Yesterday was World Autism Awareness Day, and as part of CNN's week-long programming for autism awareness Larry King dedicated the full hour of his program to discussing autism and how reported cases had skyrocketed in recent years, and the debate over the culpability of vaccinations in children with autism. Former MTV star Jenny McCarthy is now an outspoken activist on behalf of parents, ever since her son Evan was diagnosed with autism at age 2. McCarthy was on with King for the full hour, and her passion and fierceness was riveting as she described how parents kept having identical stories about a perfectly healthy child getting immunized, coming down with a fever and never quite being the same again. McCarthy called it a "global epidemic" — current statistics estimate that 1 in 150 children is diagnosed with autism, and 1 in 94 boys (boys are 4 times as likely to be diagnosed as being on the "autism spectrum" than girls. The debate about autism has been about vaccines, and questioning whether mercury and other elements in vaccines is to blame. Said McCarthy:
I believe that parents' anecdotal information is science-based information. And when the entire world is screaming the same thing -- doctor, I came home. He had a fever. He stopped speaking and then he became autistic. I can't -- I can see if it was just one parent saying this. But when so many -- and I speak to thousands of moms every weekend and they're all standing up and saying the same thing. It's time to start listening to that. That is science-based information. Parents' anecdotal is science-based information.
In the second half of the program, two pediatricians joined the program who didn't believe that there was a link between vaccines and autism, and McCarthy wasn't having any of it. "Are we considered acceptable losses?" she asked dangerously after a point was raised on the cost-benefit of vaccinations, and what they offered in terms of prevention. "Give my son the measles! I'll take that over autism any day." It was also around that point that she called the standard vaccination program "bullshit" without missing a beat. CNN deleted the expletive in the transcript but not on air, because they don't call it "Larry King Live" for nothing. Watch it below:
The whole show was riveting and so is the read, if you want to check out the transcript here. I'm with Jenny, 1 in 150 is a staggering number and these dots don't connect any other way. CNN has focused a lot of time on autism this week for World Autism Awareness Day, including numerous segments across all its shows domestically and internationally from "American Morning" to "The Situation Room" and even to "Election Center" where last night Campbell Brown's final segment dealt with the position of the presidential candidates on the topic (which, by the way, is a great idea - I would love to see more issues examined this way). CNN senior producer John Dear shares his own story of his son, Jonas, who became autistic after the whole family was sick, but never quite recovered:
I remember distinctly it was December 2006. My entire family became sick at the same time. Our two boys, my pregnant wife and I had projectile vomiting. It was unusual not because we were miserable simultaneously, but because Jonas (18 months at that time) never seemed like himself after everyone else got over it. He no longer wanted to cuddle with us and would not respond to us when called. The eye contact disappeared, and he started tapping with his fingertips on anything he could find. We bought a set of drums and a keyboard thinking he'd be this great musician with his new obsession. Up until that point he had been developing normally, but now the few words he knew were no longer there and he was completely non-verbal.
These are stunning stories, and it is incredible that they are happening in 1 out of every 150 kids. Kudos to CNN for giving it that kind of coverage. I'm glad I saw this show last night.
Jenny McCarthy: The day I heard my son had autism [CNN]
Transcript: Larry King Live, April 2, 2008 [CNN]
Help For Jonas - One Family's Story [Paging Dr. Gupta - CNN]
Facts About Autism [Austism Speaks]