An Autistic Person Talks about the Anti-Vax Movement

Warning: Controversial opinions. If you are easily offended, you might want to sit this one out.

Disclaimer: Images on my blog are not my own, with exceptions of travel picture posts.

I have been meaning to write an article about this for some time, but put it off out of fear of backlash. Yesterday, I saw another article written by an autist regarding the Anti-Vax movement, and they don’t seem to be having issues, so I will write one with my own insight and experience. My name is Gina Andrews. I am 22 years old and training to be a veterinary technician. I’m also the Vice President of the Animal Care Club at my school, a volunteer at my local animal shelter, and an aspiring writer (hence, my blog.) I have a vast poetry collection and I’m currently working on a sci-fi novel. At first glance, there is nothing about me that seems abnormal; I look like any other college student in her early 20’s. However, I am not a typical woman. At four years old, I was diagnosed with autism; more specifically, with Asperger’s Syndrome, which is no longer recognized by the DSM, but the term “Asperger’s” continues to be used to describe people on the autism spectrum with a normal to high IQ.

First off, I want to clear the air and say that scientifically, there is no link between vaccines and autism. I have been vaccinated, but my autism is something I was born with. When I had my measles vaccine, the doctor did not accidentally suck out my soul with the syringe and turn me into a mere caricature of what a human should be. I did, however, have one serious side-effect from the vaccine. Can you guess what that side-effect is? (I’ll give you a hint: It’s NOT autism.)

No? Still no clue?

 

Okay. Give up? That side effect is that I never had measles, chicken pox, or polio. I am still alive past childhood and, according to my doctor, in excellent health. In spite of success cases like me, there are millions of people who refuse to vaccinate their kids, thanks to a fabricated study by Andrew Wakefield (notice how I deliberately omitted the “Doctor” title.) Several celebrities have jumped onto the anti-vax bandwagon, most famously Playboy human-in-a-lagomorph-costume Jenny McCarthy, along with Robert “you talkin’ to me” De Niro…

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And even the President of the United States.

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As a result of the anti-vax movement, we are beginning to see numerous outbreaks of preventable and potentially fatal diseases, and headlines like these:

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The MMR vaccine (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) is the shot that commonly has fingers pointed at it for causing autism. As a consequence, parents refuse to give it to their kids, and this causes a comeback of a disease that can be lethal. This is extended to other vaccines, causing outbreaks of diseases such as Diphtheria. Many of these diseases have serious complications. Measles, for instance, can lead to pneumonia, encephalitis, fever-induced seizures, and even myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle.) There is, unsurprisingly, a rise in deaths from diseases that were previously under control.

This video from Buzzfeed demonstrates a makeup artist and a model portraying how certain infectious, preventable diseases appear on the human body. The diseases include Hepatitis B (resulting in liver failure and subsequent jaundice-yellow pigment due to buildup of bilirubin in the blood) or the Black Plague (yes–that still exists, is potentially deadly, and can lead to gangrene) and the bloody cough associated with tuberculosis.

It’s worth noting that vaccines can come with potentially serious side effects, such as seizures and anaphylactic reactions, but these are rare enough that most pediatricians and immunologists agree that they are well worth the risk, because you’re less likely to experience a severe reaction to a vaccine than you are to suffer complications from the infections that they prevent. The anti-vax movement means well but is misguided, because the science here speaks for itself. This article from healthychildren.org explains in even more depth why vaccinations are a wise choice: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/safety-prevention/immunizations/Pages/Weighing-the-Risks-and-Benefits.aspx

 

Another thing to keep in mind with regards to vaccines is herd immunity. Very young infants are unable to receive some vaccines, like the MMR shot. Some people are unable to receive certain types of vaccines, like pregnant women or people with specific immune disorders, including HIV. When healthy people receive vaccines, they are protecting not only themselves, but others. When fewer otherwise healthy people are infected, the immunocompromised and very young are less likely to contract the disease. This phenomenon, called “Herd Immunity,” is explained in a simple manner by this handy chart:

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You can see why the “vaccines cause autism” attitude is not only misleading, but dangerous. However, to people like me, it is also offensive. When you don’t vaccinate your child out of fear that he’ll get autism, you are saying, in the gentlest manner possible, “I’d rather have my child die an agonizing death from a preventable infection than have my kid end up like you.” By doing that, you are telling people like me that we have no right to exist in the world; that people like me are such a scourge to humanity that we don’t even deserve to live. You are telling me that I’d be better off ten feet under than out and about as I am. One may argue that I am splitting hairs and reading too much into it, but I know many other autistic people who have or are suffering from depression due to the ableism that exists in our society. I wouldn’t even have to go to school if I had a penny for every time I heard an autistic person say, “I wish I was normal,” “I hate my disability,” “I’m tired of being autistic,” etc. One of my closest friends, an autistic student a bit older than me, admitted that he doesn’t believe that he’ll ever be able to get any job outside of menial labor, even with a college degree, because of his autism. Even when I tell my friend that he has the potential, he doesn’t seem to believe me. In fact, if I had a penny for every time I heard/saw someone write this, I’d have my own private jet, complete with a 24 carat gold toilet seat encrusted with diamonds. At my age, I have learned to be comfortable in my own skin, at least for the most part. However, when I was a child, it was me saying, “I wish I was normal. I hate my disability. I’m tired of being autistic.”

Autistic people aren’t born hating themselves. Self-directed ableism is a learned behavior, one that is usually ingrained from an early age, and once you get into those patterns of self-loathing, it is hard to break them. It certainly doesn’t help that we have a whole community of people who think we’re so bad that it’s literally better to be in a hospital bed with diphtheria-induced myocarditis than to be running through the neighborhood with autism as your jogging partner. Although I’ve learned to be okay with who I am, I still find it hurtful that parents risk their kids becoming sick because they really, really would rather not be stuck with a kid like me.

But guess what? I’m autistic, and I’m alive. Every breath that I take, every beat of my heart, and every morsel of food that enters my mouth is an affront to anti-vaxxers. Your move, Jenny McCarthy.

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