Put an end to ‘packing therapy’ for autistic children

by Paola Battista - 2015.01.15
Put an end to ‘packing therapy’ for autistic children
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There's no calming the controversy in France surrounding the 'packing method', a supposed treatment for childhood autism. Although it has been banned in France since 2012, some doctors continue to prescribe it unofficially. Using a psycho-dynamic approach, it came to prominence in the mid-twentieth century as an alternative to traditional treatments of autism spectrum disorders.

The practice consists of wrapping the child, naked or wearing underwear, in sheets soaked in freezing water, explains child psychiatrist Jean-Louis Goeb, one of the foremost experts on the subject. This has the effect of lowering the child's body temperature, reducing it to a level that can produce a dissociation between mind and body, which is necessary to bring the most unmanageable patients under control. It also captures the child's attention with a short circuit of sensory pain.

The treatment is more of a torture that lasts 45 minutes and is repeated several times a week. Families, associations and professionals have inevitably complained about the lax controls of local authorities, which allow those who support the controversial therapy to continue their practice.

France's High Authority for Health is also under fire because, while it banned the packing method in 2012, it also authorised scientists to continue research and experiments based on the practice. This ambiguity left plenty of room for manoeuvre for experts and proponents of the 'cold sheets' theory, who are able to convince numerous parents to allow their autistic children to undergo this inhumane treatment. The continued practice, however, belies the failings of the scientific community.

Published in Autism, Mental disability.
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