Sunday, February 8, 2015

I Don't Know What Causes Autism

This week, Huffington Post featured a heartfelt blog entry written by autism mom Carrie Cariello entitled “I Know What Causes Autism.” [To read this essay, please click here.] With all the uproar regarding the recent outbreaks of measles at Disneyland and a Chicago area day care center, this essay has garnered quite a bit of attention because she addresses the controversy of vaccines and autism. To summarize, after she lists several potential causes of autism proposed over the years, she dismisses all of them “for now,” proclaiming that her son’s autism is genetic: “So, for now, I’m going to believe that Jack’s autism is because of DNA and RNA and heredity.” Furthermore, she asserts, “He’s exactly the way he’s supposed to be.” As she explains, “If I start running around declaring autism an epidemic and screeching about how we need to find out where it’s coming from and who started it and how to cure it, well, that sort of contradicts the whole message of acceptance and tolerance and open-mindedness.” Although I appreciate her candor in explaining her opinion regarding the cause of autism, I must respectfully disagree.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been an autism mom more than twice as long as she has.

Maybe it’s because we have watched Alex struggle with puberty and hormonal changes, something she probably hasn’t yet experienced with her son.

Maybe it’s because I’ve had more time to research and compare notes with other parents whose lives parallel ours.

Maybe it’s because we’ve run tests that have diagnosed mercury and aluminum poisoning and know that both of those toxic metals exist in vaccinations.

Maybe it’s because I know that you can love the child unconditionally but hate the disability passionately yet still be accepting and tolerant.

Maybe its because I don’t believe that Alex is exactly the way he’s supposed to be. I believe that autism has robbed him of things typical people his age enjoy, and I intend to do everything in my power to make sure he will not always be denied those opportunities.

On Friday, the discussion of the measles outbreaks arose among a group of my colleagues. One sympathetic friend noted how awful it was for those tiny babies to have the measles and how miserable they must be. I thought of how awful it is for children with autism who, unlike the vast majority of children with measles, don’t get better after a few days. Our oldest and wisest colleague noted that he had been immunized against both measles and mumps, but still got both diseases as an adult and questioned the effectiveness of vaccines. The youngest colleague, who is cocksure about everything, claimed that he had read “all twelve of the case studies,” and was certain that vaccines don’t cause autism. Although I was torn between wanting to slug him or to enlighten him on the autism research I’ve been doing for twenty years, I decided that either would be a waste of time and energy because he had already made up his mind, and I left the room.

Immediately following me was my colleague/close friend/confidante who knows my story well and who knew that I had left without a word after deciding that “Discretion is the better part of valor.” As the mother of two small children, she has struggled with the issues of vaccine safety herself, wondering and worrying if she is doing the right thing, and I have supported her decisions, just as she has supported mine. For the record, Alex received all of his childhood immunizations on time according to the CDC schedule because at that time little was known about possible links between autism and vaccines and because I believed that was the right thing to do at the time. Although I don’t know for certain that vaccines caused autism in Alex, I certainly believe they were a contributing factor for him. Consequently, I understand the dilemma parents face in deciding whether or not to vaccinate their children.

As my beloved friend and I discussed the issues of immunization rationally and respectfully, we came to the same conclusion that as mothers we want what’s best for our children and pray that we make the right decisions. As she wisely pointed out, we will love our children no matter what problems we face. However, we know that life is hard, and we don’t want our children’s lives to be harder than they need to be. Therein lies the crux of my drive to find out what causes autism and why I can’t be satisfied until I know the answer: I don’t want life to be harder than necessary for Alex.

If we can find the cause of autism, then maybe we can find effective treatments and potential cures. I want people to be as outraged about the autism epidemic as they clearly are about the measles epidemic so that they will work harder and faster to help those affected by autism. Moreover, I don’t believe that this is how God intended Alex to be; I believe that Alex is meant to be healthy and to live an abundant life. Accepting what is instead of seeking what can be feels wrong to me, and I have hope that Alex will overcome autism one day. Until then, I’ll keep searching for the cause of autism so that Alex and others like him can be healed and so that other families don’t have to worry that their children will face the struggles those children with autism have endured. Unlike fellow autism mom Carrie Cariello, I don’t know what causes autism, and that frustrating uncertainty mightily motivates me to keep looking for an answer.

“Lead me by Your truth and teach me, for You are the God who saves me. All day long I put my hope in You.” Psalm 25:5


Bright Side of Life said...

My thoughts exactly! Such wise words and I admire your decorum.

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks, Bright Side! Hope you and your family are doing well. :)
Take care,