Some parents turn to bleach to ‘cure’ autism — why these myths are still rampant

A recent investigation by NBC found private groups on Facebook, linked to YouTube videos, were encouraging parents to use bleach to “cure” their children of autism.

Known as the Miracle Mineral Solution (MMS), group members were exposed to video instructions on how to make chlorine dioxide-based solutions for their children. The report found parents left testimonials and anti-vaccine content, while some mothers of autistic children even went undercover to report and ban these pages.

Autism has no direct cause or cure, and experts added as a result, some parents turn to harmful methods.

In one 2017 case, a mother was investigated after giving her six-year-old son a bleach enema to “cure” autism, Metro U.K. reported. The mother claimed autism was caused by parasites that could be “cleansed” using the bleach-based treatment. There is no medical evidence to support this claim.

MMS could be traced back to former Scientologist Jim Humble, who first promoted his “cure” 20 years ago. 

“Humble, 86, claimed he’d used the chemical compound to heal a case of malaria while on a South American expedition. It worked so well, Humble says in his book and on his website, that he named himself the archbishop of a new religion devoted to chlorine dioxide, branded MMS,” NBC reported, adding Humble claimed MMS could cure diabetes, AIDS and even cancer.

Business Insider, who also recently released an investigation on the topic, added millions of people had watched MMS videos on YouTube. After Business Insider contacted YouTube, the videos were taken down.

In the past few months, YouTube has been focused on cracking down on harmful content, and in a statement to Global News, said that videos and channel owners were terminated immediately.

“YouTube does not allow content that encourages dangerous activities with a risk of physical harm, and we work to quickly remove flagged videos that violate these policies,” a spokesperson said.

What is MMS?

NBC added MMS also gained momentum in 2015 when former Chicago real-estate agent Kerri Rivera brought the method into autism parenting communities through her book and social media pages. Rivera, who is not a medical doctor, promoted the idea of using the bleach solution to “treat” autistic children.

“Today, she lives and operates a clinic offering chlorine dioxide regimens in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, and claims to have cured autism in more than 500 children,” the site noted. 

However, the ingredients that make up Rivera’s MMS solution are not illegal, but in the U.S., it is illegal to market or sell chlorine dioxide-based products as a cure for ailments.

According to a statement to Global News, Autism Canada understands why some parents seek out unproven therapies to help their child.

“We recognize the urgency parents may feel when confronted with a diagnosis of autism, which may lead them to undertake desperate treatments.”

In 2015, the organization released a statement on MMS after it began heavily surfacing on social media pages.

“It was clear that this product had side effects that were seriously damaging to the body.”

The organization noted it promotes a multi-disciplinary approach as the most effective way of treating and managing autism.

“For example, there is a growing body of research evidence pointing to the value of implementing changes like diet and/or supplementing deficient vitamins and minerals (nutraceuticals), etc. These are emerging treatments for the underlying factors that contribute to autism and related symptoms. Parents often remark on improved language, eye contact, social engagement and their child’s ability to learn.”

It added parents and individuals should combine medical and non-medical treatments.

“Having different techniques helps to unlock a person’s potential. Medical interventions focus on improving the physical health of the individual while non-medical interventions focus on improving their social and emotional health.”

The organization does not endorse treatments, interventions and therapies, however, it lists them on their website so people can make informed choices.

“It is a starting point for parents and individuals to investigate options that may fit or resonate with them. We state that therapies for autism, like any condition, should be discussed with a trusted medical practitioner or certified therapist before use.”

‘Every child or adult is different’

Electra Dalamagas, a family intervention specialist at Autism Montreal, told Global News that when it comes to autism, every child or adult is different. “They have different needs, they’re unique, and they have different health issues,” she said. “It’s important to not assume a one size [treatment] fits all.”

Dalamagas added autistic adults and children are still grossly misunderstood and this even trickles down into the health-care community. In 2018, the National Autism Spectrum Disorder Surveillance System Report found an estimated one in 66 children in Canada have autism. 

And because autism is misunderstood, parents are often left with confusing, conflicting and inaccurate information online. “There’s a desire to want to help the individuals who have any health issues… but whatever treatment may be recommended can’t cause harm.”

Another problem is how much access parents have to misinformation on the internet. Sites like YouTube or Facebook can create communities of like-minded people spreading false information. And with the recent attention of sites shutting down pages encouraging the anti-vax movement, Dalamagas argued much more has to be done for the autism community.

She added if you come across any medical or non-medical treatment online, parents should always consult with a medical doctor who works with austistic children before trying it.

The other issue with misinformation, Dalamagas explained, is some children deal with ongoing health issues in addition to having autism, leading to more urgency. Some parents don’t have access to professional health care, either.

Dalamagas said she can see why some in desperation turn to harmful methods, but it comes down to awareness.

“Parents should focus on getting accurate information to make educated decisions.”

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