26/8/12 - Ben Makin

Tannice’s talk about autism and its treatments reminded me why it is frustrating that we only have an hour in Skeptics on the Fringe; her topic and her treatment of it need much longer to do it justice. The first really shocking thing is just how little support there is for autistic children and their families in the UK. Diagnosis is not the problem; the problem is a lack of support. It is not just the majority of families with autistic children who have no support – it is by far the majority. (I did not note down the specific statistics, and I apologise for that). So no wonder they turn to anyone who offers help.

But what help? And at what cost? The main part of Tannice’s talk discussed the quack-treatments which exploit families who are in desperation or despair. And this is the next shocking thing to do with autism: just how badly autistic children are treated, we should have got beyond treating anyone as if this were the 18th century and they were in Bedlam. People without autism are supposed to have empathy, but a dispassionate look at some of the physical treatments and restraints suggests that those using them are driven by hatred and fear not compassion and empathy. And the pharmacological treatments seem to be based on no-science or pseudo-science.

Review – Tannice Pendegrass – Autism: an Introduction to Treatments, the Good, the Bad and the Ugly


Tannice is experienced in a more supportive and imaginative treatment of autistic children which has the aims of mitigating some of the extreme behaviour patterns associated with autism. But nothing is straight-foward here, and an audience member raised an interesting ethical challenge about imposing norms and supporting neuro-diversity. One final thing that struck me is that austism is almost always discussed in terms of adults dealing with difficult children. But what of the autistic adults within and excluded from our society? Tannice’s talk touched on challenging and interesting aspects of this issue, and we only had 60 short minutes at Skeptics on the Fringe to talk about them.

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