It was never my intention in life to become a vaccine advocate. I have to do enough just advocating for my kids, as two of three are on varying degrees of the autism spectrum. Multiple times a year we have to draw up new treatment plans, new IEPs, start calling people out when things are not done the way we need them, making sure no one is trying to circumvent the younger child's service dog, etc. It's a tiring process, and I really don't need anything else added to it.
Then I came to the realization that advocating for vaccines and individuals with autism are becoming one and the same battle, and I have no choice but to fight.
Despite the fact that Andrew Wakefield's disastrous study linking autism to vaccines has been disproven and debunked hundreds of thousands of times over, there is still a large segment of the population that suspects -- or just flat-out still believes -- that vaccines cause autism. In addition, there are plenty of fringe groups, crunchy parenting boards, Facebook communities and high-priced celebrity doctors more than willing to prey on those beliefs and scare parents out of not vaccinating their children.
In other words, they are using my kids to scare other parents out of not getting shots.
I read through many of these sites, and I read through many of the comments on articles published about vaccines, and I was just truly blown away. Vaccines are blamed for everything from common skin rashes to the Sandy Hook school shooting. But the big thing every time on every group or thread is autism. Autism is a scourge. Autism is a tragedy. Autism is taking our children away. My autistic child is damaged, and vaccines are solely to blame. The more I read, the angrier I became.
As an autism parent, it offends me that my children's condition is being used to scare people away from life-saving medical treatments. I don't want that to happen. It angers me there are people out there who truly think my children and others like them would be better off dead than just a little different. It's what the anti-vaccine community has come to in many cases; a hatred of all things autism. I have seen parents like me try to plead how wonderful their children are and how they wouldn't trade them for anything, only to be told they are foolish and crazy. I have also seen adult autistics make very reasoned and well-constructed arguments, only to either be completely ignored or called horrible names. I don't understand how people become that filled with hate and paranoia, and I don't think I ever will.
Life with autism isn't all sunshine and rainbows. Aggression issues are no picnic to deal with when your child becomes taller than you are. School is a nightmare when children learn so differently, and both of my children on the spectrum literally scream and fight during homework. If one is loving the crowds and excitement, the other one is surely melting down and demanding to go home. Changes in routine freak them both out, and I've learned to comfort on the fly big time. Our house is stocked with yoga balls, weighted blankets, fidget toys, iPads and every sensory toy you can imagine. And did I happen to imagine I have a third child to keep happy during all of this, too?
But despite the bad, I have a AA hockey player who is finally starting to socialize properly in middle school. And his younger brother is making it into puberty without killing anyone and is showing promise as an artist and a soccer goalie. They are happy, amazing kids who many times get mistaken for normal boys. They are not damaged. They are not lost. They are not broken. They are mine. And they are fully vaccinated.
So I would like to take a stand right now and demand that my children not be used as your reason not to vaccinate. Better yet, don't use any person with autism as an excuse not to vaccinate. Sadly, there are those who do believe the hype, so that means it is the responsibility of the rest of us to speak in their place.
Find out more about the petition against using people with autism as an excuse not to vaccinate here. Spread the word and share. The more voices that cry out, the sooner the stigma stops. I thank you, and my children thank you as well.
This post originally appeared on VoicesForVaccines.org