Autism: a mother’s story

Martine O'Callaghan

Martine O'Callaghan

June 22nd, 2012

Martine O'Callaghan

‘Mine is a story like the ones that thousands upon thousands of mothers with autistic children could tell, except no one asks them to…’

Martine-OCallaghanA sunny afternoon in the Spring of 2009: a mother sits in a doctor’s office, a chubby-cheeked one year old on her lap. The family doctor looks at his notes and asks Mam to confirm the birth date of the wriggling baby boy. Mam replies. “Happy Birthday little man!” the doctor beams. “Now, just roll up his sleeve, we can let him get back to his birthday cake.” Mam complies and the MMR vaccine is injected. To the surprise of mother and doctor, the child laughs.

That evening: birthday cake is brought to the boy. He recoils, crying.

Ten days later: the tot wakes in the night, sobbing. His temperature is elevated. Mam administers paracetamol and kisses.

Age two years and four months: the boy, centre of his Mammy and Daddy’s world, is diagnosed as severely autistic.



My son has autism. He never looked at or ate his birthday cake but then that’s more or less what Dad and I had expected when we got it. He was hot and grumpy some days after the jab but the next morning was fine. That’s what happens when the body mounts its immune response to the vaccine. He was giggly, happy and autistic before he got the MMR shot and, aged four, nothing has changed.

It was clear as soon as I met my Little Pwdin (as I call him in my blog, ) he was different – he had no suckle reflex and, for the first few weeks of life, could not/would not open his eyes for any length of time. The diagnosis of autism was not a surprise. It didn’t shatter our world, destroy our dreams nor leave us grieving, wailing or gnashing our teeth. It was a blessed relief and we started networking with disability groups and trying to access services to get our boy whatever he might need. There are parents for whom a diagnosis of autism does come as a shock but we had a long time to come to terms with who our child is and we love the very bones of the boy.

I became involved in vaccine advocacy mainly because I hated the language those in the anti-vaccination movement were using to describe children with autism – children like my beautiful son. I hate the imagery of the once perfect but now broken, damaged or stolen child. It breaks my heart that parents talk of their own children that way.

The more I read, the more I realised the anti-vaccination groups were using my child’s condition, which isn’t a tragedy nor was it an event, to terrify parents into making poor health choices for their families and peddle their wares.

Aside from causing the resurgence in diseases like pertussis and measles, the anti-vaccination movement has done incredible harm to autistic people. The idea of them as being somehow less than human is disgusting and has been used as an excuse to inflict degrading and horrifying “treatments” upon autistic children.


  1. lilady


    June 22nd, 2012

    What a delightful article Martine…so positive about your son and so lovingly stated.

    I’ve been following and posting on your Autismum blog, as have so many of the parent/advocates here in the United States.

    Please keep blogging and sharing your stories about your precious Pwdin, and, to provide reliable information about autism, vaccines and proven therapies that help our kids.

    You are a most welcomed member of our science community.

  2. Martine


    June 26th, 2012

    Thank you so much Lilady. Your advocacy for people with developmental disabilities and public health in general is inspiring! xx

  3. elburto


    June 26th, 2012

    Wonderful, honest piece. Your love for your Pwdin shines through.

    Thanks for breaking away from the tropes that show children as faulty, damaged, or broken.

  4. Ain Johnson

    Ain Johnson

    January 16th, 2013

    Thank you for shariing your story. What a wonderful perspective on raising a child with autism.

    I have a brother with autism and my mother knew the day that he was born that something was not right, long before his vaccinations she says.

    But I still can’t can’t shake the nagging suspiscion that there still is a serious problem with the quantity of and ingredients in the vaccines and while I beilieve you and my mom, as a medical practitioner and a mom myself, I also believe the many whose stories are a bit different, whose children were in deed with out a developmental disorder before their vaccinations and who clearly had siezures or hight fevers and changed.

    Thank you for your story- every persons voice should be heard.