There are many and serious problems with the osteopathic profession in the UK. Even taking this into account, I was shocked and appalled to find that some of them now think they can treat autism. I recently came across the Paediatric sensory integration and GI dysfunction in autistic children course offered by the University College of Osteopathy (UCO). It’s important to remember that UK osteopaths are musculoskeletal therapists rather similar to chiropractors. They are not doctors and treatment of sensory integration, GI dysfunction and autism more generally is completely outside of their expertise. Let’s look a bit more closely at the course, and also the trainer.
The aim of the course is to “give an overview of the signs and symptoms of Sensory Processing Disorders and Autism Spectrum Disorders as well as evidence for possible osteopathic interventions in both subjects”. Let’s be really clear straight away. There are NO osteopathic interventions that have been found effective for sensory processing or autism spectrum disorders (ASD).
The course goes on to suggest the use of “visceral osteopathic techniques on autistic children suffering from gastrointestinal symptoms”. Visceral osteopathy is based on the idea of relieving “imbalances and restrictions in the interconnections between the motions of all the organs and structures of the body”. If that sounds like nonsense, that’s because it is. Visceral osteopathy is implausible and has not been found effective for any health condition. As Edzard Ernst says in one of his posts on the subject: “Visceral osteopathy is not plausible and the best evidence available to date does not show it works. In my view, this means that we should declare it an obsolete aberration of medical history.”
I’m also concerned that the safety of visceral osteopathy has not been adequately assessed. At the very least, a non-medically qualified osteopath poking around in the abdomen of children with ASD has the potential to cause distress. I’m not aware of any research that addresses the potential harms of this treatment.
The trainer for this course is an osteopath called Iona Bramati-Castellarin. She runs a private osteopathy clinic called IBC Care based in London. On her clinic website, as well as on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, she makes a range of misleading health claims including osteopathy for autism, claims related to visceral osteopathy and referring to herself as “Dr”. I complained to the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) about these misleading claims. They were very quick to respond and said they thought the advertising was likely to be in breach of the Advertising Codes. The ASA have contacted IBC Care and I can see that some changes have started to be made to their website. There is no longer an “autism clinic” on the site, which is good because no osteopath should ever run such a clinic.
This is not the first time that I have highlighted serious issues with the training offered by the University College of Osteopathy. I have written previously about their wholly inappropriate training to osteopaths in The Paediatric Respiratory System. Now they have run a course for osteopaths on the treatment of autism. There are many serious problems here, including:
- Osteopathy has not been found effective for sensory integration, GI dysfunction or autism.
- Osteopaths are not qualified to treat any of these conditions, which should instead be handled by a doctor.
- The safety of some of the techniques being recommended has not been adequately assessed and raises concerns.
- The trainer for this course was found in breach of advertising guidelines for misleading claims relating to the very subjects being taught.
I have long had serious concerns about the UK osteopathic profession but in attempting to treat autistic children they have stooped to a new low. I don’t doubt that there are some good osteopaths out there who focus on treating musculoskeletal problems in adults and try to be evidence based. Unfortunately, the very deep and serious systemic problems within the osteopathic profession lead me to believe that osteopaths like that are in a small minority. I think the safest option therefore is to not go to a UK osteopath at all and definitely not to take a child to see one! Instead, look for another professional who is better placed to help with your health needs.