Well that was quick! Last week I began my column by asking, “Why isn’t there a huge groundswell in the autism advocacy community for Donald Trump? We seemed to like him better when he was not in a position to do anything. Here we have the first leading major party candidate to say the studies are fudged, the shots are too many too soon, and the result is autism.
“I’ve lived in Washington and covered politics here for three decades, and believe me, it is a big freakin’ deal that the Republican front-runner embraces our issues when we aren’t respected in virtually any other way.”
On Thursday, Trump won a whole lot of love from our community by saying, during the GOP presidential debate, that there is an autism epidemic, that vaccines can and do cause autism, that spacing out the shots would greatly reduce the incidence of autism, and that he had an employee whose healthy, happy child got sick and regressed into autism right after a vaccine.
Ben Carson, the pediatric neurosurgeon who in the past had defended vaccine mandates and whom CNN had teed up to go after Trump for his vaccine views, agreed, shockingly, that there are now “way too many shots” in too short a period and even questioned the necessity for some of them, and Rand Paul, an M.D. who emphasized choice as a bedrock of health policy, also supported spreading out the shots.
I felt the ghost of my hero Bernie Rimland in the room, who said, “The autism epidemic is real, and excessive vaccinations are the cause.” Wish he could have heard the debate!
This is a breakthrough moment, and to pick at what Trump said or to diminish Carson or Paul is not, to my mind, the right response. As our ever-astute John Stone wrote in a comment:
“Trump's technical grasp of the issue - let alone ignoring [CDC whistleblower William] Thompson - is rudimentary to say the least. With half-an-hour's proper briefing he could give a much better account than that. Though when it comes down to it - and this is where he gets the point - he ignores all the official BS and says in effect 'this is what happens and let's stop pretending'. And, of course, it is what happens.”
What to do next remains a matter of debate, for which Age of Autism is a willing forum – see this week’s posts by J.B. Handley and Dan Burns, both of which are superbly reasoned and written, from opposite perspectives. Should we fall in line behind Trump even if we find his manner and policy ideas atrocious? (I’m a self-professed progressive, and there are libertarians, doctrinaire conservatives, classical liberals and apolitical types among us. The person in the debate whose overall views most agreed with mine was Rand Paul. Horrors!)
The Donald has the perfect name for this dilemma, doesn’t he: Do his views on vaccines and autism trump everything else?
Of course, discussion of this topic in any way, shape or form freaks out the mainstream media. Their new go-to word is “dangerous.”
Washington Post: “The GOP’s Dangerous ‘Debate’ on Vaccines and Autism:
The New York Times: “When the A-Team got around to science and health, many of them promised to help Americans by killing the program that gives millions of them medical insurance. One candidate said he felt sure that vaccines had caused an autism ‘epidemic.’ The two doctors on the dais did not seriously challenge that persistent, dangerous myth.”
(Love the air quotes! What “debate”? What “epidemic”? Don't be "ridiculous"!)
Huffington Post: "CNN was irresponsible to even bring that up," journalist Ana Marie Cox said on HuffPost's 'So That Happened' Podcast. 'If you even talk about the vaccine debate you give it credence.'"
That is a pure suppression of free speech. Sorry. Exactly nothing is out of bounds in a democracy – and ideas that are the object of active suppression are the ones we need to scrutinize most closely.
Like parallel universes that are starting to bang into each other, both of these paradigms can’t survive forever. We have “Neurotribes,” now a New York Times best-seller that posits autism is not new, was never rare, and rather than being a problem is a precursor and creator of a wonderful new world; we have a study that claims changes in diet do nothing for autistic kids; we have the autism ‘epidemic’ being ridiculed by our major media outlets.
And then, of course, we have what’s happening.
Last Saturday I flew down to Charlotte to give a talk at a conference sponsored by PAVE, a great North Carolina vaccine education group that worked to defeat a California-style mandate this year Because I was a last minute sub (for Andy Wakefield, I’m honored to say), I had only an hour or so after I got there before I went on.
In that time, I had talked to the host who picked me up at the airport, and told me how his daughter got sick and regressed after the MMR, and how the doctor then threw them out of the practice; and I had talked a woman who showed me a cell-phone photo of her child who, after the DTaP, developed a hideous skin-exfoliating diseases and went on to be diagnosed with global developmental delay – not exactly autism, just another fun vaccine injury that couldn’t possibly be related to vaccines.
She was on the hunt for a friendly doctor because the one who gave her child this devastating shot was not about to give him an exemption for the next round, since only cranks and conspiracy theorists believe there is a connection.
And Donald Trump.
During my talk to PAVE, I mentioned a New York Times article about the terrible problems that boys – and boys only, not girls – are having succeeding in school and at work.
The story was titled, “A Link Between Fidgety Boys and a Sputtering Economy.”
“If the United States is going to build a better-functioning economy than the one we’ve had over the last 15 years, we’re going to have to solve our boy problems,” the article said.
“To put it another way, the American economy — for all its troubles (and all of the lingering sexism) — looks to be doing pretty well when you focus on girls. The portion of women earning a four-year college degree has jumped more than 75 percent over the last quarter-century, in line with what has happened in other rich countries. Median inflation-adjusted female earnings are up almost 35 percent over the same span, census data show — while male earnings, incredibly, haven’t risen at all.
“We know we’ve got a crisis, and the crisis is with boys,” said Elaine Kamarck, a resident scholar at Third Way and a former Clinton administration official. “We’re not quite sure why it’s happening.”
Well, I think we know, although according to mainstream pundits, it’s too dangerous to even say. But when autism affects boys over girls at a rate of four or five to one, and learning disabilities like ADHD also seem to be boy-centric, and boys are failing, there is every reason to look for similar etiologies.
It really does deserve to be a central issue in the presidential race, doesn’t it? Unless, that is, the future of our country and our world is simply too dangerous to discuss in a presidential election. It raises the question, too dangerous for whom?
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.