Faces of Autism and the Need for Screening

October 30, 2007

The Andrew Child Photography Project has an exhibit “Faces and Voices of Autism Photo Exhibition”

Presented by May Institute and the National Autism Center. The website has some of the sample photos. Here is one boy’s photo that caught my eye. It is just an intense look that translated well into the photo. It looks like he can just see right through the computer screen.

This is Austin.

“When Austin and I are together, we float away in our bubble. A giant bubble filled with appreciation, love, hope, and laughter. He has this effortless way of making me feel like a child all over again. When I am with him, it’s an escape from a chaotic world filled with noise and ignorance.” — Jessica, Austin’s cousin


Most popular news outlets are reporting what I have always supported and many medical practitioners have privately been saying for years, every child should be tested for autism. A condition as common as autism should be considered a priority in early childhood detection. Particularly because autism treated early has much higher rates of success. Additionally it helps parents cope with the process of raising an autistic child if they know that is what is wrong and what resources are out there.

A report from the American Academy of Pediatrics suggests screening every child for autism twice by age 2. The report gives explicit instructions for the warning signs of autism at various ages. Current estimates by the CDC say as many as 1 in 150 children have a form of autism. Read More.

Maybe with some autism education out there, people will stop blaming the MMR vaccine, and more research into a science based cause could be discovered (cough=pollution).

MMR Vaccine and Autism Questions

October 7, 2007

Many parents are asking if there is a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. The questions are out there so I am going to try to help people find the answers.

Does or can the MMR vaccine cause autism?

The Answer: NO

Then why are we hearing about them together so much recently?

The Answer: The short answer is irresponsible journalism. The long answer includes multiple factors, the news loves to pick up stories that will draw big reactions, more people are speaking publically about their children’s autism, many parents of autistic children have a hard time comprehending how this happened to their child and try to think back to what happened near the onset of the disease, MMR vaccines are given at the same age that many children begin expressing symptoms, and the most recent thing to draw attention to this theory is a couple celebrity moms of autistic children have come forward in support. While I cannot understand the plight of a child with autism’s mother, I can understand their desire to blame something. The problem is this theory holds no scientific weight and gives mothers a scapegoat. The theory of a link between autism and MMR vaccination is widely held, the problem is it is held mainly by parents not doctors, and parents make better news stories.

Do some researchers believe there is a link?

A researcher Dr. Wakfield is the only person to suggest a link. So all this hoopla is over a paper he published in 1998. He believes that the vaccine leads to gut inflammation which leads to vitamin and nutrient deficiencies that might cause developmental disorders including autism. It was only based on 25 kids and large based on what their parents not doctors thought. Of the 12 researchers on his team, 10 have come forward to denounce the research.

Is there any proof of a link between autism and MMR vaccines?

Here is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s official explanation:

Autism is a developmental disorder. Children with autism usually have trouble communicating verbally and non-verbally and experience difficulty interacting socially. The media reported that there was a link between MMR and autism following the publication of a paper by Dr Wakefield, in The Lancet (a medical journal) in 1998.

Dr Wakefield’s theory was that the MMR vaccine might lead to gut inflammation, which decreases the amount of vitamins and nutrients that children can absorb. As a result, he suggested, this might cause developmental disorders such as autism. This theory was based on two studies involving 25 children. Dr Wakefield’s study was of poor quality because it included only vaccinated children and was based primarily on what parents could remember. Parents understandably are more likely to link changes in behaviour with memorable events like vaccination.

A number of much better designed studies, involving large numbers of both vaccinated and unvaccinated children, have tested this theory. These studies have concluded that there is no link between MMR vaccine and autism. The best study looked at autism and MMR vaccination in all children born in Denmark over a number of years. No link was found.

In March 2004, 10 of the 12 researchers who worked with Dr Wakefield published a retraction in the Lancet stating that “no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient”.12

Here are some links that I think will clarify even more for you the importance of MMR vaccination in children and the infeasibility of a link between the vaccine and autism.

            Quack Watch: A site the debunks medical myths in lay terms

Statistical Research in Japan: The rate of autism continues to rise after Japan stops giving the MMR vaccine and switches to administering each of the single dose vaccines separately (due to a problem with one of the components that they were fixing).

Global Research: This is a more technical explanation, it links out to papers from all around the world showing there is no link.

National Institute of Health: A counter point to the feeling “aren’t the diseases protected by MMR mild compared to the lifelong problem of autism”

Take Home Message?

