“When you get an autism diagnosis for your child, you feel incredibly helpless, and you just want to be able to do something,” Toews told me. While she emphasizes that she never implies that her products can cure or treat autism, “Essential oils make parents feel empowered,” she says. It’s also a smart way to recruit salespeople: Moms who stay home to care for kids with autism are often eager to earn a little money on the side.
Whether they sell or not, parents of kids with autism are often financially vulnerable thanks to health-related expenses, says Catherine Lord, director of Cornell University’s Center for Autism and the Developing Brain. Her fear is that families are blowing money on essential oils at the expense of proven treatments. “What are you not doing because you’re doing this?” she asks.