To the Editor:
I am writing in regards to the decision by the Watertown Free Public Library to host an event sharing and elevating dangerous misinformation about autism while promoting snake-oil “cures.”
On March 12, an organization called TACA (Talk About Curing Autism) has reserved a room in our library presenting Dr. Theoharis Theoharides so he can share his views on an unsubstantiated and unproven link between autism and “brain inflammation.”
To be clear, TACA is an organization that preys upon families of autistic children by promising them a cure through the use of intensive therapies, including a number of highly controversial and dangerous treatments such as chelation therapy. These therapies have never been shown to have any effect on “curing” autism, a neurological condition that cannot be changed, and groups like TACA ensnare desperate parents and mislead them into spending significant amounts of money and potentially harming their children.
Among the things TACA encourages, according to their website:
- No vaccines or a delayed/selective vaccine schedule, despite overwhelming evidence that vaccines do not cause autism and that vaccines given as recommended are a necessary and critical component of overall public health.
- Chelation therapy, which is indicated only for removing heavy metals from the body (anti-vaccine proponents believe vaccines impart mercury and other metals into the bloodstream, which is untrue). Chelation therapy is NOT indicated for the treatment of autism and is incredibly dangerous, as it leaches vitamins and other minerals from the body. At least one child in the US has died as a result of autism-related chelation therapy, despite being under the supervision of a doctor.
In addition to TACA’s concerning medical protocol, Dr. Theoharides has been promoting his unsubstantiated research claiming that inflammation and immune response causes autism. Conveniently, he holds the patents to several not-FDA-approved medications that he claims will have an effect on development in autistic children, and links on his website to where you can purchase these medications. However, he has yet to do a single double-blind study, nor has anyone else ever found any link between these drugs and so-called “autism recovery.” Dr. Theoharides promotes his beliefs at events like AutismOne, a conference known for having Jenny McCarthy as its keynote speaker. AutismOne also hosts the Genesis II “church”, which has developed and sells chlorine dioxide (bleach) enemas to purportedly cure autistic children of alleged intestinal parasites. Dr. Theoharides proudly displays this affiliation with AutismOne on his website and has made several presentations there since 2009.
Quite frankly, it is terrifying that a group like TACA, which poses such a significant risk to the health and well-being of some of Watertown’s most vulnerable children, would have a platform at our beloved Watertown Free Public Library. The library’s own meeting room rules states that the library director (Leone Cole) or its board of trustees (Penelope Peoples, Sheppard Ferguson, Tim Tracy, Carol Tierney, Raya Stern, and Gracemarie LeBlanc) can refuse to host any group it believes is not serving the best interests of the community. In my emails with Ms. Cole, she said she understood my concerns about this event, but still she declined to act without the support of the trustees (despite not needing their consensus according to library rules). None of the trustees have as yet replied to me. I struggle to understand why the individuals in charge would not take the necessary steps to protect Watertown’s Autism community.
Not only are Dr. Theoharides’ claims dangerous, they also send the message to Autistic kids and adults that they are something to be “fixed”. Please think about the autistic people you might know. Dangerous medical claims hurt them and their families, and parents of autistic children are susceptible to the promises of so-called experts who lure them in with expensive “cures.” While our community very much needs greater supports and resources, this is not it.
If the Watertown Free Public Library executives and trustees do not take action to remove this event from the calendar – effectively putting Autistic children and their families at risk – then their leadership must be questioned. Our children deserve better.
Concerned citizen, library patron, and parent of two autistic children in Watertown.