Monday, January 28, 2008

Autism and Censorship

I do not subscribe to the vaccine/thimerosal causes autism theory. It is necessary to state that at the outset because of the often heated, sometimes irrational nature of internet discussions of autism issues.

There exists a group of people, often called "neurodiversity" comprised of some high functioning autistic persons, some parents and professionals who share their view, who tend to promote a view of autism as a non-medical disability, a socially created disability which, from their perspective is simply different wiring of the brain. In the neurodiversity belief system autism is just a different way of thinking which, by their self identification with historical geniuses, can even be seen as superior to neurotypical thought. Positive views of autism are promoted. Negative realities of autism are suppressed. And now, in the American Academy of Pediatrics, the neurodiversity movement has a powerful new ally as it seeks to censor a work of fiction - the Eli Stone television series episode which apparently suggests a link between vaccines and autism.

The neurodiversity group is so rigid in its perspective that its adherents react with intense hostility to any negative portrayal of autism disorders such as that shown in the Autism Every Day video or the Ransom Notes campaign. The AED video presented the realities of autism from the perspective of caring parents. The Ransom Notes campaign was an attempt to create public awareness of some of the harsher realities of disabilities includig autism. While they have not been able to silence Autism Speaks, or the parents who created the Autism Every Day video, it is not for want of trying. And the "autism is beautiful" movement was a prime player in the successful effort to censor the Ransom Notes campaign, a campaign which was designed to focus attention on the harsher realities of various disabilities including autism disorders. Even Ph.D's, academics, presumably committed to the free exchange of ideas, bragged on the internet that they were doing "happy dances" over their success in shutting down the Ransom Notes campaign.

The Eli Stone episode is, on the surface, objectionable to the neurodiversity autism censors because it portrays a link between vaccines and autism. The episode features a family attorney who wins a court decision in which he successfully argues that a mercury-containing flu vaccine caused autism in a child. This alleged causal link enjoys little support in the medical and scientific communities and the AAP is presumably acting with good intentions when it seeks to censor the episode in question. But the same can not be said of the neurodiversity censors.

To be sure their criticisms of the vaccine autism link are consistent with accepted medical and scientific opinion but they want the episode and such discussion censored for another reason. They are offended by a medical model of autism disability. To them autism is a disability only because society imposes conditions on autistic persons which make it a disability. Even discussion of potential environmental bases for autism, anything other than a purely genetic model, is met with intense hostility by neurodiversity bloggers.

I have never been a fan of David Kirby, or his promotion of the vaccine causes autism theories. But I would not want to silence his voice, his opinion on this or any other subject. And I believe he has a point when he expresses alarm about the attempt to censor a television series episode in Scarier Than Fiction: Pediatricians Try To Censor ABC.

Autism Disorder is a medical disorder. Censorship is a severe social disorder which poses a threat to the health of a democratic society.


Anonymous said...

harvard just came out with a study that links mercury (thimerosal) to autism. You should look it up.

Katie said...

Nobody's trying to censor anything here.

There should just be a disclaimer before the episode starts. That's it.

Hardly censorship.

Besides, I looked at the plot for the show in general. It's rather whimsical, and nobody in their right mind is going to take such a silly show seriously.

Maya M said...

I agree with Beau McClelland. If the program links vaccines to autism, then it actually advises parents not to vaccinate. There should be disclaimers when a program gives advice contrary to health and safety guidelines, e.g. suggests not to feed fresh fruits to children or to extinguish fire with gasoline.
I have no problem with the knowledge of some environmental factors causing autism (such as valproic acid, thalidomide and rubella virus when present during fetal development). I'll have no problem if more are identified, though I think autism isn't as environmental as some expect.
To me, we need the social model of disability every time when the medical model fails. It is good to prevent polio by vaccination. But what to do with those who have been irreversibly affected by it, either because of coming from unvaccinated communities or as a result of the very vaccination? They do not need somebody repeating all their lives that what a pity it is that they have been unvaccinated / vaccinated with the wrong vaccine, and let's try this new proposed cure. Instead, they need respect, ramps and all other accommodations. In other words, they need the social model of disability.

Anonymous said...

Harold, I just wanted to let you know I enjoy your blog and your sensible position on some delicate issues. Thank you.

Unknown said...

translating autism

Thank you.

I was happy to find your blog site. I try to work my way through the research as it is made available but it is very helpful to have someone in one of the relevant disciplines to translate into more digestible language.

Anonymous said...

Very nice blog. It is good to see a strong voice standing against the ND rhetoric.


Is it that hard to understand that if autism is classified as a medical condition, then insurance companies will be more likely to pay for treatment. How the neurodiversity followers cannot see the big picture here just boggles the mind. Who cares about getting politically correct "respect", when kids with autism will be viewed as being injured and needing treatment if the condition is described as medical. They will get plenty of support and respect then - it's not like it was the kid's fault getting a brain and immune system injury.

Anyways, its all inevitable that the ND position will become swept aside once more studies keep coming out about non-inherited chromosomal damage. The papers don't go into *how* the deletions occur since that is beyond their scope, but DNA point deletions and transcription errors don't tend to happen without a trigger (Maya - go look for mutagen classification in industrial chemical, pesticides and preservatives since you have no problem with them being identified). The same goes for papers about variations in immune system function and excretion of environmental toxins sprinkled here and there. All we need now are studies on differental capability of individuals to resist mutagens.

The pieces of the puzzle are almost all on the table, and it will be pretty easy to put them together soon.