Autism - A developmental disorder that appears in the first 3 years of life, and affects the brain’s normal development of social and communication skills. Autism is a physical condition linked to abnormal biology and chemistry in the brain. The exact causes of these abnormalities remain unknown, but this is a very active area of research. There are probably a combination of factors that lead to autism. -PubMed
Such clinical terms for a disorder that consumes the lives of families of perhaps 1 in 110 American children (Centers for Diseases Control). The CDC estimates the cost of caring for an American with autism throughout their life is 3.2 Million dollars, and the number of kids being diagnosed as “on the spectrum” has exploded in recent years.
This has spurred frantic and frankly devastated parents from every walk of life to ask — to beg — why? Just why.
No one knows why.
In 1998, research by former surgeon and medical researcher Andrew Wakefield was published in a respected medical journal, The Lancet. This research suggested that the development of autism was linked to a specific type of vaccine; the immunization against measles, mumps and rubella. It is better known as the MMR. The research knocked the medical world, the research community and parents of kids impacted by this disorder off their respective axes. Parents started to look at their children’s potentially life-saving shots with suspicion. Many stopped allowing their children to get them, altogether, in hopes of avoiding a diagnosis of autism, leaving them defenseless against childhood diseases that had ravaged children of past generations. Many would allow vaccines, but only if they did not contain the suspect ingredient, thimerisol, and many (including me) would get their kids all their shots, but drawn out over a longer period of time than is suggested by the American Academy of Pediatrics. I colluded with my daughter’s pediatrician on this somewhat delayed schedule, so I felt comfortable with it.
- Problem. Wakefield’s research could not be replicated. That is the hallmark of whether research conclusions are reliable.
- Bigger problem. Last year The Lancet retracted Wakefield’s original paper.
- Biggest problem. In January of this year, Wakefield’s research was roundly denounced as an “elaborate fraud.”
I spoke on NewsRadio 1080 KRLD with Dr. Pam Rollins at The Callier Center for Communications Disorders at UT Dallas about all of this, including whether discrediting this specific research discredits the MMR theory (The answer? Not necessarily…).
You can listen to our conversation here…
The bottom line is this. No one knows yet what triggers autism. It’s likely a combo of genetics and environment. Much more work needs to be done. Hopefully, someday, we’ll have an answer.
But we do know what causes measles, mumps and rubella, and we know how to protect our kids from it. Too many kids are dangerously exposed, and herd immunity only goes so far. Ask the families of the 11 kids recently diagnosed with measles in Minnesota.
As parents, we have to trust ourselves to make the best decisions we can for our kids. It’s often a cost/benefit analysis. However, we can’t accurately assess the costs OR benefits of any given plan without information. GOOD information.
Andrew Wakefield’s information does not fit that description.
For More Information:
On the signs of autism, please visit Autism Speaks.
On the autism work done by the Callier Center, please visit this page.
Edited To Add: If you’re a parent of a child who is on the spectrum, I’d love to hear your comments. I’d also love your thoughts on vaccines, and what you think about and have chosen to do with regard to them. Do you agree with Dr. Rollins that too much has been spent chasing down answers about Wakefield’s research and not enough on making real differences in your kids’ lives? Please, be candid. It’s impossible to offend me by coming to a different conclusion than I have, and your experiences may help other parents in a way I never could.