Friday, January 2, 2009


This is my 100th post! Yay me!

I thought that maybe in honor of the post I should pick a deeper topic than usual for my ramble. So I thought I’d address a subject that I’ve been thinking about a lot lately- Autism.

Before I start, here are my disclaimers: I do not, at least at this point, have a child with autism, so I have no personal experience with the combination of joys and worries that have to be felt while raising such a child, so if I am accidentally insensitive, I’m extremely sorry. I read a blog written by the mom of several children on the Autism spectrum, and I think she’s fantastic and would never want to offend her or anyone like her. Also, I don’t think that having a child with autism reflects poorly on the parents (as I have read that some people think) either from a genetic or parenting basis, as I think all little ones are perfect and some just need a boost to keep them healthy and happy. The only problem with autism that I can see is a parent who doesn’t try to get help for their child because they can't accept that kind of diagnosis. I fear autism for my children, not because it would shame or embarrass me, but because I worry that I might not be good enough at this parenting business to help them reach their full potential. Even though others might consider their full potential less then desirable, I never would. I also recognize that parts of this topic (causes, vaccines, etc.) have supporters that completely oppose each other. And ferociously so. If I happen to disagree with you, please realize that I totally respect your opinion and your research and your understanding of the facts. It’s just like abortion or religion, or political views, or any other controversial topic; you aren’t going to change anyone’s mind by shouting at them. So let me have my view of this, misinformed as you may find it. And please don’t flood my inbox (or the comments section, for the few of you who leave those, and thank you again by the way, I love them) with the hate. You can flood it with websites to check out and books to read, I like that, but not with the anger.

Wow. I think my disclaimers were actually longer than my ramble is going to be. Ok, maybe not, but what a way to start!

The story of how I became obsessed by this topic is long and complicated, and shockingly I won’t go into it, but one of the contributing factors that keeps me working at getting my doctorate in Google is that Lilli is going through the typical childhood vaccine series. Even before Elizabeth was born we were asking the pediatrician about mercury in vaccines (although now I hear that it may be the aluminum we have to watch out for), but we still chose to vaccinate (more on that later). I had a moment of nervousness when Elizabeth had her MMR vaccine (which is one of the ones that tend to freak us moms out), but overall took it pretty much in stride. She never had a reaction to a vaccine (maybe a fever once), we never even gave her any Tylenol before or after and she sailed right through the whole process.

However, as Lilli (who has also never had a reaction of any kind to any of her shots) has been getting older, I have been getting more educated. And ignorance really is bliss. You read enough stories from parents who had children on or ahead of the milestone tracks right up until the day of their MMR vaccine and were never the same again, and you’ll be freaked out on shot day too. This time I actually had to have David sign the paper giving our permission for the MMR. I couldn’t do it because I felt that my signing it would automatically consign Lilli to a life of struggling to achieve things that come easily to other children. You can bet that I watched her like a hawk for a week looking for any signs of a reaction or any change in her behavior, and I never saw “a light switch turn off” as one mom described it. And she continues to seem to be just fine.

Well, on January 23, Lilli is due to have her 18 month shots, which, according to the way our practice does things, should be the last ones she has until she goes to Kindergarten. And I am as nervous as all get out about them.

See here’s my theory on the whole thing (once again- opinion! Just my opinion!). And since this isn’t a research paper I’m not required to link my sources, but you can find all this through Google and the library too, and pick and choose for yourself. I think that Autism is genetic. Now whether the gene malfunction is caused by family history, an environmental mutation to the mom either before she conceives or while the baby is still in womb, or something else all together, I don’t know, and I don’t have an opinion. But I think the tendency is there before the baby is born. One reason I think that is due to a study Yale did (you can hear them present the paper on iTunes, you may have to dig, it was a while ago), that showed that Autistic children have both more folds in their brains and in their placentas than non-autistic children. It seems like such a phenomenon would have to be genetic, or at least due to some kind of environmental factor that happened before birth. But while I think the tendency is always there, I think there can be things that trigger the actual disorder and if there is no trigger, you may never know that the child has the tendency.

