US Autism Doctor Charged With Unethical Conduct

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation has charged an Illinois doctor, Dr. Anjum Usman, with “unprofessional, unethical and/or dishonorable conduct” in regard to her use alternative medical treatments for an autistic boy. The treatments described in the complaint have been widely promoted in the past decade by practitioners and families who claimed that such practices as chelation to remove poisonous heavy metals, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, secretin (a pancreatic hormone) and more had “cured” their children from autism. Books such as Karyn Seroussi’s 2002 Unraveling the Mystery of Autism and Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Jenny McCarthy’s 2007 Louder Than Words: A Mother’s Journey in Healing Autism are only a few accounts claiming miraculous recoveries from autism thanks to alternative medical treatments.

The rationale for using such unproven biomedical treatments such as chelation, anti-fungal therapy and many more to “treat” autistic children rests on equally unproven theories about what causes autism. For instance, some proposed that children were “damaged” by substances in vaccines, such as a mercury-based preservative thimerosal, or by the vaccines (such as the MMR) themselves. Chelation, via powerful drugs and in other forms such as infrared saunas, was thought to be a way to remove “heavy metals,” as well as whatever was making a child autistic.

The complaint against Dr. Usman charges her with making false or misleading statements regarding the value of treatments, showing “extreme departure from rational medical judgment” and “abus[ing] the patient/physician relationship.” The complaint requests that her medical license be “revoked, suspended, placed on probation or otherwise disciplined” and was filed by the parents of an autistic boy who was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism in 2004.

Usman allegedly diagnosed the child with acalcium-to-zinc imbalance, yeast, dysbiosis, low zinc, heavy metal toxicity and abnormally high levels of aluminum, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, silver, tin, titanium and selenium.

Treatments listed in the complaint include dietary restrictions; nearly three dozen vitamin, enzyme, mineral and other dietary supplements; two antifungal drugs; four chelators or detoxifying drugs; a hormone suppressor, and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, in which the child is shut inside a pressurized bag filled with extra oxygen.

“None of the treatments described above has been proven to influence the course of autism,” the complaint states. And yet Usman “made statements to (the boy’s) mother that the prescribed treatments had positive clinical benefits for children with autism, despite the lack of empirical research.”

At one point, the complaint alleges, Usman prescribed selenium supplements even though the boy’s levels were normal. She “continued to do so even when (the boy) eventually showed a high level,” according to the complaint.

Dr. Usman’s alternative medical treatments were the subject of a a 2009 Chicago Tribune investigation. Since my own son Charlie was diagnosed in 1999, we have heard about such treatments and took Charlie to a number of different biomedical practitioners when he was younger. We tried a number of supplements, did various kinds of testing, put Charlie on a special gluten-free casein-free diet for years and concluded that such treatments were not helping him and, in some ways, were detrimental.

Ultimately, I am glad that we tried some alternative treatments and met some practitioners, and that I attended a “Defeat Autism Now” conference run by the Autism Research Institute. Due to the internet, parents are much more likely to hear about such treatments and, in the desperate desire to help a child who doesn’t talk or may be banging their head on the furniture, are eager to try anything. Years of making sure that Charlie ate nothing with wheat or oatmeal or any dairy products have certainly made us very aware of how one’s mental and emotional state can be connected to how one’s stomach is feeling.

But while a special diet is a generally benign treatment to try, other treatments such as Dr. Usman used and that other practitioners continue to use require much more scrutiny. Too often, the use of alternative treatments on autistic children, many unable to communicate their internal physical states, has amounted simply to uncontrolled experimentation. We know more than a few families who have used such biomedical treatments and whose children, despite the claims of the practitioners, have not “recovered from autism” and have numerous challenges. The complaint against Dr. Usman for using alternative treatments that delivered far less than promised as far as “treating” autism may only be the first.

