Tuesday, May 26, 2009

autism and vaccines

After writing my last post about the autism conference where I had a booth this weekend, I wanted to go into a little more detail about what I have learned about the link between autism and childhood immunizations.

The first time I heard anyone mention this link was in the early 90s when I was a reporter for a chain of newspapers. I spent about five years covering state government in the capitol building in Springfield and then later became the Chicago bureau chief, where I also covered state government.

Honestly, this experience made me highly skeptical. That can be both good and bad. I don't take anything at face value. As they say in journalism school, "If your mother tells you she loves you, ask a second source." I tend to over-analyze things, think about them obsessively, research and look for second opinions.

So, I was skeptical when a tiny band of parents and advocates came to Springfield to hold a press conference, asking lawmakers to make changes to the number of vaccines required for young children to enter school.

This small group asserted that immunizations were the direct cause of autism. I also remember the public health department denouncing this claim, as if it had absolutely no basis and was a bit crazy.

The issue continued for several years after that. Studies were released showing no link between vaccines and autism, and it became a national issue.

I don't think I ever developed an opinion one way or another on that issue. I could see both sides. The claims of this group made sense to me. But could it all be coincidence? Regressive autism usually sets in around 18 months of age. That is right when most kids are getting a major round of immunizations.

I didn't think about it much until I had to start taking my own children in for their immunizations. I remember one time in particular when I questioned my doctor about the number of shots she wanted to give my daughter. She became visibly agitated, as if she had just had enough of arguing with Crazy Moms over this issue.

She started raising her voice and gave me papers and reports showing these claims were completely unfounded. We finally reached an agreement that she could give my daughter one shot that day and we would come in later for the others.

At Autism One, there is no debate over the link between vaccines and autism. To those parents, it is a proven fact.

A couple of years ago, my booth was next to that of some young ABA therapists. Their job is to do therapy with children with autism to help them learn to modify their behavior. By the way, this job that was barely even heard of a decade ago is now a hot field and services are much in demand.

These women told me about one of their clients. He was a boy adopted from South America when he was 2 years old. He came to the United States with bright eyes and a playful spirit. Because he had not had any immunizations, he got all of his shots at once. I think he had around 10 vaccinations at one time.

These ladies said that when that boy went home, he immediately sank into the dark hole of autism. The sparkle in his eyes was gone. He no longer made eye contact. He lost his ability to communicate. HE disappeared into the darkness called autism.

I don't know if this story is true. But it sunk into my brain and has stayed there for several years.

When I talk to the parents at Autism One and ask them when their child was diagnosed with autism, every one says that it was right after their big round of immunizations at about 18 months to 2 years.

This year, I decided it was time for me to gain a better understanding of the basics of autism and what these people believe.

I purchased a book called, "Healing the New Childhood Epidemics: Autism, ADHD, Asthma and Allergies". I am so fascinated by this book for several reasons, which I hope to write more about this week. You could say that I'm completely obsessed with this book now.

Anyway, the author, Kenneth Bock is a holistic doctor who writes about how he has used a biomedical approach to cure children of autism, ADHD, asthma and allergies.

He also explains the connection between autism and immunizations. I will attempt to explain that here, but if you know more about this, feel free to correct me.

First of all, I learned that there are two forms of autism. Classic autism is mostly genetic and passed down through generations. That's why you sometimes see a parent with autistic tendencies who has a child with autism.

Regressive autism is when children are developing normally as babies, but around 18 months to 2 years, they start regressing into the world of autism.

He says that many factors contribute to this. A few of those include:

  • Genetics
  • A mother's health when she was pregnant (maybe she got a flu vaccine or other harmful medication, or maybe she had Lyme disease)
  • The toxins in the environment. Some highly polluted areas of the country have a much larger population of children with autism.

So, factors like these are the "gun" and immunizations are the "trigger."

Did you know that over the last 20 years, the number of immunizations our children receive has skyrocketed? Back in the 80s and early 90s, pharmaceutical companies used a preservative called thimerosal in the vaccines so that doctors could give several at once. (The most common example is the MMR.) Thimerosal contains mercury, which is one of the most deadly chemicals on the planet, and this was being injected into children.

