Don’t mention the V word

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Sex, religion, politics: The three topics you should avoid to keep friendships on an even keel, and to steer clear of arguments in general. That’s not to say they aren’t important topics – quite the contrary. It’s because they are important that they polarize people and bring out their (both rational and irrational) passions. If you’re moving in autism circles, you can add a fourth word to that list: Vaccines.

I confess that I am guilty of thinking less of fellow autism parents and bloggers, when I’ve found out their views on vaccines were diametrically opposed to my own. I still keep them as friends if they already are, I still read the blog if I already did. But if I find out at the outset that someone thinks vaccines cause autism, I am a lot less likely to invest my time and emotions in them.

I used to be part of an autism preschoolers play-group. I was there when it first started and saw many other families come and go. I decided to make an effort to be very welcoming to new families, to encourage them to stay on and to support them however I could. One day a new set of parents turned up with their autistic preschooler, and the other parents and I went to greet and get to know them. The new parents didn’t want to talk about their child, or their struggles, or themselves. The conversation the new family launched into straight away, was about how the MMR vaccine had given their child autism. Telling us how their child was fine before the shot, but straight afterwards they got autism, and isn’t it a horrible thing, and how soon after the vaccine did we notice our children got autism..

I didn’t feel like getting into what would have turned into an argument – these parents were particularly passionate and sure about MMR causing their child’s autism. But I wasn’t going to just stand there and agree or encourage the rant, so I politely excused myself and went off to watch my son playing outside with the other children instead.

It does matter what other people think about vaccines. For many reasons. The belief that autism is caused by vaccines impacts on how those families will “treat” their child. The choice not to vaccinate and to encourage other people not to vaccinate, has an important impact too. Just like sex, politics and religion, vaccines are an important topic with serious implications for millions of lives. Once those parents find out I don’t think autism is caused by vaccines, it also makes them see me as misinformed or ignorant or even evil. It’s hard to just ignore the white elephant in the room once you both know it’s there.

But what we have in common is often more important than our views about vaccines: We’re bringing up children facing the same struggles, fighting to get the same resources from a cumbersome bureaucracy, dealing with the same prejudices in society. So if what you’re primarily looking for is friendship, support and understanding, in a world that is too short of all three for parents of autistic children, it’s usually best to just not mention the V word.

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This entry was posted in Ought to vaccine or Autism Vaccine, Parenting an Autistic Child, Re blogging about Autism and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Don’t mention the V word

  1. Jess says:

    I read something about this somewhere that they were proving it was true, it doesnt matter what they do, i will never believe it….im with you on this one.

    • Thanks Jess, but that’s not quite my personal position. The fact is there is no good science to show a link. I read about vaccines everyday, and I’m very aware of their up-sides and down-sides, the truths and the myths. I always do my research into any new claims too. There’s just no good science establishing a link (at this point), and it’s unlikely to happen. I think it’s very important to always be open-minded to new research into what causes (and helps) autism, if new (and repeatable) evidence showed a link, I would believe in one!

      Are you able to link me to what you read about them proving MMR/vaccines cause autism, I would like to see what you’re referring to.

  2. Jack says:

    I have been following your blog for a bit, our son was diagnosed a little bit more than 6 months ago. He had his 3rd birthday party a few weeks ago. During this time we have been on Earlybird courses and go to support groups etc. You are right, everyone always brings up vaccines, without exception. I’m a scientist working in fields close to immunology, I had my son vaccinated without a second thought. When other parents start linking their child’s autism to vaccination I don’t say anything. They want something to blame. I think most parents think its either them or the vaccine that cause their child’s autism. They need something to blame, I think it must give them something else to focus on.

    Anyway I appreciate you posting your personal thoughts on this blog. I can see my son in some of the things you post about yours. Its always good to know your not alone.

    • Thanks for your comment Jack. It always means a lot to me to hear that my blog helps people feel less alone, I really appreciate you sharing that, and I’m glad my blog is helping you.

      Thank you too for sharing your experiences with people’s attitudes to vaccines and autism. It must add an extra dimension to encountering these discussions and issues when you have training and currently work in the area. Hearing people talk about what they’ve heard through interest-groups or media snippets, must be frustrating at times! I agree with you that a fair chunk of the discussion stems from parents trying to find something or someone to blame, which adds that extra emotional element to an already emotional topic.

  3. Dani G says:

    I try to stay away from this one, too. Although, I do have a position. While I know that this is NOT experience, I would never ever ever question a mother on her own experience. As a mom who is certain that I know my child best, I know that this is pretty universal: moms know best. If someone experienced this to be true, I’d believe her. With out a doubt and with the same respect I’d expect to receive from others who didn’t share *my* own experience.

    • That’s true… to a point. Individual experience is absolutely valid for whether a holiday location is a good spot, whether a restaurant has good service, whether a particular school is a good option. But when it comes to questions of science, a mother’s “experience” that her child’s autism was caused by a vaccine, can’t be given the same respect when there are scientific studies repeatedly showing otherwise. I’d respect that her child suffered after the vaccine shots (they’re no fun for anyone, and some people do have very unpleasant – and well documented – reactions), but to take the extra leap to “and it caused my son’s autism” is an entirely different type of claim.

      I appreciate your comment, it’s an interesting talking point.

  4. Melissa says:

    My feeling is that unless the current vaccination schedule was amended to start after age 3 or even 4, rather than birth … people aren’t going to stop thinking about a vaccine/autism link. When people started getting sick, however, I’d imagine there’d be some sort of protest to that.

    • Yes, there is some truth to that, though of course incredibly problematic because babies are a very high risk group if they catch the diseases the vaccines prevent. And it would be a horrible thing to alter a vaccination schedule based on misinformation – that would just encourage a larger group of people to think there was something to be worried about.

      And yes, as you mention, people have been getting sick in increasing numbers with the diseases the vaccines protected against, in accord with the fall in immunisation rates. Including preventable deaths. That has made some impact on public attitudes and awareness to why the vaccines are so important, but there remains those fringe groups of dedicated people who will never be persuaded otherwise, no matter what the proof and consequences.

      • Melissa says:

        I did actually delay vaccinations….not because of autism misinformation. More because I was incredibly concerned about adverse reactions and not knowing what my daughter was having reactions (and by reactions I don’t mean autism) to when being injected with multiple vaccines per visit. And she HAS had reactions (entire arms blown up from vaccines).Her first pediatrician was horrible about it. We now have one who only gives at most 2 per visit. And we are caught up.

  5. There are definitely children who have some nasty reactions to vaccines. It depends on the vaccines, and it depends on the child! My youngest just had his MMR last week, and has had no reactions other than being a bit unsettled. But when he had a different shot a few months ago, his little leg got all swollen and hot and he was very unhappy.

    That’s horrid to hear that your pediatrician wasn’t more understanding and flexible. It’s so important to have health professionals who respond to the individual in front of them, and to always listen to the concerns of the parents. I’m glad you found someone better.

    • Melissa says:

      Truth? I’ve gotten a LOT more blunt since her diagnosis. The only thing that really concerns me is getting her what she needs. People can disagree with my decisions, all that concerns me is whether it’s right for HER.

      • Well said. I’ve seen and heard of a lot of parents of special needs children getting railroaded into putting their children through experiences and experiments that are not in the best interests of their specific child. Especially with something like autism – where the way it manifests can be so very different from child to child – you have to always be able to reference back to the individual child you have in front of you. The child that no one knows as well as the parent does. Any professional which doesn’t respect that knowledge and position, shouldn’t be working with children.

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