The autism community may have found a new rallying cry.
On last Wednesday's Larry King Live show (Click here to find the Podcast of the show) on CNN Jenny McCarthy was asked if knowing what she knows now, would she choose to vaccinate another child. “No way in hell,” she replied, and I felt my heart stop.
“No way in hell.”
I thought of my two lovely children; my nine-year-old daughter Jacqueline and my seven-year-old son Ben. Jacqueline was born normally, but at the age of five months old, just before Thanksgiving of 1998 she began refusing breast milk. In early December, she received her scheduled six-month vaccinations, including DPT, and over the Christmas holidays we noticed the first head-bobs of what we later discovered were her seizure disorder. Even after several hundreds of thousands of dollars have been spent by the state on therapies and our bank account has been emptied time and again by bio-medical interventions, she is still very seriously affected by both seizures and autism.
For reasons unrelated to vaccinations, busy Ben was given a hypo-allergenic milk formula up until about fifteen months. At his eighteen-month doctor visit he was given an entire developmental work-up because I’d made the pediatrician feel she must have missed something with our daughter at her six-month check-up. He passed with flying colors and was given his scheduled vaccinations, including DPT. A few days later, busy Ben fell mute, started pounding his head on the floor, and became hypersensitive to certain sounds.
By the grace of God I found the gluten/casein free diet on day three of Ben’s mute period and put both of them on it. After twelve days Ben said his first word again. My wife is a speech therapist and will tell you it took Ben nearly a year to catch up to his peers in language. It was two years until his sensory problems were normalized and he could sit in a movie theater.
Earlier this week I took Ben to his first Boy Scout meeting. Talking with one of the moms before the meeting, she told me her son was diagnosed as autistic, but through aggressive intervention he had made enormous progress and had lost the diagnosis. I asked if she linked it to vaccines and she nodded knowingly.
There were four boys at the meeting to start our new troop. As the troop leader ran through the agenda of what a great adventure we were beginning, I noticed Ben was the only one who was consistently paying attention. “Okay,” I thought to myself, “There are four boys here and I know that two of them have had problems.” But with the other two, who in some ways were even more distractible than the one who’d actually been formally diagnosed with autism, I didn’t have any information. However, I think I know what I’ll find.
I thought in taking my son to his first Boy Scout meeting I’d escape the autism pressure-cooker for a few hours. I know I should be proud that Ben paid attention better than the other boys, that he read from the Boy Scout pledge more easily than the others, and that when the meeting broke up one of the parents asked, “Do you want to trade kids for a few days? Ben’s an angel.”
Instead I was furious. On one side of the ledger I have a son who is at the top of his class. On the other I have a daughter who can’t yet walk into a class because she’s still so severely impaired. At times I feel as if I’ve successfully cultivated an almost Gandhi-like inner peace while still fighting passionately for change. At others I feel the blinding Sicilian rage my mother used to show when she felt somebody had wronged her.
I think of all the families who have been affected by this problem. It’s impossible to truly escape, even in the confines of a Boy Scout meeting.
No way in hell, Jenny. No way in hell.
Kent Heckenlively has worked as an attorney, television producer, and is now a beloved science teacher.