There is no reason to believe there is any link between autism and the MMR vaccine. In countries where the rate of people getting the MMR vaccine has declined, autism rates have either stayed the same or increase, and the incident of mumps, measles and rubella have increased, particularly measles which can be fatal. The diseases have the potential to be eradicated worldwide if there is concerted effort and global immunization. But like all vaccines, allergies and immune problems can alter the effects (not to cause autism or any other developmental disorder). So you should always talk to your doctor for his or her opinion specifically related to your child’s medical health. Just remember no matter how emotionally convincing, you should be taking doctor’s not upset mother’s advice when it comes to your child’s health.

Vaccines: The good, the bad, and the ugly.

September 23, 2007

The Good:

More research has confirmed what we already know, Gardasil is an amazing vaccine that women everywhere should get.  It is also an incredibly wise business investment as it becomes more widely available.  Merck is rolling in the money.

  • New data shows a vaccine against the virus that causes cervical cancer partially blocks infection by 10 strains of the virus on top of the four types the vaccine targets. Gardasil is the only cervical cancer vaccine on the market, approved for sale in 85 countries and pending approval in 40 more; it has racked up about $1 billion in sales since its June 2006 U.S. launch. GlaxoSmithKline PLC is awaiting approval of its own vaccine, Cervarix. There are more than 60 strains of the HPV virus. About 15 are thought to cause cervical cancer; Gardasil protects against 12 of those, plus another two that cause genital warts but not cancer. Two strains cause 70 percent of cervical cancer. Merck studies following 17,600 young women for three years found the vaccine to be 99 percent effective in blocking those strains. “There’s the potential for an additional 30,000 to 40,000 cancer cases being prevented each year,” mostly in developing countries, based on preliminary estimates and widespread vaccination in those regions, said Dr. Eliav Barr, head of Merck’s research on infectious disease and vaccines. There are 9,710 new cases of cervical cancer and 3,700 deaths in the U.S. each year. Worldwide, there are nearly 500,000 new cases and 233,000 deaths a year.  (Source)

The Bad:

Another major setback in the battle against the HIV pandemic.  Merck lost a lot of money in this vaccine, good thing they make Gardasil.

  • Merck’s promising HIV vaccine has failed in large scale tests. The vaccine did not prevent HIV transmission or reduce the average number of viral particles. It was widely considered the most promising vaccine. It used a novel approach of T cell synthesis as opposed to typical antibody stimulation. It was a major setback in the mission of finding a viable vaccine for complex virus. A vaccine is generally regarded as the only viable solution for an epidemic of HIV’s magnitude that reaches across so many continents and into such poor regions of the world. This is in no way the end of the search, just merely a tragic bump on the way. I honestly believe there will be an effective, widely distributed vaccine in my life time. I look forward to the day.  (Source)

The Ugly:

  • There is a group of people out there who don’t believe in vaccination. To me they are kind of like insurance fraud criminals, everyone pays for their crimes. Now I won’t deal with those who refuse all vaccines, as they don’t deserve to be dealt with. But there is a group that is growing in size and popularity. Those who refuse to have their children vaccinated with the MMR vaccine (mumps, measles, rubella). A 1998 paper pointed out a link (not a causal relationship) between the vaccine and autism. The paper has been largely disregarded by the scientific community and no evidence of a relationship has been found. But there is one group still clinging to the article, mothers of autistic children. While I agree the autistic are an underrepresented group because of their communication problems and that they need a voice, I think that blaming the vaccine is the wrong approach for the group. While I doubt there is a relationship between the vaccine and autism for children where autism was not already a likely outcome, I would not say it is not possible. But what is important to consider is giving up the KNOWN advantages of the vaccine to avoid POSSIBLE UNKNOWN disadvantages. I believe individuals should be able to opt out of vaccines for their children, that more research should be done, and that potentially changing the dosing schedule to either a smaller dose or to start later in childhood may be helpful. But it is irresponsible for these groups to publicly denounce an important and effective vaccine. There words create doubt and increase the likelihood of parental refusal of MMR. Current research indicates the number of MMR vaccinations is decreasing and correspondingly the measles rate is soaring. I recently saw an example of this vacciphobic argument on Oprah. Jenny McCarthy (hot actress/mother of an autistic child) directly blames her son’s autism on the MMR vaccine. While I respect what she is doing because she thinks it will help others and that she isn’t hiding her child like some celebrities do (cough. John Travolta), she didn’t mention where she went to medical school in the interview.  (Source)