Ok so this is a rehash of a forum post I made a while ago but I have amended it with a big caveat after some interesting discussions with other members of the autistic community.
Why those that say there is link between the MMR Vaccine and autism really piss us off
As the parents of a child with autism, there are many reasons why people continuing to peddle the lie that MMR causes autism might cause us offence. We might get annoyed that despite the mountains of evidence that categorically proves the MMR cannot be a causal factor in autism the lie somehow refuses to die. We could argue that this heath scare hoax has caused millions of pounds of research money to be wasted on studies disproving a link that never had any supporting evidence in the first place. This money could have been spent on useful research that might have helped our little boy. One could understand why this waste might cause us and others within the autistic community distress. But this is not what really gets our goat.
One could also imagine that the implication that we DID this to our son would grate somewhat. Those that perpetuate the MMR autism link myth are implicitly saying that it was our fault, that our actions are what caused our sons autism, that if we had only listened to the superior wisdom of the antivax crowd then we might have avoided this outcome. Given that we know for a fact that MMR does not cause autism I’m sure anyone could understand why this false implication of complicity might annoy. But this is not what really rubs us up the wrong way.
Maybe then it’s the fact that unvaccinated kids present a danger to other children? Some of you may know that our son caught measles despite being vaccinated with MMR. This can happen, no vaccine is 100% effective, but in order for it to happen he needed to come into contact with another infectious child. The chances are that his infector was an unvaccinated child in the village. So I’m sure any parent could understand why our son being caused to suffer by the inaction of other parents based on false information would make us angry. Indeed this incident did cause us anger but it is not the anger that is boiling over here.
So what is it that is causing us to feel such righteous indignation? Well allow us to explain. Hidden within the autism MMR link hoax is a disturbing implication. You might not be aware of it but its there if you look. The implication is that our son has been damaged, that there is something defective about him, that he is broken somehow. By saying that the MMR jab causes autism you are effectively saying that something in the MMR jab caused brain damage in our boy.
Now this might not seem contentious to you. Regardless of the cause of autism it might seem an obvious statement of fact people with autism are damaged in some way. After all autism is a disability isn’t it? People with autism do have something wrong with them right? Call it a disorder, a condition or an illness it’s still a defect, something to be avoided if possible, yes? Well, no actually it’s not as simple as that.
Many within the autistic community do not view autism as an illness. Instead it is viewed as a perfectly natural personality type or cognitive style. This cognitive style is certainly atypical. The brains of people like our son interpret the world in a different way to “normal” humans, but just because something is different, does not mean that it is wrong. Nor does it mean that the person with those traits is broken or damaged! Indeed diversity and difference in humans is something we normally celebrate.
*** Big caveat warning – before anyone in the autistic community gets cross, there is a big caveat towards the end of this article, please read this before hating on me ****
Is autism the new gay?
I think a good analogy to help hammer home this point is to consider how we view homosexuality. No decent person these days views homosexuality as a disorder, but this has not always been the case. In the past homosexuality has been criminal, seen as a mental illness and as a sexual perversion. In less enlightened times we used to try and “cure” homosexuality through drugs and aversion “therapy” (this still goes on in some uncivilised places of the world like America BTW). But nowadays no one in their right mind would consider that a gay person is suffering from a mental illness or that they are broken or damaged somehow. Imagine some ignorant twat telling people that homosexuality is caused by “toxins” in drinking water or some other environmental factor? Imagine how offensive this would be to the gay community? How might they react to such a claim? Well the first thing the gay community might say is “eerrr fuck you! We are not broken thank you very much, I’m gay not ill you moron.” This is how we feel about our son’s autism.
If it ain’t broke
Our son is not broken, he’s not ill, he’s not defective he is just different. His brain interprets the world in a different way to most people but that’s ok. It means he will behave in ways that seem odd to us neurotypical people but maybe gay people act in a way that seems odd to straight people? A straight man possibly can’t appreciate the sexual attractiveness of other men, in the same way a normally brained (neurotypical) person can probably never understand why flapping ones hands feels so calming (as it does to many people with autism). These differences in behaviour are not bad they are just different. Just as there is nothing wrong with a gay person being attracted to those of the same sex just as there is nothing wrong with our son’s oddities of behaviour.
