Thursday, July 22, 2010

Researching on the Internet

In my practice, clients frequently ask me what I think of some specific treatment option they’re hoping will help them or their child, and they show me websites and advertisements. It can be very confusing! Opinion is presented as fact, poorly run studies or misleading journals are referenced, and it’s hard to figure out what to believe. That’s the time to start reading carefully.

Frequently, for individuals on the spectrum, or people trying to manage ADHD, or the parents of kids with autism, Asperger’s, or ADHD, separating the facts from the nonsense is tough. All the information online can be confusing and overwhelming, especially for parents who worry that the window of opportunity on helping their child is closing fast. (It’s not! Although diagnosis and treatment should begin as early as possible, there is no magic point at which people stop growing, learning and overcoming their difficulties. And, there is no one magic treatment that you need to find. The fact is, there are still more questions than answers when it come to mental health treatment.)

The first rule when you’re trying to find information online is: be skeptical. Is the author clearly identified? Are their credentials listed somewhere? Are facts referenced in some manner?
Certainly, the target audience will influence the technicality of the site, but all reputable sites will  discuss or show references supporting their factual claims. Some less technical sites, such as this one, will present general “how to” type articles, but even here, facts are referenced and authors credited.

More technical blogs should be more thoroughly referenced. An example I recently found is called Psychotherapy Brown Bag: Discussing the Science of Clinical Psychology.  Less technical sites should still present information in a well rounded, more open manner. An example I frequently send people to is Autism.about.com. As an example, look at the site’s presentation about special diets. The article starts off with the statement that while there is little scientific evidence backing these studies, there is interest due to anecdotal evidence.

Which brings me to the most important rule. Almost always, the terms “always” or “never” should raise a big red flag. Any treatment that claims to be “the answer” or “the cure” for everyone, is misleading you. Treatments can be promising, useful, or even highly effective, but they’re never effective for everyone.

On the other hand, treatments can be unproven, yet simple, inexpensive, harmless, and they don’t preclude trying other treatments at the same time. They may be worth trying. An example of this might be setting up a specific behavior chart at home.

The fact is that there is no one answer. Individuals differ, their needs vary, and the treatments that will be most effective aren’t going to fall into one category. That’s a good point to remember in researching treatments.