Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thoughts on Dateline's "A Dose of Controvery"

Since I don't work (most) weekends, I've been trying to think up something clever to post on Saturdays or Sundays. Highlight of the week? An activity that worked especially well? A "what the heck is Recreation Therapy" FAQ? Something completely unrelated to autism or work?

For today, I think I'll post a brief reaction to tonight's Dateline "A Dose of Controversy," about the suggested link between the MMR vaccine and autism. I'll be the first to admit that I am not an autism expert. I didn't go into this field with the intention of working with people with autism but have landed there and seem to be good at it. I'm the type of person though who, when presented with something, takes it as it is and goes with it. With my kids at work, this means that rather than sit around and try and figure out why they are the way they are, I observe, see how they are and what might work with them, and run with that. (I would have made a terrible journalist, which was my first degree!)

That being said, the autism mystery is of some degree of fascination for me. What exactly is it, how did it come to be, what is the outlook for these kids' futures, and most of all, why are so many more kids being diagnosed with it these days than in the past? Over the last few years, I've heard the rumblings of the vaccine connection but didn't know much about it. Tonight's program gave me the background, and I felt it was pretty even-keeled in giving multiple sides of a dicey and emotional story.

After listening to him, my initial reaction of Dr. Wakefield is that he's full of it. His research methods were sketchy to begin with (only 12 test subjects? drawing blood at a birthday party?) and there was definitely some conflict of interest involved. Plus, I almost fear that he's done more harm than good as parents are starting to NOT get their kids vaccinated because of the way his research results were presented and they completely misunderstood what he was trying to say. However, I can see the validity of his argument and hypothesis, the importance of his research, and I think he's on the right track. Research needs to be done, whether results are positive or negative. Again though, he should have been more careful about was how the public interpreted his findings.

Right, so do I think there is a connection? Maybe. Probably not though. Someone recently (I can't remember who) suggested that there may be a genetic predisposition to autism (and research currently seems to be pointing that direction) and that the vaccine simply served as a catalyst for the symptoms to appear more quickly and more severely. In other words, the child had autism already, but the symptoms may not have been as evident until later, say 18 or 24 months. I do know that a lot of the kids I work with were developing normally and then around a year or a little older, started to regress. Take that as you will.

But you know what? I don't know. People regularly ask me what causes autism, and it's nice to be able to answer, "We don't know . . . yet." I certainly hope we learn the answer in my lifetime though.

For more on this and on autism in general, from people who really are experts, check out these sites:
Dateline's Related Materials
(Includes videos and a very helpful statement from the CDC)
Autism Speaks
Autism Research Institute (Which seems to lean towards seeing vaccines as a trigger)
Autism Society of America
(Seems to have a lot of good resources, just now delving into it)

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