initial statements after 23 seconds on average, that they spend a single minute providing information, and that they bring up weight issues with fewer than half their overweight patients.

Many medical students start out with a healer mentality, but few retain it. “It gets beaten out of you by the system,” says Brian Berman, noting a study showing that medical students score progressively lower on empathy tests the further they get into their training. Berman himself was a conventional M.D. until, at age 33, he took up the study of traditional Chinese medicine—which, like many alternative approaches, is largely focused on patients’ lifestyles, feelings, and attitudes, and which emphasizes stress reduction, healthier eating, and regular exercise, as well as encouraging the patient to believe in self-healing. “I saw how much more I could do to help people,” he says. “For the first time since medical school, I felt like a healer again.”

I distinctly remember the soothing mauve and soft grays of the office of one nutritionist who we consulted for several months as she was recommended as specializing in biomedical treatments for autistic children. She met with parents in an office with couches and tea and paintings in matching muted tones, instead of the clinical confines of an exam room at a pediatric practice. I’m not sure what Mark Geier’s office is like but can imagine his sympathetic stance about the failings of traditional medicine (something the nutritionist we saw also had) is readily welcomed by parents who feel they’ve been given the cold shoulder by “regular” doctors, especially if they’re trying to explain to those doctors that none of the medications, none of the therapies, seems to be helping.

Two years ago, we found a neurologist in southern New Jersey who has helped Charlie tremendously by figuring out a good combination of medications for him to take. Also, his office staff — especially a wonderful psychiatric nurse, whose own late daughter was developmentally disabled — have not only been kindly and accommodating even when Charlie has been extremely upset. They respond quickly to phone calls and offer lots of advice and a compassionate ear. In other words, they provide individualized patient care and it makes a huge difference. 

Freedman says that doctors today are acknowledging some of the failings of modern medicine and high time. When you’re sick, or have loved one who is, care and attention can be as important as getting your prescription refilled.



Related Care2 Coverage

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Routine Screening For Autism: Is It Really Necessary?

Justice Department Tells DEA To Leave Marijuana Users Alone

Photo by Sunny Seward's Photostream.


jane richmond
jane richmond5 years ago

Caring and loving go a long way. Drugs should be a last resort not a first choice.

Anne Janette Mccoy

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Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener5 years ago


Barbara T.
Barbara Talbert5 years ago

There is too much marketing in medicine. Medicine should be a healing art which takes into account the thoughts and feelings of the patient and this approach has sadly disappeared from our "drug cultured" society. Read "The Cure for All Diseases" by Hulda Clark. I do not agree with everything she says but I think she is on the right track. If the medical community acknowledged this it would be a slippery slope for the way medicine is practiced now and it would set the stage for electronic medicine where we would achieve real cures at a much lower cost to people and society. However the GDP would suffer as all this stuff we think we need now could be dispensed with.

Past Member
Past Member 5 years ago

I Have a son with Autism the same age as charlie, I like to use natural products so I find probiotics help big time ( acidophilis) it helps with consitpation. I also give him manuka honey on his toast 15 and IQ (fish oil). I have him on a gulten and dariy diet as I find that also helps, but it can be hard work. Only use natural products in his bath as i find these children don't react well to chemicals. hope this is helpful

Rebecca Alexander
Rebecca A5 years ago

as I go to get my injection of lupron tomorrow (for endometriosis, a reproductive health problem, so a valid use of the medicine) I was very glad this time to see listed that lupron IS a valid medication in some cases! ...last time I had seen an article about this they had only listed the use on sex offenders other than this new trend for trying it on children for autism. someone on the medication in question I don't approve of it's use on children, as I am familiar with the effects and side effects of it (one of which is loss of bone density - to give something like that to a child who's bones are still growing? eep! doesn't sound good to me!)... but I like seeing it noted that it does have valid uses. as it is my disease is crippling me with pain, and one of the only things that helps keep it partially suppressed is lupron (though in my personal case I sadly have to keep taking painkillers 24/7 as well, as I have a particularly stubborn case).. I'm on the verge of applying for disability (though probably already should have, but it's hard to come to terms with emotionally, even if I know I need it from a logical standpoint).. so it's a medication that does help many people who are suffering ~when used correctly~.

any drug has the potential to either heal or harm, depending on it's use. such is their nature. this is why we trust doctors to prescribe them correctly, and why it's so horrifying when they don't.

Steve R.
Steve R5 years ago

For Kristina Chew and all the pro-vaccine zombies - here's an article for you.

Read it and then ask yourself why the government has a "Vaccine Injury Compensation Program" that has quietly paid families for autism injuries for 20 years???

The same government that denies a vaccine/autism link!

So let's get this straight - drug companies, supported by shills like Kristina Chew, corrupt government officials to mandate vaccination for profits, and then our tax dollars, not the profits, are used to compensate people that are injured by the vaccines???

Must be nice huh? Your government taking care of you huh?

Wake up Care2 - this drug company shill does not belong in your list of authors!

William S.
William S.5 years ago

The author opened up a big can of stupid with this article. First of all: lupron can be prescribed for just about anything if it is FDA approved - it's called "off label". However prescribing it for something like autism can get you in trouble with your state medical society because of lupron's strong primary and side effects and the fact that there is no theoretical justification for administering it.
Second, there is NO western, allopathic eastern, natural, homeopathic, alternative, complimentary etc. medicine. There is medicine and there is quackery. If it has been demonstrated to work by reasonably scientific testing, it is medicine. If all it has is anecdotes, it might hypothetical at best. If it has failed scientific tests, it is quackery.
If you think traditional chinese medicine or natural healing substances work, show it. Some of these do work and they have been incorporated into medical practice. If all you have is anecdotes, forget it.
Those that whine about the profits that big pharma makes, you are mostly right. But mostly in the wrong way. Far too much money and research is spent on me too drugs [near copies of existing drugs], combinations of old drugs and advertising new drugs that are not clearly superior.
And there is a lot of "natural" things that really are ineffective or harmful. Thinking otherwise is demonstrating your allegiance to the naturalistic fallacy.
Finally, the medical-insurance system sucks in too many ways to mention.

monica r.
monica r5 years ago

@Christa Leduc
"God has given us all the herbs and plants we need to heal."

Yes indeed, and big pharma has done everything possible to either discredit these ways of healing, or making them illegal. Too much money at stake. If you think lives count to them, don't be fooled. Including children.

Here's a link to some films that show how it works:

Dead Wrong:how psychiatric drugs can kill your child

Making a Killing: The Untold Story of Psychotropic Drugging

both are full versions and really worth watching

Jacobo V.
jacobo Van5 years ago

Steve R.: you do not have an autistic child do you? This is a group of growing segement which seeks any real solution but since funds are cut from useful programs, snake oil is even tried to give the family members a shot a what is known as a normal life. God Bless Charlie and his loving Mother