By Anne Dachel
I was thrilled to be at the University of MN December 4th when Dan Olmsted and Mark Blaxill were there to give a talk on their new book, The Age of Autism. They presented the history and the facts about the use of mercury in a clear and concise manner that anyone, even those not familiar with the topic, could understand. It made me feel that the medical community should be utterly embarrassed and discredited for using mercury for centuries and to still be doing it today. It's an established fact that mercury can kill and damage. It's a known neurotoxin. What’s also clear is that because of the commercial uses in lumber, fertilizers, medicine and vaccines, profit overcame safety as a motivating factor.
(In addition, because the effects of mercury poisoning are slow, subtle, and easy to dismiss as something else, its use became very wide-spread.)
At the end of the talk, I had a chance to ask the question that's always on my mind: How long can the denials go on?
(My son John Dachel recorded this for me and put it on Youtube.
And while I'm extremely grateful for Dan’s kind words, I'm very aware of my role. I should have the initials JAM after my name--Just a Mom—because that’s what I am. Everything I say about the autism epidemic has been said before. I just repeat it sitting at my computer. It's not hard to do. I don't do the enormous work that so many others in the autism community do. And I don't have a severely affected child like countless friends of mine. I have it easy. But Dan's so right about one thing: I'M NEVER GOING TO STOP! And I don't know any other parent who will either.)
This was how Dan and Mark responded to my question:
Dan: "What about denial and how long can it go on? I think we're all trying to stop it. There is a significant percent of people in this country who vote and have children who are very concerned about vaccine safety and about links of autism to environmental causes. They're not stupid. These numbers are getting higher and higher. Eighty-nine percent on vaccine safety concerns. Twenty-five percent believing there is a connection with vaccine and autism. Fifty percent on vaccine side effects. These numbers will drive politicians who can reach the bureaucrats who operate as an independent entity right now. They're 'the experts.' They say whether there's 'a problem.' They tell everyone else to shut up. And we've got to stop them."
Mark: "Denial can go on for a long time. The denialists can win. You can find these examples where the medical industry has 'normalized' an epidemic and successfully persuaded themselves that either a new disease has always been with us or some old disease has disappeared and it's inconsequential that it did. Denial and the ability of the medical industry to write the rules about how we interpret trends are both powerful forces. And there's a real risk that we'll 'normalize' autism. We'll deny the epidemic. We'll declare it a normal condition of mankind from the beginning. And there are powerful forces -- industrial forces, political forces -- that want to write history that way.
"I started all this out thinking that if we just wrote down the facts and shared the evidence, if we did it in a professional and responsible way, well-meaning people would listen and they'd do something about it. And I was sadly mistaken. I think all of us are learning that powerful forces like the ones we're facing are often blind -- blinded by their own interests. It's not that they're evil or malicious, [although] some of them might be. I'm certainly willing to accept that notion. But the vast majority is more content not to confront the problem and it's our job as a community to force them to. It's one of the reasons we wrote the book. It's one of the reasons we write the blog. It's one of the reasons you e-mail, Anne. I think we are not winning. That doesn't mean we shouldn't keep fighting. But we have to find new ways to engage."
Mark's comments were stunning and he is absolutely right.
I remember years of big things happening....
-- David Kirby's Evidence of Harm came out in 2005
-- RFK Jr's Deadly Immunity was published in 2005
-- Dr. Bernadine Healy, former head of the National Institutes of Health, appeared on CBS News saying the science isn't in on vaccine and autism in 2008
-- The Hannah Poling case was conceded in 2008
-- The autism rate made another huge leap to one in 110 in 2009
I remember getting excited over each of these. And there were other things that should have also raised red flags and led to a demand for answers. But they didn't. None of them did. Nothing, it seems, can make autism a crisis for U.S. health officials.
Look at recent Google News stories and you'll see that Mark is right. Autism is now an accepted part of the childhood landscape. News reports talk about autism endlessly, but no one is ever worried.
