From her home base in Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, Chicago native Kerri Rivera counsels parents of children with autism on a "miracle treatment" that she says can rid their children of the curse of the dreaded disease.
Critics say her treatments, which involve the chemical chlorine dioxide, are tantamount to poisoning children, but Rivera refers to those critics as "haters" and "trolls." She insists the protocol has removed more than 170 children from the autism spectrum.
"If, in fact, chlorine dioxide were this toxic poisonous bleach, there would be a sea of dead children," Rivera told NBC5 Investigates. "How can this be bad if people are healing and nobody's dying?"
Medical professionals say the treatment hardly heals, but rather makes sick children even sicker, with no demonstrable benefits.
"Right now there is no cure for autism," Dr. Sharon Hirsch, the section chief of child and adolescent psychiatry at the University of Chicago Hospitals. "There is nothing we can do at this time to get rid of autism. It's a horrible disorder."
Rivera's solution -- "CD," as she calls it -- is part of a larger protocol that includes a strict diet and advisories for parents to watch for the purging of "parasites" from their children.
The chlorine dioxide solution is also known as MMS for "Miracle Mineral Solution," as Rivera's colleague Jim Humble, founder of the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, calls it. In online videos, Humble claims to be a billion-year-old god from the Andromeda galaxy. He has insisted in his videos that MMS cures ailments ranging from malaria to cancer.
Rivera's and Humble's critics say the MMS, or "CD" solution, actually becomes bleach and should not be ingested by children. They also say it has no medicinal benefit.
"It's an industrial chemical," said Dr. Karl Scheidt, director of the Center for Molecular Innovation and Drug Discovery at Northwestern University. "I would say it would be incredibly dangerous for anyone to ingest this, much less a child."
Indeed, the FDA has branded MMS as "dangerous," warning that it carries the potential for "nausea, severe vomiting or life-threatening drops in blood pressure."
Rivera, however, insists her treatments have changed the lives of scores of children. Tens of thousands have bought her book, she says, and, message boards carry the testimonials of parents who insist slimy parasites have been purged from their children.
"We don't have a single cause of autism that is linked to a virus or a type of germ or parasite," Dr. Karan Radwan of the University of Chicago said. "I feel terrified about a procedure like this which could harm many kids."
Radwan concedes that he hears from desperate parents, who would gladly try any treatment, no matter how extreme, if it has potential to cure their children.
"They will tell me, 'I know there is not much evidence in this, but I still want to try it,'" Radwan said. "I know that sometimes people will close their eyes because of their desperate, hopeless situations."
Despite the advice of doctors, Rivera insists her treatment works. As proof, she talks about her own child who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3.
"My son was immediately looking me in the eyes, he was smiling at me, he was back," Rivera said. "Almost as if he had come back to the body."
One Rivera associate has posted online articles about what to do if child protective authorities show up at your door. Another is accused of getting his scientific credentials from an online diploma mill.
In an interview with NBC Chicago, Rivera distanced herself from Humble and said her only interest was in helping children.
"Autism is treatable, it's avoidable, and I believe that it's curable," she said. "As the symptoms go away, the diagnosis fades as well."
Opponents have launched rival websites, blasting Rivera's chlorine dioxide treatment.
"I tried to contact Amazon about having the book withdrawn, based on the fact that it potentially breaks the law to sell it on the grounds it advocates torture," one parent said.
Another said simply, "This is definitely child abuse."
"If it were so toxic, people would be dropping like flies, and there are no deaths related to chlorine dioxide," Rivera said.
Radwan responds that there is no data showing that the treatment has any effect.
"The evidence definitely supports that a treatment like this would not work," Radwan said. "And at the same time, it's a very dangerous thing to do."
Indeed, Scheidt notes that MMS has never been submitted for clinical trials as is done with mainstream pharmaceuticals.
"You don't experiment with children" Scheidt said. "Something that's this potentially dangerous, why risk it?"