Apologies are in the air this week. There's the presidential campaign battle over who if anyone apologized, or should have, or should now, or should not, for what. Then there's the apology the thalidomide manufacturer proffered 50 years after the fact for the damage done by that drug. Anne Dachel wrote about this (see below) and the obvious analogy to thimerosal, the organic mercury component still in flu shots.
There is no reason in this enlightened day and age to be using a chemical like that in shots given to pregnant women and babies in the United States, and in all kinds of vaccines given to children around the world. The same ingredient was banned decades ago in pesticides because of its glaring toxicity. Plenty of evidence has since been marshaled to show its connection with autism and other serious disorders.
But if history is any judge, an apology for thimerosal will probably take another half-century. Meanwhile, there is every reason to push for apologies that could help weaken the grip of orthodox medicine -- and particularly psychiatry -- on the brain damage it likes to call "autism" and to control with prescription drugs and behavioral therapy. Here are a couple that the autism community might consider pushing for now:
Apology Number One: From the University of Chicago and its Sonia Shankman Orthogenic School. This was the stomping ground -- literally and figuratively -- of bully boy Bruno Bettelheim, who cooked up the idea of homicidal mothers driving their appropriately terrified infants into the "empty fortress" of autism. Beloved during his life as a wise and benevolent guru of disturbed children, revelations after his death showed him to be abusive to the children at the school. And his blame-mom paradigm slowed by decades the understanding of autism as a biological disorder.
The damage he did to families and individuals coping with autism is beyond description. But you'd never know it by checking the Orthogenic School's Web site. Yes, it's still there, still treating disturbed children -- and, unfathomably, still shilling for Bettelheim!
Under "Our History and Mission": "Founded in 1915, the school received worldwide recognition under the leadership of previous school directors Dr. Bruno Bettelheim, Dr. Jacqui Sanders, and Dr. Betram Cohler. Today it is under the direction of a dynamic team of professional staff that utilizes a wide variety of treatments in the care and support of students at the School. ..." They even recommend two of the sainted Dr. B.'s books.
You cannot be serious! These folks needs to acknowledge the disastrous legacy of Bettelheim, and apologize specifically to people with autism and their families.
Apology Number Two: From Johns Hopkins. Hopkins is where autism was first identified, and where it was first linked to "refrigerator parents" by its discoverer, Leo Kanner. Vile publications by Kanner and others followed. Kanner recanted without apologizing -- attacking Bettelheim while claiming he, Kanner, never disparaged parents. Hopkins needs to acknowledge the black mark on its record.
I'm sure there are other entities and individuals who ought to offer their regrets and their promise to do better. If you know any, suggest them here.
The idea of demanding apologies NOW, not after another half-century of damage, is not unique to me. John Gilmore suggested that a couple of years back in a comment on AOA:
"I have always thought that the American physicians, especially the psychiatrists, who I don't really consider physicians, owe people with autism, their families, and especially the mothers of people with autism an profound apology for the way they adopted and expounded the refrigerator mother theory without a scrap of evidence to support it.
Current physicians like to pretend that this incredibly damaging irresponsible, intellectually lazy and deeply misogynistic policy was from the distant past and has nothing to do with them. I think it has everything to do with current practice.
I have always thought we should have a formal campaign to demand an apology from the American Psychiatric Association to the mothers of people with autism."
Speaking of rewriting history, I was interested this week to see the battle over Sharyl Attkisson's Wikipedia entry. On the subject of vaccines, it says: "Attkisson's reporting on vaccines has been criticized with Steven Salzberg characterizing it as being 'anti-science' and spreading 'anti-vaccine misinformation.'"
This is a little like saying, "Bob Woodward's reporting on Watergate has been criticized, with a writer of Republican press releases calling it biased." On her own blog, Attkisson writes: "Beware the paid naysayers and fringe bloggers who propagate false Web propaganda against me and others who investigate their industry and conflicts. Watch for pharmaceutical interests disguised as 'scientists' or pretending to be average 'commenters' on ridiculously vitriolic blog stories that claim those who look into vaccine safety are 'anti-vaccine' or 'nutty.' They want you to believe that for a reason. You know better. The public is getting wise."
