Today is the first day of Autism Action month. Rodney Peete, former NFL quarterback, recounts the day he and his wife Holly were drafted into autism as a result of his son's vaccine injury in Not My Boy! A Father, a Son and One Family's Journey with Autism, his new book from Hyperion. You can purchase a copy HERE. The chapter excerpt ran on MSNBC books, part of of the channel in which Dr. Nancy "There is no vaccine controversy!" Snyderman apparently doesn't interfere.
Holly Robinson Peete is a vocal advocate for her son and all of our children. So is Rodney. We thank them both.
Chapter Two: The Wake Up Call
A few months before they hit that two-year mark, Holly took the twins in for a checkup with our pediatrician. They’d had ear infections and were both coming off a course of antibiotics. Holly asked the doctor if he would delay their next round of immunizations because she thought loading them up with that much medicine while they were still a bit weak from the antibiotics might be too much for their little bodies. She believes the doctor, a very old-school, by-the-book pediatrician, brushed off her concerns as those of an overly cautious first-time mom. He said he’d immunized hundreds of children and never had any such problems.
This didn’t sit right with Holly. Something about this disturbed what she calls her “mommy gut,” an instinct that moms have that goes beyond what professionals say. She asked him if there was any way he could break up the measles/mumps/rubella vaccination so that they would not have to get such a potent cocktail all at once. The doctor said that that couldn’t be done. Besides, the nurse said, the twins were behind in their immunizations. Part of the purpose of this visit was to get them all caught up.
Holly got even more concerned when she found out that they might be receiving more than just the MMR vaccine. She wanted to know what was in the shots and how many of them there would be. She remembers the nurse looked at her like she was psycho mommy, and told her to relax while she took R.J. in to be weighed.
Holly was sitting in another examining room holding on to Ryan, when she heard R.J. screaming, “No! Mommy!” She ran to R.J. and saw that the nurse had given him the MMR plus the second hepatitis B and the polio vaccines. The nurse said that it usually was easier with the parents out of the room.
Maybe it was easier for the nurse, but for the next eight years, nothing about R.J. would be easy for our family.
At home that night, R.J. had a terrible fever and started shaking violently, just short of something like a seizure. Holly called the pediatrician to ask him what could have caused this. Should we take R.J. to the hospital? The doctor was unruffled and told us that it was not a reaction to the shots. He recommended that we give R.J. some Tylenol to help him with the fever and he promised that R.J. would be fine. R.J. had a terrible reaction to the Tylenol and we rushed him to the emergency room late that night. We believe he went into some kind of toxic overload shock. After that, we didn’t hear the words “Mommy” or “No” for about four years.
While the government and the vaccine manufacturers have worked to reduce the amount of mercury in the vaccinations, receiving those shots gives children a big dose of toxins to process. The symptoms of mercury poisoning look an awful lot like what children with autism suffer: rocking, circling, flapping arms, walking on toes, difficulty with swallowing or chewing, digestive problems, oversensitivity to br>The school session started in the fall, when I was right in the thick of the football season, so I wasn’t monitoring R.J. as much as I would have had I been home. Holly kept telling me that R.J. didn’t seem to be catching on at school, not the way Ryan was. We talked to our pediatrician again, and he told us the same thing. I repeated it back to Holly whenever she was telling me how worried she was. He’s just a little boy. He’s two. Give him time. He’ll catch up.
When the football season came to a close, I took over the job of driving the kids to school. When I got them out of their car seats the first day, Ryan was ready to go. She was ready to run right into the yard where the kids had forty-five minutes to play before the indoor part of the school day began. R.J. was indifferent. I had to take him by the hand and lead him into the yard. He didn’sound and touch, loss of speech or failure to speak, mild to severe hearing loss, staring and unprovoked crying, injuring self (such as head banging), social isolation, poor eye contact, and blurred vision.
The Centers for Disease Control says that the symptoms of autism start to show up around the same time that kids receive most of their shots. The CDC advises parents that this does not mean that the vaccine is the cause, and they can cite several studies to justify this position, but just to be cautious, the CDC recommended in 2001 that vaccine manufacturers reduce or eliminate thimerosal in vaccines.
Holly and I, and many of the other parents of children with autism, believe that the scientists who have concluded that there is no connection between vaccines and autism should have designed their studies differently. Our kids tend to be sensitive to foods and stimuli that other children tolerate without any trouble. We’d like to see studies performed on vaccines and children who have gluten sensitivities or are allergic to dairy, for example. We believe it might be true that kids with those difficulties shouldn’t have to follow the strict vaccination schedule, at least not until their bodies have developed further.
Many of us believe that science should give this idea of a sensitivity-specific study more of a chance rather than rejecting it in favor of studies on a general population of young children. Too many families have had to suffer through a huge—and in many cases permanent—change in their children for science to turn its back on us and refuse to explore this question.
That day of the vaccination marked a major turning point for R.J. Within a week of the shots, he stopped responding to his name. Normally, when I came in to pick him up from the crib where he slept with Ryan, he’d be standing up alongside his sister. They’d look at each other and crack up, laughing at one of those private jokes that only twins can understand. Shortly after the shots, R.J. withdrew. He stopped making eye contact and he didn’t laugh much. Often he’d just lie curled up in a ball staring at his hand or the wooden slats of the crib, lost in a world of his own.
Even his interest in trying to figure out how things worked changed. Before the shot, I’d watch him study the chain that went around a bicycle wheel and try to figure out how that made the wheel move. As soon as it made sense to him, he’d look my way with a big grin that said to me, See, I figured this out! After the shot, he was obsessive. He’d just sit there watching the chain go around and around, staring at it for hours. I’d try to get him to change activities, but he’d go right back to that chain. He also started with odd new behaviors: flapping his hands and flicking his ears. His speech stopped evolving too. He went from learning new words to saying the same thing over and over again.
We asked our pediatrician what was happening with R.J., and he acted as though what we described was no big deal. He reminded us that boys develop differently than girls. Growing up isn’t a straight line, he said. He’d catch up just like Ryan had pretty much caught up with him physically.
I see now that we were willing to accept this because he was telling us what we wanted to hear. There was nothing wrong with R.J. He was just going through a phase, a temporary setback that he’d recover from before he started school in the fall. We were overjoyed when we found out that Ryan and R.J. had been accepted into our top choice for preschool. The teachers there were well trained and compassionate, and we expected that they would help R.J. learn more social skills and encourage him to make friends.
I thought that trying to keep up with the other kids would be a huge motivation for R.J. to snap out of whatever phase he was going through. Maybe once he was around the other kids he’d start to do what they did. That would help with speaking too, I thought. If R.J. really was a member of the Robinson-Peete family, there wasn’t anything that could have prevented him from talking. Our pediatrician confirmed everything I had hoped about how getting R.J. out into the world would be a way to break his isolation.