Autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs social functioning and creates restrictive and repetitive behaviors, has no known cure, and the causes remain ambiguous. As a result, many pseudo-“cures” have begun circulating online, leading some parents to resort to disturbing and severely unsafe measures to “cure” their children of autism, such as forcing them to drink bleach.
Amanda Seigler, a 39-year-old native of Palm Beach County Florida and the mother of three children with severe autism, has taken it upon herself to combat this dangerous and potentially lethal misinformation. According to a report this month by WPTV.com, Seigler (who says she has autism herself) says she has received help from several major technology companies, who share her interest in cracking down on medical misinformation regarding autism.
Siegler’s crusade against faux autism cures began six years ago, when she began researching information on autism after her son’s diagnosis. Siegler was shocked to find numerous Facebook groups for parents of children with autism, advocating drinking bleach as a cure.
“I observe, screen shot and report it. It’s not hard to get into these groups,” Siegler was quoted as saying by WPTV. “You make a fake profile. It’s really not difficult.”
Siegler is not the only mother taking action. Melissa Eaton, a 39-year-old Salisbury, North Carolina resident and the mother of a young son with autism, has also infiltrated Facebook groups advocating deadly autism “cures.” Like Siegler, Eaton tracks down the information of parents who have described forcing their children to drink bleach, sending screenshots to local Child Protective Services. Eaton and Siegler claim to have reported over 100 parents since 2016, submitting their findings to the Food and Drug Administration, the Department of Justice, and child abuse organizations.
Although Eaton and Siegler rarely hear back regarding action taken in response to their screenshots, lawmakers and health advocates have recently begun putting pressure on Facebook and other companies to crackdown on the viral spread of misinformation and propaganda. In response, Facebook, Amazon, and YouTube have all implemented policy changes removing fear-mongering content related to vaccines and fake autism cures, such as chlorine dioxide.
Siegler believes parents’ perception of autism as a disease, rather than simply a difference, is part of the problem.
“Until these parents can learn to embrace their child’s difference and help them, we have a lot of work to do,” she was quoted as saying.