The early 90s also is the time when the cases of autism skyrocketed to about 1 in 150.

Thimerosal was eventually banned from vaccines. (This book states that it is still used in the flu vaccine. I don't know if this is true, but I am not taking any chances.)

Even though the chemical isn't used in the vaccines anymore, Bock said he has seen that children with a weakened immune system at the time of their vaccines, or children who are subjected to an unusually high number of vaccines at one time are the ones who usually have an adverse reaction.

These kids also have some of the factors I listed previously that make them more predisposed to getting autism in the first place. So, they had a weakened immune system for another reason -- genetics, illness, toxins, environment. And when they got the shots, their immune system basically crumbled.

That is my understanding of the process. This book also gives a guide for parents to safely get their children vaccinated.

I am hoping to write another post about how this book is changing the way I think about allergies. Stay tuned...

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have always been behind on my kids' immunizations. In fact, my oldest needs one more before he can go off to college. I used to feel bad that I was always behind and had to "catch up" with a shot or two here and there. Now, I'm glad. Can it be so bad to spread out the time that children receive these shots? I know they don't like them, but I'd much rather hear them scream in agonizing pain three times more so parents don't face the risk of seemingly losing them altogether?
Lynn :)

Jenny-Jenny said...

My kids were all born in the 90's and had all of those combo shots. How scary to think we are hurting by trying to heal.

Becky said...

This is definitely a "hot" topic especially in my world of working at school specifically for children with autism.

A few things I would clarify...the idea that there are two kinds of autism is an oversimplification. I have heard several researchers speak on this point and the only consensus is that our current classification system for autism is not effective. The other consensus is that people with autism vary greatly from one another and our research into the "causes" of autism is limited. It is true that most people's stories fall into an autism that developed from birth or a regressive form of autism, but there is no research to back up the "causes" for those different paths. There have been breakthroughs in the area of genetics, for instance, but these breakthroughs typically only shed light on 10-20% of people with autism. I have heard many chilling stories of children who stopped talking as soon as they got their vaccines, but I also know a set of identical twins where one is significantly impacted by autism and the other typically developing.

I definitely agree with the general premise that there are likely biological vulnerabilities (i.e. genetics, immune system varitations) that are then "triggered" by environmental factors. The thing that is difficult, however, is that we really don't know what those environmental triggers are. The question then becomes "How cautious should I be?" This is where every mother has to decide for themselves. As a soon-to-be mom, I honestly haven't decided how diligent I will be in trying to protect my baby from possible "environmental toxins." I have dear friends who have chosen both paths. I guess we will see in the months to come...

Liz Ditz said...

While this is a rather old post, I thought I should comment.

The overwhelming evidence is that vaccines (or something in them) are not causal in autism. An excellent series of lay articles on this very issue can be found at Science Based Medicines: Vaccines and Autism: http://sciencebasedmedicine.org/reference/vaccines-and-autism/.

If you are only interacting with parents who are convinced that their children's autism was caused by a vaccine, or something in vaccines, you are only interacting with a small (but organized and vocal) subset of the community of autism parents.

Do all parents whose children have autism believe that vaccines are implicated in their children's condition? No, not at all. If you would like to read works by some parents who believe that their children's autism has an unknown source, try R. R. Grinker's Amazon link or Michael Fitzpatrick's Defeating Autism Amazon Link. You might want to read his most recent essay on the challenges facing adults with autism in the UK Times Online.

As to the regression issue: there have been at least two longitudinal (across time) studies looking at regressive autism.

The following press release http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/12/041203100809.htm discusses three related papers by Jennifer Richler, Rhiannon Luyster and University of Cincinnati researcher Cindy Molloy. These large studies showed no correlation between vaccination & loss of skills.

Another small retrospective study using home videos of affected children is described here http://pn.psychiatryonline.org/content/40/19/28.2.full.

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