Diagnosed with autism as a toddler, the Chicago boy had been placed on an intense regimen of supplements and medications aimed at treating the disorder.
This complex treatment regimen -- documented in court records as part of a bitter custody battle between Coman, who opposes the therapies, and his wife -- may sound unusual, but it isn't.
Thousands of U.S. children undergo these therapies and many more at the urging of physicians who say they can successfully treat, or "recover," children with autism, a disorder most physicians and scientists say they cannot yet explain or cure.
But after reviewing thousands of pages of court documents and scientific studies and interviewing top researchers in the field, the Tribune found that many of these treatments amount to uncontrolled experiments on vulnerable children.
The therapies often go beyond harmless New Age folly, the investigation found. Many are unproven and risky, based on scientific research that is flawed, preliminary or misconstrued.
Laboratory tests used to justify therapies are often misleading and misinterpreted. And though some parents fervently believe their children have benefited, the Tribune found a trail of disappointing results from the few clinical trials to evaluate the treatments objectively.
Studies have shown that up to three-quarters of families with children with autism try alternative treatments, which insurance does not usually cover. Doctors, many linked to the influential group Defeat Autism Now!, promote the therapies online, in books and at conferences.
Intensive regimens are so common that one doctor recently joked at an Autism One conference in Chicago that "you know you have a child with autism if ... your child takes more pills than your grandmother."
The Tribune found children undergoing daylong infusions of a blood product that carries the risk of kidney failure and anaphylactic shock. Researchers in the field emphatically warn that the therapy should not be used to treat autism.
Children are repeatedly encased in pressurized oxygen chambers normally used after scuba diving accidents, at a cost of thousands of dollars. This unproven therapy is meant to reduce inflammation that experts say is little understood and may even be beneficial.
Children undergo rounds of chelation therapy to leach heavy metals from the body, though most toxicologists say the test commonly used to measure the metals is meaningless and the treatment potentially harmful.
Last year, the National Institutes of Health halted a controversial government-funded study of chelation before a single child with autism was treated. Researchers at Cornell University and University of California, Santa Cruz, had found that rats without lead poisoning showed signs of cognitive damage after being treated with a chelator.
Doctors associated with the autism recovery movement often say they know that more research is needed on their treatments, but they can't wait because children need help now.
"We feel some urgency that we can't wait for 10 or 20 years," pediatrician Dr. Elizabeth Mumper, medical coordinator for the Autism Research Institute, testified in a special federal court that examined the issue of autism and vaccines. The nonprofit institute is the parent organization of Defeat Autism Now!
Other physicians -- as well as scientists and bioethicists -- disagree.
"They really should be seeing treatment of patients with unproven therapies as dangerous experimentation," said pediatrician Dr. Steven Goodman, a clinical trial expert at the Johns Hopkins Berman Institute of Bioethics. "The problem with uncontrolled experiments ... is that it is experimentation from which we can learn nothing."
Misleading scienceMany parents who try alternative therapies cite an analogy popularized by a luminary of the movement, a physician who wrote a book on recovering children from autism. They say they feel as if their child has jumped off a pier. Science hasn't proved that throwing a life preserver will save the child, but they have a duty to try, right?