What’s the best way to fight autism?
It’s a question our community has long struggled with. And by “our community” I mean those who believe their child’s autism was caused by a vaccination.
I was reminded of this vexing question when I recently met with an autism advocate who’s been helping families implement various dietary programs. For many children the changes have been dramatic. I also want to point out that this advocate has no children of his own on the spectrum. He’s one of those rare individuals who willingly entered this cause. When I encounter such people I always express my admiration saying, “You volunteered for this fight. I got drafted!”
But as we continued our conversation I noted that although our goal was the same our approach differed.
His approach was to speak about diet as a way to help children with autism and lead to the question of vaccines. My approach was to state the cause, then explain why the various therapies may help some kids, and from this understanding of causation figure out why many other children have not yet been helped.
He was not against what I was saying, or even that vaccines seem to be the causative factor for most children. Our discussion centered on the most effective way to bring about that change.
I argued that we needed to be LOUD! We needed to say things like VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM! with the same vigor as other people once said SMOKING CAUSES CANCER!
Now everybody knows smoking doesn’t cause ALL cancers, but it causes enough that you can put it down as a pretty good mechanism of causation. Although the government says they don’t know what causes autism, they have so far admitted it caused the autism of Hannah Poling and to a lesser extent, Bailey Banks.
I could sense the autism advocate listening to me and struggling with my opinion.
Then he said something really interesting. He started talking about the Stanley Milgram studies on obedience conducted at Stanford University in the 1960s. In the experiment, an authority figure (a 47 year-old accountant pretending to be a biology professor), told the test subject he was going to be participating in a study of memory and learning in different situations.
The test subject was to ask a series of questions to a person in another room, and if the person answered incorrectly, the test subject would push a button to punish the student with an electric shock. The voltage would start low but increase in 15 volt increments for each wrong answer. The maximum amount of voltage to be given was a 450-volt shock three times in succession. The test subject would also be able to hear the “screams” (fake, of course) of the person in the other room as the voltage was increased.
Before he conducted the experiments Milgram polled fourteen Yale University senior-year psychology majors as to the percentage of people they thought would give the maximum amount of 450-volt shocks, three times in succession, even after hearing the blood-curdling screams of the “student” followed by no response as if the subject was dead. They guessed that only about 1% of the subjects would deliver the maximum punishment.
There was no coercion of the subjects, other than a phony biology professor telling them they should continue. In fact, he only gave them four verbal prods to continue. If the subjects still wished to stop after four successive verbal prods, the experiment was halted. The study revealed some very disturbing findings abut what ordinary people are likely to do when instructed by an authority figure. Milgram was stunned that the final number of subject willing to deliver the maximum 450-volt punishment was 65%.
The autism advocate then went on to tell me about some further research. The presence of another individual who thought the experiment was wrong and said so very clearly gave other people the courage to stop their experiment. When there were two additional people in the room who objected to the experiment the conformity rate among participants dropped to 10%.
It seems that courage is contagious.
Which led me to ask the autism advocate, which of our approaches was more likely to have the greatest impact?
I know it caught him a little flat-footed because it was his own example. (Sorry folks, that’s just the way we lawyers are! We listen and then use your own words against you!)
Our community is filled with so many passionate people and I know we all want the best for our children. My respectful disagreement with some in our community is not over the ultimate goal, but the best tactics. Authority figures are now even resorting to billboards with the message, “Make a Date to Vaccinate!” We won’t win by being cautious. We’ll win by being bold.
VACCINES CAUSE AUTISM! Don’t be afraid of those words. Say them often to anybody who will listen.
Those words will let many find the courage to question authority.
Kent Heckenlively is Legal Editor of Age of Autism