Note: I wrote this post for HuffPo and they declined it. Writers don't often share their rejections, but it seems appropriate to mention that fact. This post was meant to educate and, I hope, move us forward. April stunk.
By Kim Stagliano
April was autism action/awareness month. It's a designation that doesn't change much of anything except that famous landmarks glow in a blue light and proclamations are made about awareness around the world. There are hot tempers and strong opinions on just about every aspect of autism from whether it's a disability or not, to schooling, to medications and treatment, to the need for special inclusion events like movies and amusement park passes.
And then there was.... "The Hate Debate."
On April 15, Megan, a degreed-lawyer-naturopath-military-wife-of-a-physician-power-yoga-instructor-mother-to-4-blogger who runs the site LivingWhole.org summed up the bullying in a post she called, "The Hate Debate."
I am sick of it - this vaccination debate. My convictions not to vaccinate have been firm for six years now and I was comfortable living a low-profile life and letting other more notable activists carry the torch; and then I started seeing misleading t.v. interviews, news stories, and backlash against parents and unvaccinated children. I saw reputable medical professionals get crucified and reputations destroyed for questioning the mainstream norm. This isn't a vaccination debate, it's a hate debate, so let's call it what it is. And when it got personal, I got involved.
She had to pull down her site for a short period, to the delight of those who were bullying her. Here are just two comments she received - along with vicious threats that arrived quite literally on her doorstep if you can image the audacity and sheer terror of that.
"Please kill yourself. Thank you for misleading people with your carefully thought out bullshit.
Kill yourself immediately if you believe anything you wrote about vaccinations. "You are selfish, ignorant, foolish and myopic. You're an unfit parent and a menance [sic] to society."
A similar hate debate took place over a Chili's Restaurant fundraising campaign to benefit The National Autism Association, an organization whose Big Red Safety Box is helping to keep people with autism safe from death by wandering and bring peace of mind to beleaguered families. A vociferous social media campaign castigating NAA by people who likely hadn't the foggiest idea about their efforts on behalf of families facing the challenges of autism lead to Chili's cancelling the fundraising effort just 24 hours before the start date.
Now everyone out there knows that social media makes people forget their manners and push the boundaries of decorum but the carnage-by-comment assault attack on autism that seems to have gripped the nation is beyond anything I've seen in my 10+ years writing.
The tone of the comments to Megan at LivingWhole and throughout the NAA campaign wasn't an abberration. And if you think that hostility rests only on the "pro-vaccine" side of the fence, you're dead wrong. It repeats itself blogs, comment threads and articles peppered throughout the month. Even Time magazine compared unvaccinated children to a dangerous loaded gun. Sorry, that's just plain vicious and irresponsible journalism designed to create an enemy. Cui bono?
Fortunately, cooler heads on both sides of the vaccination conversation are taking notice - and action. Enter Dana, an efficiency-expert-blogger-autism Mom who posted a comment on her Facebook page (see below) that caught the eye of my colleague Becky Estepp who then started an email thread between the four of us, Megan, Dana, Becky and me:
Seriously, what's with all the anti vaccine full-out assault going on in social media over the last two weeks? It's ridiculous and over-the-top. I am pro vaccine (very firmly). I did the reading and my husband and I made an informed choice to vaccinate our daughter. I believe that vaccines carry certain risks but that they are safe.
The bottom line for us was that the benefits far outweighed those risks for us. It was the right decision and I don't regret it. I do have concerns that herd immunity will soon not be enough to keep serious diseases like polio at bay and that is a concern for sure. Still, it's not enough to justify the absolute hysteria and nastiness. I am convinced that while there is cause for concern depending on your own personal circumstances, the fear and hysteria this issue is causing is way, way, way over the top.
Stop the verbal assaults. If you want to be passionate about your beliefs and concerns, fine, but stop generalizing about the "other" side. Stop verbally abusing others and their choices. Do the reading and choose what is best for you and your family. Be confident in your choice (if you are, you probably won't feel the need to be so nasty toward others that might sit on the other side of the fence).
I'd like to think Megan and Dana represent real parents who make healthcare choices for their families. They write with their heads and their hearts instead of their spleens. We need more writers on both sides of the conversation to encourage straight debate without the hate. This autism "awareness" month will go down in history as leaving many of us not just blue, but black and blue. See you in 48 weeks.
Kim Stagliano is Managing Editor of Age of Autism. Her new novel, House of Cards; A Kat Cavicchio romantic suspense is available from Amazon in all e-formats now. Her memoir, All I Can Handle I'm No Mother Teresa is available in hardcover, paperback and e-book.