April 13, 2006

The Age of Autism: Christian's Mom Speaks

Do you feel the wind shifting?

The Age of Autism: Christian's Mom Speaks
By Dan Olmsted for UPI

A small earthquake rumbled through the autism world shortly after 7:30 a.m. on April 11, and the aftershocks are going to be felt for a long time.

NBC Universal Chairman Bob Wright, said she is concerned her young son Christian's autism might be related to vaccines he received, that he is getting better through treatments that include biomedical interventions, and that it's time for parents to follow their own "common sense" when they get their kids vaccinated.

Big deal? Yes, big deal.

It's hard to overstate the buzz circulating through the autism community over the past few months as it became known that Katie Wright was among those with concerns about vaccines playing a role in her child's autism -- and that she was trying to help him recover accordingly.

"I think it's a huge story," one autism activist e-mailed me in February. "This child triggered a weeklong series on NBC and the most well-funded autism organization on the planet (Autism Speaks)," not to mention the high-profile heft of the Wrights in lobbying for more money, more research and more awareness of a disorder that afflicts 1 in every 166 American kids.

Thousands of parents with concerns just like Katie Wright's have been all but ostracized, as have the small but growing minority of doctors trying to help them. I know two MDs who lost faculty appointments shortly after I wrote about them, and I hear story after story about pediatricians rolling their eyes when they hear vaccine- related health concerns of any kind from parents. Many ban families who balk from their practices.

Sitting right next to Katie Wright on "Imus in the Morning" on MSNBC was her father, who also is vice chairman and executive officer of GE, one of the world's biggest corporations. His comments were understandably more general -- nobody knows what causes autism, he said; vaccines are in the mix of possibilities that need urgent research; as are other environmental issues, as are genetic factors.

But does anybody think he would have been there if he vehemently objected to his daughter expressing her concerns? (For that matter, does anybody think Katie Wright would have been there? After all, he runs the joint.)

After Christian's diagnosis, Bob Wright and his wife, Suzanne, founded Autism Speaks, an advocacy group. Some longtime autism activists consider it a bit namby-pamby, but after Tuesday that impression may be due for an update.

Regardless, what Katie Wright had to say extends a thoroughly bad spell for the nation's health bureaucrats and medical trade associations in their efforts to stamp out discussion of a possible vaccine link to autism.

Major newspapers such as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the Los Angeles Times, which has been the best by far on this topic, published articles on such groups' relentless opposition to banning thimerosal -- the mercury-based preservative some believe triggered a huge rise in autism
diagnoses in the 1990s -- from childhood vaccinations.

Last week 22 health organizations sent a letter to every member of the U.S. Congress putting themselves on record that such bans are a danger to public health -- yes, banning mercury from childhood vaccines is dangerous, keeping it in is not. Several states have banned it anyway, including heavyweights Illinois, California and New York.

Meanwhile, Katie Wright said, the American Academy of Pediatrics has not endorsed a pending bill in Congress called Combating Autism -- backed by Autism Speaks and numerous other organizations -- which includes funding for research into possible causes of the epidemic, not excluding vaccines. Some apparently take that as a threat to the third rail of public-health policy: the U.S. childhood immunization schedule.

Katie Wright zinged 'em on that one -- she called the AAP's stance "shameful and disgraceful." And she said that whatever caused Christian's autism, she wishes she hadn't let her doctor give him six vaccines on one day at age 2 months. Parents need to use "common sense," she said -- would you, an adult, want six vaccines in one day?

Then she raised the stakes. Parents should insist that doctors "separate the vaccines." You know, give them over several office visits rather than all at once to minimize chances of a bad reaction.

That doesn't sound terribly threatening to public health, does it? Yet it's heresy -- completely contrary to the position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Use of licensed combination vaccines ... is preferred to separate injection of their equivalent component vaccines," says the CDC's authoritative Pink Book of vaccine-preventable diseases.

And they should all be administered "as soon as the child becomes eligible for vaccination."

And they should contain mercury, if we say so.

By putting her foot down, Katie Wright joins thousands of other parents putting the "father-knows-best" branch of medicine on notice that it's not nutty to use common sense when your child's health is at stake.

Others will differ, but that's what I call a public service announcement.


Sue M. said...

Ginger wrote:

"Do you feel the wind shifting"?

- yup... thank God!

Anonymous said...

The argument that autism is caused by vaccines preserved with thermerisol is not 'refuted'. Until we know what causes autism there can be no statements that state without any doubt that something does not.

I resent the arrogance of those who state that there is no link.

Anonymous said...

My Son i my belief was affected by the vaccines also they did not contain thermerisol i do live in california were it is band. BUT AFTER MY SON VACCINES HE HAS NEVER BEEN THE SAME. He still my little boy and he is coming from his shell every day with alot of help and Faith. But we still have a long road to go. Because someone wanted to make a few extra dollars

Patkay said...

They have replaced thimerosol with another neurotoxin because, heaven forbid, the rates would start going down and they might be held accountable. They are beyond despicable.

Anonymous said...

hi. my son didn't receive his vaccines until much, much, later in life -- because he was in the hospital trying to survive a severe heart defect, open-heart surgery, etc., just the banal things, you know. he NEVER ate, NEVER seemed connected to us -- sort of autistic from the get-go. so pardon me if i don't yet buy into the "autism is caused by vaccines" argument. maybe it is in some cases. maybe it's genetic. maybe oxygen deprivation so early in life set up my child for this nightmare. i don't know. i don't care anymore. i'm sick of the blame in this "community" -- btw -- last time i checked, my community is my husband and me -- i want someone to tell me that my son will be ok when i'm dead. that no one will abuse him or manipulate him in my absence.

Ginger said...


Clearly there are children with Autism from birth and children who regress. The current autism treatment view is to think in terms of Autisms not autism.

The problem with the research is that we are probably looking at several different physical syndromes that are all being lumped together because they have the same behavioral symptoms.

Your son and mine may have two different physical disorders. The diagnostic criteria need to be updated to reflect at the very least the difference between early and regressive forms of autism.

And as far as your wishing for knowing that he will be safe, Amen Sister.

Honestly that is the hardest thing about this thing for me. The world sucks.

Karen in Boston said...

Anyone tried sign language therapy with autistic children? I have heard of a case where it helped communication immensely, but don't know many details. BTW, we can barely even define what autism is. All causes should be considered and I agree that there are probably many autisms and many therapies. This is a fight for the children, not with each other.

newworld_cd said...


My sister has had great success with her Autistic son. She asked me to write a song of hope for those in the struggle. It's called "Silent Tears." You can hear the song and read the story behind it at soundsugar.net/silenttears