Balm for Autism, can something so simple really work? OPINION

It’s been around a week since I first read an article about a new balm that claims to calm down the symptoms of autism and ASD. It’s been dubbed a miracle cure by some, a magic therapy which calms and even reverses the symptoms and even dispels some of the neurological sensitivities ASD bring with them.

I’ll be completely honest with you, I’m a cynic, and it’s in my nature to root our Science behind the claims. I know, being a mother of a boy with an ASD that he is very sensitive. Both to taste, smells and auditory phenomenon. Could this be the magic wand that parents like me have been waiting for?

I fear that the answer is most definitely no.

This is not by far the first product to offer a quick fix, or a miracle cure, but gone is the age of the wonderful travelling medic, who would sell you opium or cocaine to quell pain and curb moods, we are far more reasonable in this day and age, and base our decisions on modern medicine, and trust these products have been thoroughly tested for side-effects on a large proportion of people.

The first clue was that the article appeared not on a health site, but on Yahoo Finance. Finance. Yes indeed.

Noxo, the company behind the wondrous balm are after all trying to sell shares. Am I sounding even more cynical?

I went on a search for the hard science behind the balm. Creator Dr Ruth Pinney explains:

“NOXO Autism Aid™ was created to help “tone down” the perception of smells by the brain as well as affect behavior through the nose by helping the autistic individual to modulate their behaviour and by providing a scent that is calming to the emotional centres of their brains.”

In layman’s terms, the cream contains chemicals which desensitize chemical receptors in the brain. So imagine, peeling onions. The onion no longer makes your eyes weep, you will no longer smell the onion, nor will you be able to taste it. So what’s the point in peeling it?

The paper, which you can read here, then goes on to explain the biology of olfaction, or how the brain makes sense of the sense of smell, and how smells have an inherent effect on brain function, and which part of the brain it affects.

It does not however, explain how the phytochemicals (basically human manufactured chemicals) affect the brain by calming and desensitising the brain to smells.

I am aware of the work of 1950’s psychologist Walpole, and his desensitisation therapy, but having read the theory behind, it takes months to retrain a brain, can it be done by using a cream?

The brain “re-training” takes place over a few weeks of using the cream, and claims have been made that the effect is a dramatic one, leading to calming, fewer tantrums, less trauma on the parent and the child.

The paper cites the work of leading psychologist Simon Baron Cohen, but, unfortunately provides the interested reader with results of a test group, or even the fact if this was successfully trialed on a number of children diagnosed with Autism and ASD.

As a parent this scares me, that what has dubbed itself as a “simple solution” to calm down the symptoms of Autism. My son takes medication, which sometimes I don’t agree with. Would it be fair of me to desensitize him against something else without any concrete evidence to support if this really works?

No, it wouldn’t.

One of the main problems is that no one knows what causes Autism. There are many rumours, much research out there as to where the root causes lie. Personally I’m a fan of the deletion and genetic research that is ongoing at the moment. All we can do as parents is make an informed decision.

And unfortunately, while corporations are out to make a swift buck in a booming micro climate like life sciences, occasionally, just occasionally, we’ll get these “miracle cures”, and it’s up to us to take the reigns and do our homework.

Does it work? I don’t know, but I don’t intend on using it on my boy not with the lack of testing, and very little scientific evidence to prove that it is nothing but a desensitizing cream. What concerns me the most  is that there are parents out there, with the means to buy this product, looking for a quick fix, and that the information is not “out there” for them to make an informed decision.