So I think that vaccines may be the trigger for some children. Whether that’s due to heavy metals or the child’s body not being able to process the dead or partial viruses, I don’t know if we’ll ever know, but for every study that shows that vaccines don’t cause autism, there are hundreds of broken hearted and angry parents whose child either was dramatically different after a certain shot, or went progressively down hill with every one. So I am worried every time, and as Lilli nears 18 months, which is around the time the disorder starts to be diagnosed I watch her more and more closely. There is a website,, that lists the Red Flags of Autism. You only need to have a few of them present in your child before you really should discuss them with your doctor. It also has lists of milestones that a child should be achieving at what times (really, the entire website is fantastic) and I am understating when I say that I monitor these closely and I am poised for action at any moment. Because...

I STRONGLY believe in early intervention. I’m a social work major, who is happily not using her degree, but we spent a lot of time learning about childhood development. Among other things, in pursuit of my B.S., I went to several early intervention sessions and talked to teachers, the kids and even some of the parents (this was for a paper, I don’t normally pop into places and start interviewing random people trying to go about their day). From everything I heard, the earlier this intervention starts the easier a child’s life will be for them. There are plenty of struggles associated with it, it may not work as well as you'd hope, the red tape can be immense, the cost can drag you under (read Jenny McCarthy’s books on her son Evan’s journey through Autism-you’d think a celebrity would have it easy. Not so.). However, I would do it in a second.

So, if I’m so nervous about vaccines and have done all these mental exercises with what ifs, why, do you ask, am I still vaccinating? Simple. Because I would rather have a special needs child than a dead child. And I believe in the vaccines. I don’t think the schedule is right for every child, it’s a lot of stuff going into a little body over a short period of time. I think it’s easy to say, in an era when polio has been eradicated and epidemics are rare, that vaccines are evil and unnecessary. But babies used to die regularly from measles and mumps and whooping cough, and they don’t anymore. Except vaccines only work when the majority of the population is inoculated, and as more and more people opt out of them things are going to get iffy.

As I’ve mentioned a few hundred times on here, I listen to a lot of podcasts. A few weeks ago there was a segment on This American Life (the radio show) that discussed a family that had opted out of vaccines for their children, had gone abroad and picked up the measles unaware and brought it back, accidentally exposed most of the town they lived in and caused a huge number of people to be quarantined and a couple of babies to die and several more to get very ill, all of whom were either too young to be vaccinated or had parents who had opted out of the shots. That kind of thing makes me worried and a little angry. Heck, there was a chicken pox case at work and I was a bit panicky until I had determined that Lilli had already had the varicella vaccine, and that's usually just a pretty minor disease. If a person lived on an island and never saw anyone but their family, their decision to vaccinate or not would be completely personal and based on the needs of their child. And I would support it 100% But that's not the way it is. Measles, for instance, lingers in the air for hours after you leave a place. It's ridiculously contagious. Nobody lives in a bubble. So if your decision to protect your child in one way affects the health of my child in another way, then we are going to have words.

BUT, it is easy for me to say that despite any risks and my flirting with panic attacks as the needles approach, that we will vaccinate. As I said, neither of my girls have ever had a reaction to a shot, and have barely even had a fever. But my friend's little girl, who I love like my own, had a pretty scary possible-seizure-or-at-least-we're-calling-it-a-neurological-event reaction to her 12 month vaccines. And as a result of this, and quite possibly as a result of reading too much about Autism (which is also the case for me), my friend (who used to be in the worth-the-risks camp with me) has decided not give her daughter any more vaccines. Possibly she will later if forced, possibly never. And even though I think it's risky and it freaks me out that this little girl could either start or be the victim of some kind of epidemic, I can't say that I wouldn't make the same decision if I would have gone through that event with my child. But for right now? I will take a chill pill and we go get those shots


There. *whew!* I’ve said my piece. Heavy stuff for a ramble, I know, but a big number of posts deserves a big topic, right?

Happy 100 to me!

1 comment:

Sprite's Keeper said...

Happy 100th! I know what you're referring to, and I also wonder if I would be "up to snuff" having an Autistic child. If I was half the mother you know who is, who actually does her homework, and is proactive in making sure her kids are acknowledged and helped, then I wouldn't be so nuerotic as I am. I'm like you in that I would rather take the chance of a special needs child than take the bigger chance of not vaccinating. Great topic, Rachel.