13 May 2010

Autism Smackdown!

Every time I read a story/article/opinion like this one by Lin Wessels (weird that we have nearly the same last name, eh?), I get ANGRY. Now, before you all think I'm some meanie who doesn't have any sympathy for some poor woman dealing with an autistic child, I have one of those too. It's just this mindset as expressed in this article makes me froth at the mouth.

1. Using phrases that make it sound like the child is dead. (In this article, "Our only child was taken from us by autism.")

2. Using phrases that make it sound like life is kinda over. (i.e., "Autism already rocked my world. It is all of you who are not yet touched by autism whom I am trying to spare.")

3. Acting like autism is drastically increasing without acknowledging that screening has become a normal part of a two year old well child visit, when even 10 years ago, this was not the case (i.e."Chances are, at the rate we're going, one day in the not-too-distant future, autism also will claim your family. I sincerely hope and pray not, but the drastic incline in autism statistics - sad, but true - speaks for itself")

4. Outright fearmongering and placing blame on mercury in vaccines, even when the child is born after 1999 and thus should not have had any exposure to mercury in vaccines unless the parents did a flu shot (which most folks don't do for a healthy infant). Like this excerpt from the above linked article:

"According to his records, our son Sam has all the classic signs of regressive autism, meaning he was developing normally until one day something significantly changed.

Sam has undergone all of the genetic testing for autism to date. He has none of the known genetic biomarkers of the disorder. There are thought to be more than 200 biomarkers.

Sam repeatedly has documented toxic levels of mercury in his tissue and blood. He also has an overburden of testosterone. Testosterone inhibits the natural excretion of heavy metals, namely mercury. As we address both of these issues, our son progresses and improves slowly but surely.

These questions remain: Why our son? Where was he exposed to toxic levels of mercury other than his childhood vaccines? And if no one can answer these two questions, whose child is destined to be next?"

It seems like people are soooooo desperate to pin autism on something that they are willing to completely ignore hundreds of studies showing vaccines are safe in favor of the Wakefield study, that was later shown to have falsified data, that MMR vaccine is not safe.

Autism is not a death sentence. My daughter with autism is bright and beautiful and brings TREMENDOUS joy into our lives. Sure, it is difficult to have someone you love who has extreme difficulties in communication, but life is not perfect. No child is perfect. However, our daughter is alive and happy, even if she may not get the "normal" life path people expect when they have children.

With that said, it is my deepest hope that people will stop treating autism like a death sentence. I hope that people will face reality and stop blaming vaccines. I hope that more parents will vaccinate their children. I know lots of parents have many reasons for not vaccinating, and I respect their right to make those decisions. I'm just asking for people to make informed decisions based in science, not fear. The fact is that autism will not kill my daughter, but measles, polio, mumps and even chicken pox CAN kill our children, and used to kill many children not so long ago. I'm 33. I've been blessed to have never seen a death from measles, polio, mumps or chicken pox among my friends or family. With plummeting vaccination rates though, I think this rising generation of children will experience these deaths, mostly because of fearmongering and conspiracy theories about vaccines.


Jessica Bair said...

I recently saw on the news that there has been an outbreak of mumps in northwest Iowa. The folks in surrounding states could be at risk due to college students going back home for the summer. I think the outbreak was on a campus in Iowa. PLEASE VACCINATE YOUR KIDS! Plus we have tons of people coming over from other countries. These people may not have been vaccinated either. Some people think "well, others are vaccinated, so my kids should be safe"

Anonymous said...

Well written! Hugs to you and your family! I have not personally had much experience with autism. I have one girlfriend who's son I used to babysit, and I just could not understand him. He was a tough rambunctious lil guy who was extremely creative. He knew his wants and desires, and while I did not notice that he was autistic prior to diagnosis, I... See More did notice the social disconnect between him and other children his age in our Sunday School class at church. It was later that he was diagnosed as having autism. All of a sudden, it all made sense. But he was still a loved child. I am not in his life anymore because I no longer live in WA, but that's the most I've experienced. I appreciate your thoughts and views on this subject. Have you looked into the food diets that Jenny McCarthy pushes?? ~ Theresa

Claire Wessel said...

It's kind of unfortunate that Jenny McCarthy has become basically the face of autism for the general public. It's good only in that she's brought a lot of attention to the topic, but really bad in that she is leading the crusade for anti-science as far as I'm concerned. There has been a lot of studies done on the effectiveness of certain methods ... See Morefor reducing the symptoms of autism. The GFCF diet (no gluten or casein) has no scientifically provable results for children with autism. I'm sure some children may have diet sensitivities with an autism diagnosis and may show improvement in their symptoms, but it isn't something that works any more often than a placebo. I think it's unfortunate that most of the things she advocates for are things that have either been shown to be total failures for autistic children, totally debunked by research, or have very little effect at all. So in a way, even though she has brought a lot of attention to autism, she has caused a flood of people to insist on research or treatments that have already been disproven, which is basically to my mind a waste of time and money.

Honestly, when I first started looking in to treatments for autism or causes of autism, the vast majority of stuff I found online from blogs, parent groups and even autism societies was either very accepting of the anti-vaccine/GFCF/etc methods, putting them at the same level as the methods with more science behind them, or insisting that these methods were superior to the more proven methods. It took quite awhile for me to find some sources that could show the actual research so I could read the actual studies for myself. Once I found that stuff, I became very surprised at the amount of blatantly untrue positions that are widely accepted about both the causes and treatment of autism. I really wish there was a way to get more people to see the facts of autism causes and treatments, but I think that human nature will intervene. People like to have something to blame and something to hope for. The anti-vaccine position lends itself well to that. You can blame the vaccine and then avoid autism by avoiding the vaccines. It states a cause and some hope. It doesn't seem to matter that it has been proven more than 100 studies over to be false, thus a false hope as well.

It would be nice to know what causes autism, but we don't have that answer yet. We do know that it isn't vaccines or casein or gluten. I don't know many people with autistic children, but one family I know with two child on the spectrum have NEVER immunized any of their children and my daughter had a milk allergy until she was about 3, so she wasn't exposed to casein at all but for 2 days out of her life. I think it will be interesting when the causes of autism are discovered, but it doesn't drive me crazy trying to pinpoint what to blame. I feel like a lot of parents spend a great deal of energy trying to figure out why their child regressed and hoping that if the cause could be discovered, then it could be reversed. If I thought like that, I think it would make me half crazy and I would miss out on so much of the happiness and joy that I have from experiencing life with my daughter exactly how it is. I do try to get her scientifically proven treatment for the autism in the hopes that it will improve her opportunity for independence and relationships later in life, but I can't say that I expect or have a need to see her "cured". I think with all of my children, I just want to see them happy and the road to happy isn't really relevant for me.