Recent studies show children with autism and their families may be particularly prone to placebo effects.
As The Atlantic reports, autism is a difficult condition to research objectively because of the range of symptoms that can appear. If one is going to measure a placebo effect, then, on which symptoms should the effect be measured? Furthermore, researchers must tease out the differences between a treatment's effects on parents' expectations and on those of their children. Despite the complications, however, a broad array of studies has found placebo effects to be relatively strong for families treating autism.
The effect of expecting an autism treatment to work may be the strongest in parents, who observe and report on their children's behavior. Their motivation for wanting any treatment to work is obviously quite strong, which may affect their view of treatment outcomes. From their children's point of view, they may want to please their parents, expect events to unfold as their parents expect them to, or fear the treatment they receive and so change their behavior to avoid it. Physicians, too, may want and expect any treatment they prescribe to work. Finally, beyond wanting treatments to work, a placebo effect in autism is made even more likely by treatments' co-existence with natural developmental shifts in behavior.
All these reasons may make parents and their children more likely to use, pay for, and even suffer the adverse effects of autism treatments that do not, in and of themselves, do any good. As part of this article, The Atlantic also follows the story of one mother and her young child affected by ineffective autism treatments.