A 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.