Autism doctors

Jim Coman plays with his then-7-year-old son, who has been diagnosed with autism, at their Chicago home in 2009. Last year, Coman filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against two doctors over autism treatments that his son received over his objections. His former wife had been a proponent of the therapies for the boy, according to divorce court records. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Dr. Anjum Usman, of Naperville, has been a star in the world of alternative treatments for autism for years, but now she's facing professional discipline for her approach to the frustrating disorder.

In prescribing chelation, a hormone modulator and hyperbaric oxygen therapy, Usman subjected a young Chicago boy to unproven treatments and demonstrated "extreme departure from rational medical judgment," a complaint filed this week by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation states.

Listing those treatments, along with dozens of dietary supplements and other therapies, the state said that "none has … been proven to influence the course of autism."

Many of these treatments are extolled in online forums and at conferences like Autism One, held in the Chicago area each spring. Lured by testimonials professing miraculous recoveries, desperate parents of children with autism spend thousands of dollars on them despite a lack of evidence and in spite of known risks.

The complaint, which alleges that Usman "engaged in a pattern of practice or other behavior that demonstrate incapacity or incompetence to practice," asks that Usman's medical license be revoked, suspended, placed on probation or otherwise disciplined.

Both Usman, medical director of the True Health Medical Center, and the boy described in the complaint were featured in the 2009 Tribune series Dubious Medicine. The series examined unproven alternative treatments for autism and concluded that many amount to mass uncontrolled experimentation on children.

According to the complaint, which was filed Wednesday, Usman "made statements to (the boy's) mother that the prescribed treatments had positive clinical benefits for children with autism, despite the lack of empirical research."

And, the complaint said, Usman allegedly made false or misleading statements regarding the value of treatments and "abused the patient/physician relationship."

The physician is scheduled to appear before an administrative law judge Nov. 28, at which point a hearing date will be set.

Usman's attorney, Algis Augustine, wrote in an email that she and the doctor had not seen the complaint and so had no comment. "It is amazing to me that the media is contacted about a complaint against a doctor before the doctor even hears about it," Augustine wrote. "Shocking, in fact, and wrong."

Usman, he wrote, "is a caring, compassionate doctor whose top priority is her patients' well being. Her patients love her, as they should, because she is an excellent doctor."

The doctor did not respond to a request for comment. In 2009, Usman told the Tribune in an email, "We base our treatment protocols on the lab results, parent reports and physical examination of our patients — nothing out of the ordinary in the practice of medicine."

Last year, the boy's father, James Coman, filed a lawsuit in Cook County Circuit Court against Usman and another physician, Dr. Daniel Rossignol, of Melbourne, Fla., another star in the world of alternative treatments for autism. The case is ongoing.

The treatments that Coman's son received were also the subject of a bitter divorce and custody battle between Coman, who vehemently opposed the therapies, and his wife. She had been a proponent of the therapies for the boy, according to divorce court records. Coman and his wife divorced. Coman was awarded residential custody.

According to the complaint filed by Illinois regulators, Coman's son began seeing Usman shortly after he was diagnosed with mild to moderate autism in the spring of 2004. He was not yet 2.

Over the next five years, Usman allegedly diagnosed the child with a calcium-to-zinc imbalance, yeast, dysbiosis, low zinc, heavy metal toxicity and abnormally high levels of aluminum, antimony, arsenic, cadmium, copper, lead, nickel, silver, tin, titanium and selenium, according to the complaint.

The complaint alleges that the diagnoses were, in part, based on inappropriate lab testing. For example, hair analysis "does not provide a basis for the diagnosis of heavy metal toxicity," according to the complaint.

The complaint lists Usman's treatments: dietary restrictions; nearly three dozen vitamin, enzyme, mineral and dietary supplements; two antifungal drugs; four chelators or detoxifying drugs; a hormone suppressor; and hyperbaric oxygen treatments, in which the child is shut inside a pressurized bag filled with extra oxygen.

At one point, the complaint alleges, Usman prescribed selenium supplements even though the boy's levels were normal. She "continued to do so even when (the boy) eventually showed a high level," according to the complaint.