Saturday, February 16, 2013
Musings on vaccines and autism
(originally written in January of 2009)
My son, David, was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at age 5. David was born at home. He got no vaccines until 6 weeks of age. Nevertheless, he exhibited autistic features from birth. He arched away from me when he cried -- from birth. He cried to be put down, within a few days of birth. He preferred to be carried facing outward, rather than tummy to tummy, within a few weeks of birth and before he received *any* vaccinations.
Later on he developed other symptoms, but none that I could trace to vaccinations.
After David was diagnosed, I was able to observe autistic features in other family members. My father-in-law was obsessed with trains. My mother-in-law preferred to talk to strangers rather than family members. Both were clutterers, apparently having an attachment to objects. My father did not like to be touched and had very flat affect. My mother had extreme depression and anxiety and did not seem to have close friends. My brother was nicknamed "no talk" in college because he was so reserved. I think my ex and I have autistic features also.
My second son was later diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome as well -- though not in response to any sudden change in behavior after a vaccination, but instead after years of not being successful in socializing.
Anyway, I feel persuaded that autistic features are inherited in my family.
I have a friend who has a profoundly autistic son. He believes that his son's autism was caused by vaccines; however, I have doubts. I notice that my friend himself exhibits autistic features: poor prosody, flat affect, inability to co-regulate by walking side-by-side on the street, obsessions, peculiar sense of humor. I suspect that my friend does not want to deal with thinking about his own autistic features and would prefer to think he is normal. This contributes to his belief that autism is caused by vaccines.
I was intrigued by the story of the little girl in Texas who developed autistic symptoms after receiving FIVE shots in one day. This makes me think that shots, which are painful and frightening for children, may provoke autistic withdrawal in an individual who is predisposed to such withdrawal, i.e. who is already autistic. I suspect that such individuals might well have withdrawn later anyway, but certainly the stressful and inhuman practice of giving a small child five shots in one day would have a tendency to cause a person predisposed to such withdrawal to withdraw in a more dramatic and marked way.
I have one friend who was profoundly autistic as a child, but who has come out of it. She could not speak intelligibly until she was 11 and could not reliably produce full sentences until high school. She could not speak fluently, i.e. without rehearsal, until age 48.
She told me an interesting story of her own autistic withdrawal, which she could remember quite distinctly. She was riding a bus at age 3 and overheard two men talking about their "dresses." She was quite frustrated by this, because she knew that men did not wear dresses. She made a decision, which she still remembers, not to listen to people, because they did not make sense. Only as an adult did she realize that the men must have been talking about their "addresses."
Clearly, the decision not to listen would also preclude speech -- but, equally clearly, only a person with a predisposition toward autism could make such a decision. A neurotypical person, with a stronger desire to associate with others, would make a more concerted effort to figure out the puzzle of why men were talking about their dresses, when she had never seen a man wear a dress.
This event of hearing this puzzling conversation was obviously a much less stressful event than getting five shots in one day. A person who was probably going to withdraw anyway, would, it seems to me, be more likely to do so after getting five shots in plain view of -- and possibly held by -- her primary caregiver who she was trusting to protect her. Such an event might persuade a child with autistic features to make a decision not to communicate further with the caregiver who betrayed her. The child might have made this decision for idiosyncratic reasons later anyway.
This girl might have been exhibiting autistic features before, but that might not have been apparent to her parents. My mother-in-law, seeing my son arch away from me when he cried, as a newborn, told me he must be angry at me. I was not persuaded of this at all. I knew that newborn babies only have conscious control over their mouths. It did not seem to me that my son was angry. It seems to me even less that way now. It seems to me that arching away from Mom when crying is for a newborn only a symptom of neurological dysfunction.
The child does not know that this behavior is going to result in him being put down. The child does not know that being put down is going to result in him being deprived of neurological stimulation, i.e. stimulation from being carried and cuddled, that is necessary to development, health, and even life. The child does not even know he is crying until several months of age.
My pediatrician never screened for such behavior in newborns. When I called my mother and asked her if it were normal for a newborn to cry to be put down -- i.e. to stop crying and be happy as soon as put down -- she thought it was normal. She was wrong, of course. Neurotypical babies do not normally prefer to be put down. Neurotypical babies normally prefer to be held.
If a child's pediatrician does not warn the parent that the newborn is exhibiting autistic features, it may seem sudden if the child withdraws after a shot, even though the child might have been buildling toward an autistic withdrawal for some time.
What would seem most helpful to me here would be to give much earlier screenings for autistic features and to recommend that babies with autistic features possibly be on a different type of vaccination schedule -- possibly later, so that they might have this negative experience when they were older and better able to cope with it.