Autism & Vaccines: What I Don't Want to Believe

Kim StaglianoI don't want to believe Kim Stagliano and her concerns about a possible link between autism and vaccines.

I want to write her off as a parent who's just looking to blame someone or something, or as a parent who missed the signs that were there all along.

I want to cling to studies and reports I've read that say there is no link between autism and vaccines, that the rise in incidents in recent years has to do with better diagnosis of the disease.

I want to believe that vaccinating my children is the safest choice, that people are being scared in the wrong direction by avoiding vaccinations and point to things like the whooping cough epidemic in California as proof that vaccines are necessary.

But after reading Stagliano's book, All I Can Handle: I'm No Mother Teresa, I'm rethinking everything I want to believe about autism and how children are being stricken by it.


Or perhaps better put, it's bringing back to the surface so many fears I've tried to quell over the years as I've made choices affecting my children.

Stagliano has three daughters on the autism spectrum -- Mia, Gianna, and Bella -- and she believes there could be a link between the vaccinations they received and their autism.

Hers can be a controversial position -- even among those in the autism community -- to put it mildly. Many get uncomfortable, exasperated, angry even by those who continue to explore the idea of an autism-vaccine link.

The question is: Why? Why not at least listen to a mother who has seen first-hand the progression of the disease in her daughters and spent more than a decade researching it and connecting with other families who have seen a similar progression in their children after receiving a vaccine?

In a world where we mistrust pretty much every industry and corporation, including pharma, whose drugs are often recalled and given black-box warnings for their severe side effects, it strikes me as curious that the public is willing to assume that vaccines are safe for everyone at all times and that those of us who question their safety are the kooks.

Reading her book took her firmly out of the kook box for me.

She is educated and smart and went into parenting expecting a "normal" life, just like most of us. Only she got something much different. She has no other agenda than helping her children and others like them.

If you're looking for a motive, then one can be found by those on the other side of the debate -- pharmaceutical companies -- who make bazillions of dollars from vaccines. That's not to blame pharmaceutical companies, but if you're looking for motive in this debate, they have one.  

Parents like Stagliano? Not a motive in sight.

Currently, one in every 110 children has autism, according to the CDC. That number has grown from one in 500 over the past decade. That is staggering.

In the book, she addresses many of the justifications and reasoning people use to dismiss the link between autism and vaccines. For example, regarding those who claim the autistic population isn't really rising:

Believe it or not, there are people (some with autism, some just lacking in empathy, others trying to save their own political, professional, and economic arses) who want the general public to think autism has always been with us in these numbers, she states. If so, please look under your bed, chances are there is a gaggle of fifty-year-old autistic men hiding there.

As for better diagnosis:

Some people claim it's just better diagnosis and/or what's called diagnostic substitution, renaming people who would have been called mentally retarded in 1965 are being labeled autistic today. Not even the last loser in the class at Tick Tock Tech Medical School would fail to recognize autism in the children I see every day. It doesn't look like cognitive challenges or Down syndrome. It looks like autism.

Vaccines have done a great deal of good in this country, no doubt. They have virtually wiped out diseases that killed millions for years, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're entirely safe either.

Stagliano isn't advocating for parents to stop vaccinating or even necessarily using an altered schedule. What she is advocating for is education and answers. She says it's being "pro-informed" rather than anti-vaccine.

I can't say reading her book will change the fact that I vaccinate my children, since we've already progressed through the majority of them ... holding my breath the whole time. But if they were babies again, it may have made me do more research and give more thought to the issue before starting that course.

And I suppose that's what bothers people about the questions she raises too.

So many of us with doubts just close our eyes and take what feels like is a giant leap into a murky pool because our doctors and some studies say we should. To throw even more murkiness into the mix leaves us clinging desperately to the edge, immobile.

And sometimes it's easier if someone just pushes you in.

Regardless of where you stand on this debate, the book is worth reading. It's funny and raw and provides a real look into the world of autism.

From "crapisodes," a term she coined about the task of cleaning a child's feces from walls, carpet, and other non-toilet surfaces (a frequent occurrence in the lives of parents of many autistic children) to navigating services and attempting to treat symptoms, she and her husband Mark have felt the effects of autism as firmly as most anyone can.

It provides good insight into a world too many are entering whether you agree with her or not. And overall, it's an inspirational tale of taking life's challenges and meeting them head on, rather than letting them destroy you.

Do you vaccinate your children? Do you fear a link between vaccines and autism?

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