The best thing about the Age of Autism is how all the contributors get us thinking, creating an atmosphere of hope and possibility. Instead of seeing only the injustice of it all and becoming overwhelmed by the magnitude of how vaccines have affected our lives, we have here a venue to help each other focus on the task at hand – waking others up to what is really going on regarding the meteoric rise autism.
Kent Heckenlively's recent post "Let Us Praise Good Doctors" got me thinking about how we in the "safer vaccines community" communicate and educate others in our daily lives. Harry Hofherr's "A Savage Ignorance" reminded me why it is so damned important that we do.
I and some other people have been lobbying the Minnesota Legislature for too many years to simply "set a preference" for mercury free vaccines. Through the years I found out that there are three different kinds of legislators. Some say "no need to lobby me, mercury is toxic, I support you." Others are simply uninformed and stunned that mercury is in vaccines, but hedge on support until they speak to the usual suspects who I will kindly refer to as the "mercury defenders." Then there are the legislators who sit in their castle made of sand that politely deny support, or will not even meet with as at all; those who hold lots of political power and most often represent districts with big medical centers such as the Mayo Clinic.
Because of this political dynamic, I have come to realize is that it is much more effective and important to educate our family, friends, neighbors, and yes, total strangers.
I grew up shy, learning "manners" the old fashioned way – kids are to be seen and not heard. Let's face it - Michael Savage would have loved my dad. So for me to have stepped out of my shell and not only be comfortable, but confident and vocal in meetings with the Minnesota Department of Health is nothing short of a miracle. Aside from the not so fun stuff, isn't it amazing what having a child with autism has taught us? (Kim S. and other parents of multiples must be "extra smart"!) I use my newly found talent of extroverted behavior to talk about autism and vaccines anytime, anywhere, in any way I can to anyone I meet.
I know I am not alone, but I imagine most of you feel uncomfortable talking with "strangers." I want to share a list of ideas that helps me facilitate conversation with others that leads to mini autism and vaccines "education classes." To be honest, most of the time I have people approaching me!
Store checkout lanes. People wear name tags for a reason – use them. Strike up a conversation with the cashier about the food you are buying for your child with autism (or diapers, allergy meds, industrial type first aid kits, etc.) and either they or someone in the line may ask questions. In fact in all of the stores I go to, most employees know me and ask about my son all the time. This in and of itself prompts comments from those in line behind me.
Tee shirts, buttons, and magnets I can't say enough about the National Autism Association's Little Shop of Hope (HERE). I go out sometimes with 2 or 3 "Giving mercury to children is stupid" buttons on my clothes and give them away when someone asks about them - buy at least a hundred. The "I love Someone with Autism" is a real effective shirt as well – buy at least ten.
Bumper stickers Get yourself a "cause car." Anything about autism is useful. Nancy Hokkanen made some great ones a while back that say "DEMAND VACCINES WITHOUT MERCURY" which I have on three sides of my minivan. I come back to my car from errands all the time and see people staring at my van. Best thing that happened last year was when I heard a flu shot clinic "helper" asked the nurse if it was HER car that had the bumper sticker on it!!!
Pregnant moms This is a risky but very productive route to take, and I fully expect a wide range of responses to this. Being a guy, I find it is easier to wait until they look like they are going into labor before I idiotically say "Are you pregnant?" and I only pick moms that look approachable. Most moms are thankful I told them, but often I will hear them say they already got the flu shot, and I then am faced with a mom with the look of horror on their face. I know what you are thinking – I made them feel awful or guilty or worse. I do not see it that way. When this happens I simply tell them to go back and ask their doctor for the package insert to see if it was thimerosal free, to ease their fear. But I add that if it did contain thimerosal, to ask the doc to explain them why they thought it was OK for her to give her baby mercury.
Natural food stores (see bumper stickers and t-shirts, pregnant moms). You will all likely agree that customers of these fine establishments are among the most approachable and happy people on the planet. There is also a high likelihood of meeting another family affected by autism.
Playgrounds ( or anywhere you take your kids). Another risk I take is when I notice, to use Dr. Gerberding's favorite term, "autistic like behavior." One time a mom strolled up to a playground I was at with my son. Her son giggled with delight and a quick three second flap of his hands as he ran through a group of kids without glancing at them. I asked her if her son had autism to which she replied with a big smile "How did you know? He was diagnosed just yesterday with Asperger's!" and we had a great conversation about vaccines. Again, there is an aspect of approachability to assess – if the parent is dealing with a tantrum you can ask if you can help sometimes, but it is not the time to discuss medical politics.
Political functions No matter what your political affiliation is you can attend picnics, parades, town hall meetings and even set up meetings in your home with local candidates of any party. Stand up and speak out with gusto wearing your tee shirts and buttons (see Little Shop of hope mentioned above).
This is just a short list meant simply to give you some ideas and encouragement to go speak to others about vaccines and autism. Please comment on your own successes if you have connected with someone in some way. Not everyone is going to agree with you and that is OK, but it sure beats sitting at home complaining and cursing the CDC. We have spent five years banging on the doors of our elected officials to protect Minnesotans from thimerosal and so far have protected no one. I spend five minutes with a pregnant mom and I protect two. Remember, it only takes one person to change the world.
That person is you.
Tim Kasemodel is husband of Laura, a stay at home dad of two boys affected by mercury from vaccines, and a member of the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project, a group dedicated to the pursuit of health freedom for all.