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Janet Grillo Headshot

Vaccines and Autism: My Story

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Eleven years ago, almost to the month, my son Matthew received his first set of childhood inoculations. At the time, my husband had protested. Vaccinations made him nervous, he wasn’t sure we should proceed, he had heard rumors. Friends of friends had said something about immunizations being linked to neurological disorders in childhood. But I knew those friends, and they were the type who believed in alien abductions and didn’t pay their taxes. I admit it; I blew off my husband’s objections and barged on, certain that I was walking on the responsible road, ever vigilant to protect our child from the world of harm we were struggling to keep at bay.

Matthew was our first child, and as it turned out, our only one. Those early days of life with our baby were as much about trying not to kill him as to raise him. Every sneeze could be pneumonia; every extended nap could be SIDS. I don’t know who was in a higher state of perpetual alert—me or my husband. Night wakings every hour on the hour weren’t exactly helping us to communicate about difficult subjects. So when my husband challenged the hallowed wisdom of vaccinations, I confess that it felt like one more over-reaction from my equally anxiety-ridden-sleep-deprived partner. Besides, I tell myself over and over, if I had wanted to “do the research”, where would I have looked? What would I have learned? It was the spring of l994, there wasn’t an Internet, not to speak of, and credible researchers wouldn’t begin to piece together the chain of clues leading towards mercury toxicity in pediatric vaccines as likely culprits, until l999. Even if we had thoroughly scoured all available information sources, there were no reliable sources of information to be scoured. Certainly nothing persuasive enough to outweigh the considerable risk of leaving our baby vulnerable to the ravages of measles, or rubella, or mumps. At least that’s what I tell myself. At least once a day.

It’s eleven years later, and our gorgeous child with oceanic eyes and long fingers as delicate as lace, has just boarded the school bus that will take him to his Special Education Fourth Grade Class at The Village Glen/Help Group Program. Eight years ago he was diagnosed with Autism. Nine years ago he began to disappear. First it was words. He forgot alphabet letters, and the names of the animals in the picture book we used to look at and read together, side by side, me pointing and him labeling. Then his entire body began to go limp. He became listless, heavy lidded and pale. As a toddler he used to run so fast that if I put him down on the floor in order to complete a chore, he would dash away and me soon after. His grip had been so strong we had nicknamed him “baby Hercules.” Within months of receiving his complete cycle of vaccinations, the boy who had grinned and clapped and danced with a toy Umbrella while SINGING IN THE RAIN played on the television, sat lining up cars, or looking at circulating fans and no longer at me.

For the better part of a decade, every waking hour of his life has been flooded with therapeutic interventions. College kids with a course in Behaviorism under their belt have marched in and out of our living room, bribing Matthew out of isolation with the lure of M&Ms, much as you would train a dog. Others, armed with MBA’s and infinite patience have crawled on the floor, joined in his obsessive repetitions, coaxed and poked and stretched their way into connection. We’ve paid more money than I could track to speech therapists and occupational therapists and cranial sacral therapists and homeopaths and nutritionists and, when all else failed, psychiatrists. I confess that in a desperate, last ditch attempt to avoid psychopharmacuticals, we even paid an energetic healer to sit crossed-legged with closed eyes wishing Matthew back to health, while our child lined up Matchbox cars and flapped his hands. How I have wished it myself, with every cell of my body, how I have prayed to lift this fog out of his body and out of his brain. Now evidence is compiling that whatever nefarious agent tipped whatever my son’s genetic predisposition might be over the edge and into the vortex which we wake each day to claw our way out of, might well be something to which I myself insisted we expose him.

In his new book, EVIDENCE OF HARM, David Kirby documents the relentless pursuit undertaken by an intrepid team of parents, convinced that vaccinations irrevocably altered their kids. Despite resistance, denials and roadblocks from pharmaceutical corporations, as well as our own government, these parents prevailed. They uncovered information, pieced together clues and enlisted research scientists to join their investigation. Their theory is yet to be completely proven, but each day much harder to dispute. Since l999, these parents have believed that the ethyl mercury compound in thimerosal (a preservative added to vaccines so that more doses could be given per container, thus increasing profitability) causes Autism. New university based studies evidence the devastating impact of ethyl mercury on the nervous system. The latest one, released within the last two weeks, was funded by the NIH. It’s getting harder and harder to write them off as the Lunatic Fringe. Other respected, peer-reviewed studies demonstrate that Autistic people of all ages and levels of impairment have inflamed nervous systems, low anti-oxidant levels and chronically impaired immune systems which then impact the brain and nervous system in ways that can explain Autistic behavior. What could cause this underlying metabolic disruption? Ethyl mercury toxicity can. I am also an Autism Advocate. I’m on the Board of Cure Autism Now Foundation. My life is organized around finding the causes and cures for this assaulting epidemic. As much as I want an answer, I really don’t want that answer to be thimerosal. But each new piece of research that emerges compounds a coherent narrative which is more and more convincing. How I wish it weren’t.