I've been bemused by my own mutating Wiki bio. It paints me as a Moonie acolyte, focusing on my time at United Press International, omitting the inconvenient biographical facts that I was an original staff member of USA Today and wrote a book called The Age of Autism. And won some awards. And went to Yale (and graduated). And etc.
This sentence in the bio shows what's up: "Olmsted wrote a series about a discredited hypothesis linking vaccination to autism." Oh right, discredited. Discredited by the people who edited the Wiki bio.
By the way, USA Today turns 30 years old today. Happy Birthday to you!
Another long-running battle is whether the Amish have anything to tell us about autism. I posted the comment AOA received this week from "Cindy":
"As a journalist I've done many stories with the Amish of northeast Indiana. I've been to their homes, eaten dinner with them, and ridden in their buggies. Three years ago I was working on a story in Shipshewana, the very hub of Amishland in this part of the country, when I had the opportunity to be at an Amish family's home where there were very young children, including a newborn. I couldn't help myself-- I wanted to know if these children were vaccinated, so I asked.
"The mother told me, no, her children were not vaccinated. Were any Amish children she knew vaccinated, I pressed. Yes, she said, some Amish vaccinate, usually the ones whose children were going on into public high schools. She commented that it was getting harder and harder to get OUT of vaccinating because of the pressure put on the community from health officials, and of course, schools. I then asked the obvious: Do you know anyone with autism, I asked.
"The mother said yes, two children in her community had autism, a cousin's child, and another who was not related. Were they vaccinated, I asked. She looked bewildered and said, why yes, they WERE vaccinated. ... did that matter, she wanted to know. So I asked, was there a reason they were vaccinated. And she said, well, the father worked in the local factory and the babies had been born at the hospital, not at home. And the doctors had said vaccination was good... "But I don't know," she said. "Why are you asking me these things? Are vaccines bad? What..." Her voice trailed off, and I said, well, I just was trying to figure some things out in my own head because some people thought vaccines caused autism.
"I asked her did she know ANYBODY in her extended community ANYWHERE that had autism that was NOT vaccinated. At that point her husband answered, and said they had heard of other children in other communities, not many, but they were vaccinated because they went to public schools, he said. The mother wanted to know more. At that point I said I just didn't know enough about the topic to give her more information.
"BUT--I do know more now. And I'll tell you what-- I don't work for the newspaper anymore but I still live near the Amish communities. I have an Amish farmer a couple miles from me whose daughters will personally deliver fresh eggs & whatever else you want, right to your door, clopping into the driveway with their buggy. And what I see in the stores and all around me are more and more Amish children who look tired, who have those all-too-familiar dark circles under their eyes-- the circles that tell you here's a kid who's not as healthy as he/she could be. And I can't help wondering, and wanting to ask the parents, did you vaccinate this child? Do you know any Amish with autism?
"Folks, the Amish communities are being pressed to get vaccinated. As they assimilate to "English" ways--more out of financial need than anything else--that include schooling and use of English doctors, it won't be long before the Amish, too, will be reporting more and more autism. I'm so concerned about this I'm thinking of asking my new employer if there isn't some way I could do an investigative story with these folks before it's too late. And I promise you, having lived in this area nearly 20 years now, it is soon going to be too late."
The real-time damage to the Amish -- sounds like something we might hear an apology for in about half a century. When, of course, it's too late.
Last week I ended my wrap by pointing out all the pesticide spraying going on, mentioned the tic disorders at the high school in LeRoy that followed crop-dusting last September in an adjacent cornfield, and wrote:
"When you look at all the spraying that's gone on recently from Manhattan to Dallas to LeRoy, you have to wonder when the next cluster of 'hysterical' students is going to emerge.
"The school year is young. I predict it will be soon."
A couple of days later, state health officials said two more students at LeRoy have developed tics and a third suffered a relapse. Some blamed continued media attention for triggering new instances of what they insist is a psychological disorder. Oh, please.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.