April 6, 2017
I remember my first autism conference five or so years ago. I was so incredibly overwhelmed at all the things to buy, all the lectures to hear, and all the people I didn’t know. I figured that every vendor there must have a piece of the proverbial puzzle for my child, and I agonized over not having the money to buy everything.
Fast forward to the twelfth or so conference, and seeing the back side of things as I have worked a booth for a vendor a few times now, I now know that actually any company that wants to pay the thousands to tens of thousands of dollars to have a booth and market to a captive audience can apply to have a booth at any conference, and it is up to that conference organizer/board to decide whose money they will take. Remember that for many conference organizers, the money from the conference is how they live, and the decision is at least in some part financial.
So with that tidbit of knowledge, I’d like to offer what I call the Autism Parent’s Conference BS Meter. Print these questions off and ask them of any vendor from whom you’re considering making a pricey purchase at a conference.
- What does your machine/supplement/magic woo do, and why would that help my child? What’s special about it?
Things to watch for: marketing speak (big words, shiny teeth–think used car sales pitch); promises that it will work (nothing works for every kid, and any vendor who says it will is lying); anything that seems too good to be true. Positive things to watch for would be any mention of patents (get the number and Google it later).
- Have you got any testimonials from autism parents, and can you share those with me?
Things to watch for: non-autism testimonials (we like apples to apples); names you don’t recognize–autism parents are very tightly connected on social media and once you’ve been in the community a little while you know the big names; generic testimonials without substance (think “OMG! So great, changed our life!” vs. “ATEC of 91 down to 45 in two months”).
- Tell me about your customer service and return policy.
Things to watch for: we want to hear that this vendor has someone available during business hours all the time; we expect the vendor to stand behind their product and offer some form of return/money-back guarantee. A “no” to the return policy should be a giant red flag because until you try something on your own child you have no idea if it’s going to do anything for them.
- If the product you are looking at is electrical, ask these questions:
“Can I please see your certificate of compliance for household and similar electrical appliances safety (this is also known as EN 60335-1).”
“Can I please see your certificate of compliance showing that the cord is medical grade (this is also known as EN 60601-1).”
“Talk to me about dirty current and emissions. Can I please see your certificate of compliance showing that your device is within spec for electrical emissions (also known as CISPR / EN 55011).”
- Have you done any studies in the autism community, and can I see them?
Things to watch for: Most vendors will say no; you’re looking for the one that says yes. You want to see a well-rounded study (or studies) with 20+ children. You want baseline and follow-on data.
- If there is a conference special, ask them if they will honor it for a certain time after the conference.
Some will, some won’t. You are looking for a response that doesn’t pressure you to make an instant decision before you speak to your spouse.
- Will you be at <insert another conference here>?
If the answer is no, find out why. Are they only at this conference due to proximity? Do they avoid a particular conference for a reason? There are lots of politics in play, and if a particular vendor plays those politics, you want to know why, if they’ll tell you, because it may mean you don’t want to support that conference after all.
- Tell me about your BBB rating.
The best way to not buy something unsafe or ineffective at an autism conference is to not buy anything at all. The most reputable vendors usually attend the big conferences and some of the smaller. The most reputable vendors will honor their show specials for a short time after the conference ends. The most reputable vendors will not try to pressure you into a purchase and have your best interest in heart–they have the safety and BBB ratings.
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