And so, it has happened.
Andrew Wakefield, the doctor who can be said to have set off an international scare about the MMR vaccine and about vaccinating children in general has been struck off the medical register by the UK’s General Medical Council on the grounds of ‘serious professional misconduct.’ The full text of the press release regarding this decision can be found on the Respectful Insolence blog in a post by Orac which traces the trail of the now delicensed physician’s role in ‘Vaccinegate.’ (More on Care2.com about this issue by Marc Seltzer.)
So, as someone who’s long known that vaccines had nothing to do in my son being autistic (here’s the video proof) and that the evidence refuting any link between vaccines and autism only grows (and that any such link has always stood on very shaky grounds and well-meant, but anendotal, claims), and who’s written before that all this talk of vaccines as a ’cause of autism’ has been a most unfortunate expenditure of time and attention from the pressing, urgent issues of—
- how can we best educate students on the autism spectrum, to help them realize their full potential and abilities?
- how can we provide schools, housing, and other environments for individuals on the spectrum that best accommodate their needs (sensory, communicative, and other)?
- how can we recruit, train, and support staff (teachers, therapists, care workers, and many more individuals) to best assist and work with individuals on the spectrum, to the extent that such is needed over their lifespans?
- how can we best include and integrate individuals on the spectrum in the community and in society?
- how can we do all of the above while always respecting their dignity and unique differences?
—-as someone who’s written over and over that we need to focus on creating and maintaining more, better, and appropriate services and supports of individuals on the spectrum throughout their lives rather than hypothesizing about cures and causes, on prevention and recovery, you might think I’d be feeling in a most triumphalist mood right now, on seeing the doctor who first fueled the flames about a possible vaccine-autism link being stripped of his license to practice medicine—to do what his job was to do—in the UK.
But I’m not and may I be heckled as hypocritical and ignorant (it’s been done before) for saying so.
What I feel is, a deep fatigue, from having devoted way too much time (especially in the past five years) to discussing and countering claims about vaccines and autism, about thimerosal and mercury, about this or that ‘latest’ method to expunge the mercury or heavy metals or some such from an autistic child’s body, with the aim of recovering her or him from the ‘dreadfulness that is autism. ‘
It was over ten years ago—in 1998—that now delicensed physician Andrew Wakefield started publicly airing his concerns about the MMR vaccine and autism. It was over ten years ago—13, to be precise—that our son Charlie was born. Subtle developmental delays led us to worry during his first year while pediatricians and others counseled us, ‘he’ll grow out of that’ and ‘he’s just a little delayed, typical for boys.’ By the time my son was just over a year and a half, he was clearly different from the other children in his daycare. While it was painful to acknowledge this at the time, in reality, Charlie was greatly helped by early detection, early diagnosis, and early intervention.
And while I wouldn’t have wanted to hear this when he was little, Charlie needs and will need the same level of care and informed, compassionate attention and support throughout his life. During all the time that parents and practitioners others in the autism community have been batting about theories and treatments and even going to court about a ‘vaccine injury’ ‘causing’ a child to ‘become autistic,’ Charlie has been in school, always in special education classrooms, now in a special school for other children like him. Charlie, despite some extremely difficult moments that have sometimes brought him into the emergency room and that have resulted in EMT personnel appearing, is still with us, and my husband Jim and I intend to keep it this way. Of course, Charlie can’t and won’t live with us forever and I prefer not to over-post on topics such as vaccines because such diverts attention from the real issues and from real individuals on the autism spectrum, like Charlie.
I know that now-delicensed physician Wakefield was on the Today show this Monday, 24th May, morning, and that he has a book coming out that is not, whatever you will hear (and you will be hearing something, trust me, the wheels are turning to ‘get the truth out’ and prove that he’s been made a public pariah)—this book that is coming out is not about autism. It is about the role that, once again, now-delicensed physician Wakefield had in promulgating a most unfortunate idea about autism that will take us many a year to extricate ourselves from.
I would prefer that that time not be when my son is my age (41) and far older. Charlie’s got a long life ahead of him and it would be well that he not have to spend any more of it under the shadow of any discredited, outdated, and unfortunate—and untrue—theories of autism.
Photo by USACE Europe District.