I want to win the "Vaccine-Autism War."
It's probably why I spend inordinate amounts of my scarce free time watching History Channel specials on military battles and tactics. The books I read also tend to be about great historical struggles and what eventually happened.
And sometimes I simply can't believe we haven't already won. Consider the facts:
Since the 1980's the number of vaccines children have received have more than tripled, with the majority of them coming in the first eighteen months of life.
The rate of autism has gone from 1 in 10,000 to 1 in 100. At the height of the polio epidemic the numbers were never greater than 1 in 2,000.
A significant and vocal number of parents claim the changes in their child's development came after a vaccination.
And yet the government and medical authorities refuse to conduct the one study, (the neurological differences between fully vaccinated and fully unvaccinated children), that would settle the matter.
I recently read a book, "Mindset" by Dr. Carol Dweck, a professor of psychology at Stanford University, which I believe has relevance to our struggle against the medical community. Sometimes it's not enough to have facts on your side, you have to understand the psychology of the other side and use it yo your advantage.
Dr. Dweck identifies two types of mindsets among people, the "fixed" mindset and the "growth" mindset.
In the fixed mindset a person is motivated by a desire to look smart and therefore has a tendency to avoid challenges, will give up easily when frustrated, and ignores useful negative feedback. How many of you feel that the majority of physicians you've encountered fall into the fixed mindset? Honestly, if you were a physician wouldn't you think children with autism present an amazing diagnostic challenge? From their pale skin, to their gastro-intestinal issues, multiple food allergies, abnormal immune markers, I couldn't think of a greater medical challenge. And as we expect to find some brilliant, if somewhat eccentric physician, like the fictional Dr. Gregory House, who won't let go of a case until he finds the answer, we get a collective shrug, as if we're dealing with some sullen teenager.
By contrast, the person with a growth mindset is lead by a desire to learn and will therefore embrace challenges, persist in the face of obstacles, and try to learn from criticism. Those rare doctors you have met with this mindset are probably among your heroes, even if they haven't yet been able to fully resolve the problems of your child.
In many of the historical struggles I read about or watch on television there usually comes a point when one of the individuals tries to fully understand the psychology of their opponent. In World War II General George Patton was able to effectively fight Rommel because he'd read Rommel's book on tank warfare and understood his battle-field philosophy. In our own time, Nelson Mandela tried to fully understand the psychology of the white South Africans who opposed racial equality and persuade them to voluntarily take the steps necessary to dismantle apartheid.
What does the fixed mindset look like in the modern world? Dweck points to Enron as an example. They believed in the "talent" rather than the effort theory of hiring potential employees. In a movie about the Enron debacle they were termed "the smartest guys in the room." Nobody called them the hardest-working guys. Their brains were supposed to be their secret weapon, even if they didn't use them. They believed in themselves so much they became convinced that if they thought of an idea which could make them money they could put that amount of money in their account books as income. Those of us who live in the real world know that just because we think of a potential money-making idea doesn't mean the bank will put that money in our bank account.
It's this kind of "magical thinking" in the medical community which is difficult to take for so many autism parents. First, we're told there is no increase in autism even though school districts are swamped with special needs classes. Then we're told that as a sign of our competitive times parents are demanding their child be classified as developmentally-delayed so they can get extra services. All of this comes despite studies from places like UC Davis which show a real increase in the rate of autism. And when twin studies show that "shared environments" seem to be as much of a contributor to autism as genetics, we get another shrug from the medical community.
And how do we get the medical community to move from a "fixed" mindset to a "growth" one? It is a significant challenge. People who have a fixed mindset are invested in looking smart, not in moving to a higher plane of understanding. And think of what they will have to accept. That they have caused the autism epidemic, an epidemic which is twenty times larger than the polio epidemic.
The choice lies with the medical community. They can either persist in their behavior and end up in shame like Enron, or acknowledge the need for change and live as the white South Africans do in peace with the neighbors they once brutalized.
If the medical community will extend a hand to us and try to learn how to help our children you will find a willing partner. We stand ready. The medical community needs to tell the truth, no matter how painful that might be. They took an oath to heal, not to avoid responsibility.
We await your answer.
Kent Heckenlively is a Contributing Editor to Age of Autism