Autism Misinformation

I am really angry today – incredibly angry.  I just saw an article on the 1998 Wakefield study linking the MMR vaccination with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) revealed as an elaborate fraud – Wakefield Study Fraud.

I am angry as this fraud has duped thousand of parents into believing the MMR vaccination could give their child autism so as a result they have decided not to protect their children from the potential deadly complications that can arise from some seemingly innocuous childhood diseases.

I am also angry as this fraudulent link gave more pain to families coming to terms with an ASD diagnosis by making them believe they were the cause of the ASD by giving their child the MMR vaccination in the first place.

This is a terrible outcome for thousands of families worldwide and especially sickening as it appears the claim should never have been published in the first place.

Now as a parent of a child with ASD I have never believed there was a link between ASD and the vaccination because if there was, I believe many more kids would have developed ASD after being vaccinated.  Many people believed in a possible link as it was a convenient explanation for the rise in diagnosed cases which increased around the same time the MMR vaccine was introduced.

Others attribute the rise in diagnosed cases to better detection and early intervention which I think is a more likely explanation – more high-functioning kids in particular are being diagnosed where previously they would have been considered just eccentric or odd.

I think it is vitally important to protect our kids from the potentially deadly complications of diseases like measles, polio and whooping cough but this supposed link spooked a lot of people into not vaccinating their children at all.  I had a whooping cough scare earlier this year when friends visited me and my new baby daughter in hospital.  A few weeks later it emerged their son had a persistent cough and was tested for whooping cough.  I was on edge while we waited for the results which, happily, returned a negative result.

As it was, my baby daughter was admitted to hospital at 5 weeks of age with bronchiolitis (another nasty bug for babies) so it was a stressful time for all of us.  I have had all my children vaccinated and hope that it does give them the protection they require against diseases which seemed close to eradication a decade ago but  have since started to reappear as a result of the dip in vaccination rates.

From my reading of other cases, it seems a lot of people first detected potential autistic traits in their kids at around 18 months of age.  In many cases, around this age kids lost their ability to talk and started showing signs of repetitive behaviours, obsessive interests and unreasonable rage when things didn’t go their way.

It just so happens that the MMR vaccination is administered overseas at the age of 18 months which led many to question whether the changed behaviours were a result of the vaccine itself.  In Australia, the vaccination schedule is different and seems to change every few years which is another reason I never believed that any vaccine could ’cause’ autism or autistic traits.

So this fraudulent claim just dumped yet another layer of guilt on the parents of kids diagnosed with an ASD as it suggested that the parents caused the ASD by trying to do the right thing and getting their kids vaccinated against common childhood diseases.  This was on top of other misguided beliefs such as ASD behaviours were the result of bad parenting or a result of complications in childbirth….

The debate (and my rage) has been further fuelled today by the distribution of an interview between journalist Tracey Spicer and the head of the Australian Vaccination Network (AVN), Meryl Dorey.  The AVN (based on information from their website) is an organisation that questions the validity of vaccinations and encourages parents to have an open mind and make an informed choice before getting their kids vaccinated.  The interview was held to discuss the Wakefield scandal and Dorey was asked to concede that the AVN’s advice was based on flawed science and therefore wrong.  Dorey refused to concede this point and the interview was terminated.

Yes, questions need to be raised about anything we give ourselves or our children (remember the relatively recent concerns about adminstering the swine flu vaccine to children?) and I support the bid to make parents better informed.

However, feeding people wilful misinformation is not the way to go about it.  In fact the AVN have been ordered to place a disclaimer on their website to advise parents they are anti-vaccination but have not yet complied with this order.  In addition, according to a Lateline report from earlier this year, they have also been accused of harassing the family of a baby who died of whooping cough because the parents have used the tragedy to encourage others to vaccinate themselves and their children.

We owe it to ourselves and our kids to consider all aspects of this issue and to make an informed decision based on facts and not on hearsay or twisted research findings.  I respect parents who have reservations about vaccinating and who choose not to vaccinate.

I do not respect those who twist research findings and provide misleading information to vulnerable parents in order to pursue a one-eyed and potentially dangerous agenda.

Deliberate autism misinformation is just not acceptable.

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