Now, one could argue that autism does cause significant impairment to the lives of those that have it. This is true in many cases and there are certainly some profoundly autistic people that never learn to live independent lives. But setting aside the profoundly autistic people for one moment, most of the problems faced by most people with autism are due to reactions from people without autism. It is the way us neurotypical people treat people with autism that causes them distress and problems not the autism itself.
The parallels with homosexuality are again strong. Being gay does not in itself cause people psychological distress but the outside worlds reaction to homosexuality does. In particular, the various religions of the world that condemn homosexuality as a sin cause immense psychological harm to gays around the world particularly if they have been brought up in one of those religions. It’s not the homosexuality that causes gay people distress it’s the homophobia. So similarly people with autism are generally fine until they have to interact with an “autsisticophobic” world. It’s not the autism that causes the problem it’s the neurotypical bias of the world that makes things hard for people with an autistic cognitive style.
A big part of the distress caused to people with autism is them being viewed as broken or as ill. And this is why the MMR / autism hoax causes us as parents to get so fucking annoyed. By perpetuating this myth you are telling us that our son is broken when he isn’t and in doing so you are helping prevent the world from moving on and accepting autism simply as a different cognitive style. By implying that autism is “damage” rather than a perfectly natural, but different brain style, you are helping maintain the “autisticophobia” in the world. So you are part of the problem faced by our son.
Big caveat time
Ok so I need to inject a fairly massive caveat here. When I say “this is how we feel about our son’s autism” I need to emphasis the words WE and OUR, this is not a generalisation about all autism. Many parents of autistic kids do indeed view their children as being damaged or as having a disability. Autism is such a hugely varied condition and can result in impairments and problems far far greater than the Bean has. In many cases it may be entirely correct to label autism as a disability or as brain damage. I’m not going to sit here and preach that all autistic kids are “just different” and not disabled, that would be completely naïve and downright insulting to many parents.
Some autistic kids will never learn to speak, wash themselves or lead independent lives. Their parents will have to deal with shit, piss, meltdowns and sometimes physical violence for their whole lives. There is very little upside to this type of autism and so, sure it is a disability and could even be seen as damage. Very few of these problems will be solved by having a more autism aware society. Who gives a fuck if the neighbours are autism aware when you are scrapping shit off your 14 year old son’s bedroom walls at 4 in the morning?
So please if you are reading this and you are one of those parents, I do get it. I am not trying to make light of your problems. I’m not saying you should be all jolly and upbeat about your kid’s autism. I am only describing how we feel about our son’s autism.
Similarly I’m full aware of how many autistic people suffer in society and that many wish they were not autistic as a result. I don’t want to belittle this suffering by implying that there is nothing wrong with you. If you feel like you have a disability then you do have a disability! I do think that many problems can be solved by having a more autism aware public but I’m not going to sit here and say that all the issues you face will magically disappear if everyone suddenly becomes more aware.
We hope this causes you all to pause and reflect. We really want you all to be part of the solution rather than the problem. Don’t view our son as damaged, don’t see him as less than others, and don’t pity him or us. Instead celebrate his difference, rejoice in his odd take on things, marvel at the things he sees that we don’t. People with autism are probably responsible for many of the major innovations that have propelled our species forwards. Einstein, Newton, Tesla, Picasso , Mozart and many other geniuses it seemed had strong autistic traits. We are not saying that our boy is going to be a genius but it does seem that the autistic cognitive style, with its ability to process the world in a different way, may be responsible for some of the greatest intellectual and artistic leaps made by mankind. This is not a defect, these are not damaged people, they are not broken instead these are amazing people with different brains are boon to all mankind, something to be celebrated not dismissed as “a casualty of big pharmas greed” .