I Have Autism and I'm Offended by the Anti-Vax Movement | Opinion

My name is Max and I have Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but that's not my secret. What you'd never guess unless you sat down to talk to me is that the anti-vaccine movement drives me crazy.

A large portion of the ASD community is angered that anti-vaxxers are reducing our lives and experiences to something that should be feared and avoided. We are hurt by the prejudice of anti-vax parents who publicly declare they would prefer potentially deadly diseases for their children over ASD. That's an insult to the ASD community, and it works against our attempts to be accepted as a diverse and meaningful part of any community on our own terms.

And then, of course, there are the facts.

There is no proven link between vaccines and ASD. In fact, the entire anti-vax movement started in 1998 as a result of a fraudulent case study published by Dr. Andrew Wakefield that has since been debunked many times. Wakefield's study concluded that the "MMR vaccine may predispose to behavioral regression and pervasive developmental disorder in children." But this study was disproven and retracted in 2010 because, according to the retraction, "no causal link was established between MMR vaccine and autism as the data were insufficient." Since then, hundreds of studies have been done that support this second conclusion, by repeatedly failing to show any correlation between vaccines and autism.

Wakefield's work had a series of methodological flaws, which is bad enough. But it later came out that he had lied about the outcomes from the experiment as part of a scheme to get money from the pharmaceutical industry. The children who he said were diagnosed with autism after vaccination were actually demonstrating symptoms prior to getting the vaccine. Wakefield lost his medical license as a result, but still there are parents who are misinformed by anti-vaccine activists to think that vaccines cause autism. Those parents would rather put their children at risk of serious infection—or death—from diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella, and chickenpox than face a (non-existent) chance that a vaccine might increase their child's risk of being autistic. However, unlike these diseases autism isn't physically harmful—indeed, nobody has ever died as a direct result of autism—and according to The Autism Society, "early diagnosis and intervention lead to significantly improved outcomes."

Why, then, do anti-vaxxers create fears to vilify ASD? In an interview with BusinessInsider, actress Jenny McCarthy told mothers she believed that vaccinations had "triggered" her son's autism. Some mothers listened to her. McCarthy said she looked "at autism like a bus accident, and you don't become cured from a bus accident, but you can recover." She argued that mothers would "take the flu, the measles, over autism any day of the week." But not vaccinating increases the risks of these and other diseases without ever lowering autism rates. According to the CDC (Center for Disease and Control), autism rates jumped from 2000 to 2018, even as thimerosal, the mercury-containing ingredient in vaccines that anti-vaxxers falsely blame for the non-existent correlation between autism and vaccination, was withdrawn from vaccines in 2001. In 2000, autism rates were 1 in 150, while in 2018, autism rates were 1 in 59. Anti-vaxxers constantly ignore these facts simply because they want to believe that autism can be prevented by avoiding vaccinations. Hard-working, educated people with ASD, however, know that anti-vaxxers are wrong.

No one wants to harm their children. Parents who don't vaccinate their children are doing so out of love. They think they are protecting them even while they are drastically increasing the risk their children face and raise the chances of harming other unvaccinated children. As a result, the world has seen several Measles and Chickenpox outbreaks in the last ten years. In April 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported that "the number of measles cases reached 695 in 22 states" in the U.S. 2019 has been the worst year for measles in the U.S. since the disease was eliminated in 2000.

Why are the anti-vaxxers so scared of autism? Because they equate it with mental illness and brain damage, and assume that people with autism are damaged simply because they are different. Anti-vaxxers look at autistic people's struggles with communication and their unusual behaviors, and they fear what they do not understand. This is similar to the way anti-gay activists treat the LGBTQ+ population—they take their own personal discomfort with LQBTQ+ people dressing and acting differently from them and conclude that what makes them uncomfortable is something to be feared and eradicated.

Even though there is no causal link between autism and vaccinations, I am scared that—due to cognitive bias and misinformation—anti-vaxxer parents are making a choice in favor of deadly diseases over ASD. Anti-vaxx parents don't seem to care how badly these diseases could affect and seriously harm their children because autism has been so vilified in their eyes it's been made to seem worse than those risks. Perhaps this is because they are under the false impression that people with autism will never succeed at anything. But many with ASD live rewarding, successful lives. Many have notable abilities, including programming and art. A young woman with ASD, Haley Moss, was recently admitted to the Florida Bar. According to CNN, comedienne Amy Schumer revealed that her husband "has autism spectrum disorder" and said she "wasn't bothered."

I hope that anti-vaxxers will someday listen with respect and openness to parents, individuals with ASD, and autism experts. In my opinion, the ASD community needs to start its own activism and start informing parents about the true facts about vaccines and ASD. The ASD community would feel more accepted—and more young lives will be saved.

Max is 27 years old, has autism, and lives in Los Angeles, CA. He preferred not to publish under his full name.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​