NEW YORK (CBS) ― For families struggling with autism finding the latest treatments is a top priority. Now a controversial approach is making headlines.
Unfortunately, there is still no cure for autism, but therapies involving communication techniques, education and medications are the mainstays of treatment.
Now, an alternative approach involving a hyperbaric oxygen chamber is getting attention and giving some patients hope.
A year ago, Tommy Ellison, now 3 years old, couldn't interact at all. That ability was lost to autism.
"It tore our lives apart. It tore it upside down," father Tom Ellison said.
The family turned to New Jersey Dr. James Neubrander and his alternative treatments. They include a variety of supplements and vitamins, a gluten free diet and pressurized oxygen therapy in a hyperbaric chamber.
It's become part of Tommy's therapy. With his mom, and plenty of toys, he climbs into the chamber and is zipped in for the blast of oxygen.
According to his father, the results were immediate and stunning.
"He became a totally different boy," Tom Ellison said.
"Each time we did the treatment something new happened," mother Polly Ellison added.
It cost the Ellisons $21,000 to buy their own hyperbaric chamber. Tommy initially spent an hour and a half twice a day inside the machine. Now he uses it periodically.
His parents say he's cured.
"It's the closest thing to a miracle that I've ever seen in my life," Tom Ellison said.
Neubrander says the oxygen increases blood flow, and decreases inflammation, changing brain chemistry that causes autism. "I have hundreds of kids that have had a benefit from this," Neubrander said.
But not everyone thinks the treatment is legitimate.
"Unfortunately, there's no scientifically valid evidence that this approach works," said Dr. Joseph Buxbaum of Seaver & N.Y. Autism Center of Excellence at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Added Dr. Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia: "Historically in medicine when you have disorders or diseases that don't have clear causes or clear cures quackery and Charlatanism abounds and I think that's what's happening here."
But Dr. Neubrander hopes to publish research within a year.
"No, the studies are not there, but it doesn't invalidate what we see. The studies are coming," Neubrander said.
Buxbaum said all the studies in the world in this case cannot validate one simple fact.
"There are probably hundreds of different causes of autism and the idea that one treatment is gonna work for anybody or everybody is unlikely," Dr. Buxbaum said.
However, Tom Ellison said all he knows is before he went to Dr. Neubrander he had a disabled son. Now, he claims, he doesn't.
"For the people who are skeptic and who say it doesn't work, I have a son now," Tom Ellison said. "I have a son who kisses me."
Hyperbaric therapy for autism is considered an "off-label" use of the chamber. It has not been approved specifically by the Food and Drug Administration to treat the disorder. The therapy is used commonly for burn victims and in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.