How the anti-vax movement harms autistic people

Opinion+Columnist+Emerson+Slomka+addresses+how+the+anti-vaccination+movement+harms+those+who+have+autism.
Back to Article
Back to Article

How the anti-vax movement harms autistic people

Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka addresses how the anti-vaccination movement harms those who have autism.

Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka addresses how the anti-vaccination movement harms those who have autism.

TNS

Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka addresses how the anti-vaccination movement harms those who have autism.

TNS

TNS

Opinion Columnist Emerson Slomka addresses how the anti-vaccination movement harms those who have autism.

EMERSON SLOMKA, Opinion Columnist

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Throughout my life, it has always been apparent that I was a bit abnormal. Since I was a child, I’ve been faced with an inability to make eye contact with others and have always struggled in social situations. Classmates considered me a freak, while teachers were simply puzzled. Then, at the age of 17, a diagnosis would provide me the answer.

I was diagnosed with autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder defined by social impairment, sensory processing issues and repetitive behavior. Like many neurodevelopmental disorders, autism begins during fetal development, and a definitive cause has not yet been discovered. However, a paper published in “The Lancet” in 1998 changed public perception of autism and its supposed origins.

Andrew Wakefield, a now-discredited ex-physician, published a paper entitled “Ileal-lymphoid-nodular hyperplasia, non-specific colitis, and pervasive developmental disorder in children” in “The Lancet,” which implies a “link between the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination and regressive autistic spectrum disorder.” Though it was uncovered by investigative journalist Brian Deer that Wakefield had manipulated evidence in his research, leading to the paper’s full redaction in 2010. Its bold claims alone were enough to inspire an entire crusade against pharmaceuticals.

The results of the anti-vaccination movement, as one would expect, have been overwhelmingly negative. According to the CDC, from January 1 to September 26 of this year, there have been 1,243 reported cases of measles in the United States—the greatest number of cases since 1992. If we take a step back and remember the root cause of this epidemic, we come to the shocking realization that outbreaks of deadly diseases are rampant due to a misguided fear of autism—a fear so strong that, according to the Pew Research Center, nearly 10% of Americans would rather expose their children to life-threatening illnesses than have them be like me.

When you’re autistic, the anti-vaccination movement becomes a personal matter. It becomes apparent that many see you as less of a person and more of a product of a government conspiracy. The anti-vaccination movement is founded on a fear of autism, but as someone who has actually lived with autism, I can say with full confidence that it is not the terrifying disease that Wakefield and his followers believe it is. Dr. Temple Grandin, an autistic zoologist, concisely described the autism experience as “different, not less,” and I believe this is an outlook anti-vaxxers should consider. I do not believe that all anti-vaxxers are bad people. In fact, I would argue that they have good intentions. However, I do urge them to consider how their pathologizing of autism actually affects autistic people, and to understand that we are people, too. The anti-vaccination movement is founded on fear and ignorance, which we must actively combat.

We, as humans, are naturally scared of what we don’t understand. However, rather than living in fear of what we don’t know, it’s important to keep an open mind and ask questions. Yes, the idea of our vaccines causing developmental disorders is scary on the surface, but there are a few things we should consider when presented with new information. Was this information derived from peer-reviewed research? In Wakefield’s case, yes, it was. Was the research published in a legitimate journal? While Wakefield’s research was published in “The Lancet,” the fact that it was redacted discredits this. Was the research itself conducted ethically and without bias? As determined by journalist Brian Deer, no, it was not. Wakefield’s evidence was falsified, and he was actively trying to prove that vaccines cause autism, rather than remaining unbiased. When we look at information from an objective standpoint rather than accepting it immediately, we can prevent dangerous panics such as the anti-vax movement, which is founded on fear rather than fact.

As an autistic person, I feel that the anti-vax movement vilifies me and treats me as a statistic rather than as a person. Given the pre-existing stigma against autistic people, this movement only helps to promote false information about us—information that is used to objectify us. However, if we as a society change the way that we process new information, perhaps we can forge a better, healthier future.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email