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Star L.
Star L.5 years ago

There are many comments, I fear my comments will drown in all of the posts.
Here it goes anyway.
I have a child on the spectrum, we do many of the things that Dr. U suggest (we see other docs) but never the less the exact suggestions were made. We have a recovering child and he can now talk and tell me when he hurts. He is now in full inclusion and is no longer a burden on the system. We almost do not qualify for special ed services (and my child is 6). There has been much success and there are even more success stories.
We as special ed parents do have the right to privacy, not many parents wish to speak out. As many parents wish to keep their doctor issues private. I can't blame them, it really is different for each family. We are lucky to have success, not every family has the same success. Yes vaccines caused my son's autism. We do carry the classic Autism dx, although as of late, we are moving to high functioning and soon it will be dropped. I am not a doc, or scientist, so those kinds of stats do not matter to me. I do not care what caused his Autism, I already know. My mission is to help him become the best child he can be-futher to be just happy. Dr. U is a wonderful doc, I wish the world would know how many people she had helped, sadly, the world will never know. She is fantastic and is a top notch doc. This lawsuit is purely from a divorce.

Bruce S.
Bruce S6 years ago

I believe that are too many children are being diagnosed as being autistic. If accurate, it would represent a ten fold increase from fifty years ago. While some parents would like to blame vaccines, that has proven to be nonsense. There are so many quack doctors out there claiming to have a "treatment for autism", a parent needs to be EXTRA vigilant today or risk actually harming their child.

Past Member
Lisbeth Jensen6 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Claire M.
Claire M6 years ago

The article was taken from the Chicago Tribune. Sorry but it looks to me like they are trying to crucify this doctor to set an example for doctors who wont go along with the big pharma push to get all of America on drugs. Prescription drugs are harmful to kids. They are supposed to be the lesser of evils so to speak when there is no other choice, not the norm. Also a lot of kids diagnosed with autism are normal healthy kids with lazy parents and teachers. At least by any natural standard of normal. I have to wonder sometimes if we are setting up an entire generation of Munchhausen by proxy for lonely moms.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

well, we all know dolphins do nothing for autism. it's scientifically proven

Margaret G.
Margaret G.6 years ago

Lindsey, first Percy and me were "suspects".Now Maria. Honestly, you are repeating yourself.
I see how much effort you put into saying bad things about the doctor you don't know, alternative therapies and even commenters who dare to defend her, that I start suspecting you. Are you working for some of pharmaceutical companies, hold stock of vaccine producers or have some personal interest against Dr Usman? You behavior is very suspicious to me.

Linda Indyke
Linda Indyke6 years ago

I have spent most of my 29 years as a psychiatric nurse working with children and adolescents and had a special interest in working with children who had autism. I have seen my share of unproven treatments, but the worst I had heard about was a Baltimore physician who was treating boys who have autism with Depo-Provera (warnings on this substance state it should not be used in children). This guy's theory was that high levels of testosterone increased the effects of mercury presevatives from vaccines. In most cases mercury-based preservatives are no longer used in vaccines. Anyway, this physician's son, who had no professional credentials, started "prescribing" Depo and even became appointed to a governor's advisory panel on autism. Several months ago, this house of cards fell and the physician lost his license and the son was removed from the panel and charged with practicing medicine without a license.
For many parents, the diagnosis of autism in one of their children is devastating and many reach out to try these unproven "cures". You do have to be careful that these alleged treatments don't harm the child and also that you don't rush into hopefully noting a big improvement where there is none. Most of us who work with those who have autism realize that this is a complex brain disorder; the causes are multifactorial, including genetic and environmental; and there is no cure. What I have seen to be most effective is within the educational and behavioral interventions. I al

Percy R.
Percy R.6 years ago

So Lindsey, only those who share your views are allowed to join this website and contribute to the conversation?

Lindsey DTSW
.6 years ago

Unfortunately, Maria, actual identity can quite reasonably alter our evaluation of the substance of one's comments. And coincidence can be stretched only so far.

Aaron Holmgren
Aaron Holmgren6 years ago

@Maria N.,

I commend you on your sound reason and diplomatic stance in this discussion. We are not here to push our beliefs on others, but to share our understanding of the issue. Thank you.