What vaxxers and anti-vaxxers are missing: Autism isn't the worst thing to happen to a child
February 25, 2015
Here are some typical arguments put forward by parents who choose not to vaccinate their otherwise healthy child (by "healthy" I meant they're not asking for an exemption because the child is immunocompromised or otherwise couldn't medically tolerate vaccinations).
"It's the worst shot," [Missy Foster, mother to an 18 month old daughter] said, with tears in her eyes. "Do you want to wake up one morning and the light is gone from her eyes with autism or something?"
Kelly McMenimen, a Lagunitas parent, said she "meditated on it a lot" before deciding not to vaccinate her son Tobias, 8, against even "deadly or deforming diseases." She said she did not want "so many toxins" entering the slender body of a bright-eyed boy who loves math and geography.
You'll notice a common theme in these defenses--the brightness of or light in their children's eyes. This is a direct reference to Jenny McCarthy's narrative of the "light" leaving her son's eyes after he was vaccinated. It's used by parents who don't want to say the word "autism" but want to imply that they're scared their kid will become autistic (or something similar).
Here's what McCarthy said to Oprah in 2007: "Right before his MMR shot, I said to the doctor, 'I have a very bad feeling about this shot. This is the autism shot, isn't it?' And he said, 'No, that is ridiculous. It is a mother's desperate attempt to blame something,' and he swore at me, and then the nurse gave [Evan] the shot," she says. "And I remember going, 'Oh, God, I hope he's right.' And soon thereafter--boom--the soul's gone from his eyes."
Now consider the standard response from vaccine advocates to stuff like this--it's always, without fail, "Vaccines don't cause autism."
Because they don't, right? They absolutely, scientifically do not cause autism. That is a solid fact.
But here's what everyone gets wrong: regardless of whether or not vaccines cause autism, our entire conversation surrounding them is completely ableist.
When those in the anti-vaccination movement treat autism as a calamity far worse than a debilitating disease or death, that is ableism. What we also need to recognize is that every time we respond to fear-mongering about vaccines and autism with the words, "don't worry, vaccines don't cause autism," that is also ableist. Because instead of pointing out that, hey, autism and neurodiversity are far from the worst things that could happen to a parent, "vaccines don't cause autism" falls into the same narrative as "vaccines cause autism"--both suggest that autism is this boogeyman that lives under our kids' beds that could strike at any time.
Even though telling people that vaccines don't cause autism is factual, the way in which it's said only validates people's negative view of autism.