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Petition to remove Deepak Chopra from Edmonton autism conference gets 800 signatures

Edmonton autism conference

A decision by an autism conference in Edmonton to include alternative medicine spokesperson Deepak Chopra as one of its keynote speakers has drawn the ire of concerned community members, including one Edmonton resident whose petition has so far drawn over 800 signatures.

The three-day conference organized by the Children’s Autism Services of Edmonton, set for late January, 2017, will be headlined by a number of speakers including early childhood education specialists, individuals who themselves have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome and Chopra, who will be speaking on “the Future of Well-Being.”
Perhaps the most widely known progenitor of alternative medicine, Chopra has been both revered and criticized for his messages which often speak of the healing powers of the human spirit in contraposition to the limited nature of the scientific perspective, particularly with reference to chronic diseases like cancer.

Critics say that Chopra’s appearance at the conference will give credence to the idea that autism itself might be something that can be “cured” through alternative practices such as mindfulness and meditation. Timothy Caulfield, University of Alberta law professor, says that families touched by autism need to be provided evidence- and science-based guidance rather than tempted by false hopes of a cure. “This is a community — the autism community — which is often subjected to treatments that don’t have science behind them, that are portrayed as if they are scientific,” says Caulfield in conversation with the CBC. “This is a community that is struggling with a profound issue, so I would I like to see a more scientifically informed person in that place.”

According to Children’s Autism Services Executive Director, Terri Duncan, the decision to include Chopra on the speaker’s list came from a desire to start a conversation around personal well-being. “Deepak offers a unique perspective, a mix of traditional and alternative views, which some may disagree with,” says Duncan in a statement to the CBC. “But there is no question it will raise awareness of wellness, and kick-start a conversation. We choose special event speakers who bring a variety of views on a variety of issues. In this case, our goal was to raise awareness of issues surrounding wellness.”

The online petition states that Chopra’s inclusion would amount to selling “false hope” to families with Autism Spectrum Disorder-affected children. “[Chopra’s] most destructive views could be those that holds regarding Autism, which he believes can be treated by “helping a client to return to wholeness (to) assist the overall functioning of the body through its own soul,” reads the petition.

Chopra has in the past come out in defence of Oprah Winfrey, who was criticized for her support of alleged purveyors of pseudoscience and pseudo-medicine, saying that by giving tv time to people like Jenny McCarthy, known to contend a link between vaccines and autism, Winfrey is acting from her personal intention to “improve the lives of women on all fronts.”

Speaking regularly to crowds of thousands about the power of mindfulness and meditation, Chopra has recently been in the news for his comments on U.S. president-elect, Donald Trump, who according to Chopra is “incapable of moving beyond the emotional development of a three-year-old” and is “stuck in his first chakra.” Assessing Trump, Chopra has stated that, “I see resentment, grievances, fear, hostility, guilt, shame, even depression and very poor self-esteem.”

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About The Author /

Jayson MacLean
Jayson is a writer, researcher and educator with a PhD in political philosophy from the University of Ottawa. His interests range from bioethics and innovations in the health sciences to governance, social justice and the history of ideas.

Comment

  1. I do not have anything to do with this conference, but I thought of writing a comment. Studies have shown that meditation/mindfulness training can enhance an individual’s ability to pay attention, which is a major deficit in autism – see for example the following 2016 study published in the journal ‘Neuroscience’ that shows mindfulness does bring about this change in attention: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26850995
    There are many other studies – it would take me too long to list them all here.
    We should also remember that autism (as well as all other mental-disorders) are diagnosed using doctor’s subjective evaluations. There are no blood tests, tissue tests, X rays or any of that. In fact, there are no objective tests at all (there are no objective tests because despite decades of research, scientists have not been able to find any structural or other brain differences between people with and without these conditions). Also, people often seem to forget about neuroplasticity and epigenetics – the mind’s ability to heal. Giving people labels of ‘autism’ and being constantly told that they have some long term ‘mental illness’ itself can also trigger nocebo effects, bringing about adverse epigenetic and neuroplastic structural changes in the brain, making the situation much worse. I think mindfulness practice is a very valuable option for those with autism – it is unfortunate that a society that seeks a ‘pill for everything’ prefers to ignore the many benefits of treatments like mindfulness can offer.

  2. I’m sure you mean well. I don’t think you understand the dangers of falling for pseudoscience. The autism community is already plagued by myriad claims of “miracle treatments”, and Chopra is infamous for co-opting the language of science to promote his own particular brand of snake-oil. I am favorably impressed with the potential benefits of “mindfulness”, but this conference already includes a different speaker on this subject. I hope it helps parents, children and the professionals who work to support them. Epigenetics has nothing to do with “the mind’s ability to heal”. Chopra would do everyone a favour by gracefully bowing out in time for the organisers to find a speaker who has something tangible to offer this very vulnerable audience.

  3. Regarding epigenetics, many studies have shown that genetic expression can change with meditation practices – for example, see the following clip: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhM5n6M1Ytc
    I can list several academic papers as well (here’s one example for cancer: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/cncr.29063/full ).
    I think, because these concepts are very new, people (even scientists working in other fields) tend to label such discoveries simply as ‘pseudoscience.’

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