We've been led to believe that bad genes alone make kids autistic...
-- December 5, 2010: NEWSDAY---Scientists finding genes related to autism HERE Dr. Eli Hatchwell, a geneticist from Oxford: 'There may be a small number of individuals who are reacting badly to something in the environment, but I don't believe that to be the case for everyone. Autism is 90 percent genetic in my opinion.'
We are used to hearing about autistic kids wandering off...
November 30, 2010: ABC7--TEMECULA, CA--Teenager with autism found safe in Temecula
We're routinely told about the abuse of students with autism....
December 3, 2010: NEWS-JOURNAL DAYTONA BEACH FL--Aide charged with abusing autistic boy
Mostly, we're given lots of "feel good" stories about autism--literally thousands every week.
December 5, 2010: WDTV BRIDGEPORT, WV--"Sensitive Santa" Helps Autistic Children Enjoy Holiday Traditions: "Nearly six out of every one thousand kids have Autism, making simple holiday pastimes, like getting a picture taken with Santa, near impossible. But the Morgantown Mall held a special event on Sunday to reach out to these kids."
December 3, 2010: NEW YORK TIMES--Hanukkah, Autism and One Temple's Run at a Miracle
December 4, 2010: EAST VALLEY TRIBUNE, MESA, AZ--AMC and Autism Society team to show movies for noisy autistic kids:"The lights are only slightly dimmed, the sound is turned down low and the theater's ‘silence is golden’ policy is thrown out the window. The audience is encouraged to get out of their seats, dance or walk in the aisles and make noise if they want. For those with autism, that means freedom."
December 3, 2010: LEXINGTON KT HERALD-LEADER--Hearing, speech center will offer program for autistic children:"Asked to assess the demand for autistic-focused classes, Offutt said a number of educators had told him, 'You won't believe how much need there is.' "
November 28, 2010: USA TODAY---Airport Check-in: Autistic kids learn about flying
November 29, 2010: KHOU-TV HOUSTON-- New research sheds light on early signs of autism, treatment
November 29, 2010: PENSACOLA NEW JRNL FL---Christmas party for autistic children is
November 29, 2010: WCHL, NC--:OC Main Library to Host Autism Information Session "About two families have a child diagnosed with autism every day in North Carolina. The disorder affects communication, social interaction and behavior. There is no known cause or cure."
December 1, 2010: TIME MAGAZINE-- New Version of an Old Drug Could Treat Autism (and Addiction Too)
The media talks about autism as if it's always been around. With the public now used to hearing about it, articles don't even need to describe what the condition is like. We have "normalized" autism. Even though most adults can’t recall kids they grew up with who were called autistic or who displayed the signs of autism, we’re not asking why it’s happening. Within a few generations, autism will affect one percent of the entire population and we won’t be able to remember a time when it wasn’t a common condition.
This brings us to what we're really doing about autism. ANSWER: NOTHING. The latest news of any importance comes from MI. December 2, 2010: WILX-TV Lansing, MI--End of Lame Duck Session Focuses on Autism, Tenure, Pure Michigan HERE
It’s about the debate in the MI state house over requiring insurance companies to pay for therapy for autistic children. The MI State Assembly passed it but the State Senate voted it down. There are 15,000 autistic students in MI schools and yet lawmakers are willing to ignore their needs. Here's how State Senator Tom George (R) defended the action: "This is a serious condition for which we all have sympathy. But to pick it out among the basket of conditions that aren't covered or for which insurance is inadequate is just unfair."
MI State Senators who voted against helping autistic kids aren't worried. The numbers don't scare them. If autism were a crisis, U.S. health officials would be talking about it. They're not. Autism is therefore lost amid the "the basket of conditions" affecting our kids. Autism happens. We'll take care of it like we've always done. Everyone's gotten the message.
Anne Dachel is Media Editor of Age of Autism.