Next Step Therapy Blog: ‘Internet – Friend or Foe?’

Tracy 1Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article – “Internet – Friend or Foe?”

I am not ashamed to admit that I love the Internet. Well, most of the Internet. Ok, some of the Internet. I use it every day. I do research for this blog, read other blogs, keep up with work and friends via email, and zap these posts via the Internet so that I can talk to you.

I love that when something comes on the news that I am unfamiliar with, I can just Google it. Recently I’ve done research on the benefits of having a stay at home mom, Kleefstra Syndrome, and the PLAY Project. I’ve also looked up uterus transplants, and got caught up in a recent news story about large technical firms like Facebook and Apple offering a new benefit to their employees – the freezing of eggs, so that women can choose whether to have children later in life.

I honestly don’t know how we functioned without the Internet. Any of the above research projects would have required a trip to the library, taking home a pile of books and magazines, and having a deadline to take them back. I would have been limited to what the library had available, or what they could order in. The Internet allows me to find hundreds of articles in seconds.

The problem with the Internet is that any bozo can put up a page in about twenty minutes and write anything they want. They can try to sell you anything they want. There is no application, no background check, and very little oversight. It’s a free market, which I love, but it also means that every selfish, psychotic lunatic on the planet can visit you in your home, at your unsuspecting invitation.

It is only natural in today’s society that when your child starts to exhibit a behavior that you are uncomfortable with or that feels “wrong,” that you would immediately do an Internet search. I do as well. The difference might be that I am painfully aware of the millions of flimflam artists out there, and I watch for them very closely.

Some advice:

1. When you look things up, be very, very careful to look for big name sites, such as universities, well known hospitals, and businesses that you can confirm exist. If you are reading things from the Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, Children’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, John Hopkins, etc., you can be fairly certain that what you are reading is based on research and fact. Those large institutions have a reputation to uphold, and do not want to be sued. In addition, government agencies such as the CDC (Center for Disease Control) and WHO (World Health Organization) typically have the latest statistics, and typically write things in language that most of us can understand.

2. Internet sites that end with “.gov” are government sites. “.org” stand for organizations. “.net” is often used for businesses. “.com” is frequently used for individuals.

3. There is a HUGE difference between a research article and an “anecdotal” article. “Anecdotal” articles are when a parent or professional writes an article that basically says, “Hey, we tried this with our kid and it worked! He’s cured! If you send us $10.00, we’ll send you all of the information.” Folks, these types of articles can get an anxious parent excited, give false hope, and lead to you being robbed. IF these people genuinely had something, there would be some sort of research to back it up. IF these people genuinely had something, why wouldn’t they offer it for free, for the public good? If it is written by “Anonymous” it isn’t worth your time.

4. Which leads to this: A parent comes into our clinic with a printed off article from the Internet. She has found a woman in England (or wherever) who implemented the “Abracadabra Magical Autism Cure” with her child, and bam! The child is functioning at an almost normal level after just six months. Can our clinic do the “Abracadabra Magical Autism Cure?” Naturally, we look up “the cure.” And, we find that to get “the cure” we have to send somebody for training. In England. At $7000.00 for the three day class so they can be “certified.” And, there is not a shred of empirical research to show that it works. None. So the answer is no.

5. Which leads to this: There are absolutely, positively, research assessed programs and treatments documented on the Internet. One of them is the PLAY
Project. At Next Step Therapy, Inc., we have sent two of our therapists for this training and certification. The training alone was $3900.00 per therapist. Our company pays a fee each year to be able to advertise ourselves as a PLAY project affiliated center (licensing fee). There is not an insurance plan in this country, that we are aware of, that will pay for this type of service. Ergo, parents that want this for their child need to pay, out of pocket for this program.

6. So, the bottom line is: its fine for a parent to look things up and even ask your therapists about them. But, please don’t be saddened to learn that your facility doesn’t offer that (especially small, rural clinics). We can’t have people certified in everything – there are hundreds of programs out there. And, if insurance won’t pay… probably won’t want it anyway.

Beyond all of that, sometimes things “take off” on the internet….become all the rage….a new trend. Four years later, it’s gone. Because it didn’t work, or in fact caused harm. As an example, around 2008 an institute started offering training to doctors, M.D.’s, on Autism. These doctors got a certificate of completion, and got to call themselves by a certain name. They got to list themselves on sites as doctors who specialized in Autism. By 2010, people were clamoring for those doctors. The “treatment” method they used was “chelation” therapy to detoxify these kids of “being poisoned by heavy metals, especially mercury.” The problem? Most of these doctors, according to news reports, did not do testing first to see if the child was “toxic.” They just started the treatments. The treatments in some cases reportedly caused renal failure in these kids….caused them true medical harm. Unfortunately, there is no empirical research that shows that these “treatments” caused any significant improvements.

Today, this institute no longer gives this training, the sites listing these docs have been shut down, and if you search for this type of doctor, you will find nothing on the Internet about them since 2011, except that there are several pending lawsuits against some of these doctors.

If it sounds too good to be true, it almost always is. If you are being told that there is a quick fix for a situation that you have been told by professionals is a lifelong issue, you should definitely question it, strongly. Think hard, and run it past your pediatrician before you put your child on a diet, or a supplement, or do something out of the mainstream. I’m hardly ever opposed to a “trial” for something new or outside of the box….honestly, when your kid is outside of the box, they may need treatment that is outside of the box. Ok. But, there is a big difference between trying something for three weeks that is behavioral in nature, and starting your child on a drug that can have lifelong side effects.
Every loving parent wants to help their child. I can’t blame you a bit. If you have been the victim of an Internet scam, especially related to trying to make your child “well,” I am so sorry that happened to you.

It makes me angry, and sick, when people take advantage of worried parents. And, no, I have not missed the irony that I write an Internet blog for parents and here I’m on a rant about the Internet and parents. However, that is the whole point. On our blog, we give suggestions, but we NEVER promise you that it will work for your child. We simply tell you that “this” has worked for some kids, in our experience. We aren’t trying to sell you anything.

Love your Internet, but don’t trust it.


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