Pinning On My Scarlet “A”- Let’s Talk Autism

Mentioning any kind of association between autism and vaccines is the equivalent of an intellectual scarlet letter- you will be forever branded as an unscientific conspiracy theorist who seeks to obliterate public health for some kind of monetary or status gain. This is why I have avoided even mentioning the “A” word on this blog in the past. However, I had a request for a post on autism and I know it’s a subject people are curious about so, here goes.

From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders:

What is autism?

“Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a range of complex neurodevelopment disorders, characterized by social impairments, communication difficulties, and restricted, repetitive, and stereotyped patterns of behavior.”

What are the signs of autism?

“The hallmark feature of ASD is impaired social interaction.  As early as infancy, a baby with ASD may be unresponsive to people or focus intently on one item to the exclusion of others for long periods of time.  A child with ASD may appear to develop normally and then withdraw and become indifferent to social engagement.

“Children with an ASD may fail to respond to their names and often avoid eye contact with other people.  They have difficulty interpreting what others are thinking or feeling because they can’t understand social cues, such as tone of voice or facial expressions, and don’t watch other people’s faces for clues about appropriate behavior.  They may lack empathy.

“Many children with an ASD engage in repetitive movements such as rocking and twirling, or in self-abusive behavior such as biting or head-banging.  They also tend to start speaking later than other children and may refer to themselves by name instead of “I” or “me.”  Children with an ASD don’t know how to play interactively with other children.  Some speak in a sing-song voice about a narrow range of favorite topics, with little regard for the interests of the person to whom they are speaking.

“Very early indicators that require evaluation by an expert include:

  • no babbling or pointing by age 1
  • no single words by 16 months or two-word phrases by age 2
  • no response to name
  • loss of language or social skills
  • poor eye contact
  • excessive lining up of toys or objects
  • no smiling or social responsiveness.

Later indicators include:

  • impaired ability to make friends with peers
  • impaired ability to initiate or sustain a conversation with others
  • absence or impairment of imaginative and social play
  • stereotyped, repetitive, or unusual use of language
  • restricted patterns of interest that are abnormal in intensity or focus
  • preoccupation with certain objects or subjects
  • inflexible adherence to specific routines or rituals.”

What causes autism?

“Scientists aren’t certain about what causes ASD, but it’s likely that both genetics and environment play a role.  Researchers have identified a number of genes associated with the disorder.”

OK, so that’s autism in a nutshell. And the information about causes of autism is pretty vague. But remember thimerosal and mercury? How about we take a look at that.

Mercury poisoning?

There has been a lot of discussion about mercury/ thimerosal and autism. Some have posed the idea that autism is the result of mercury poisoning from vaccines, especially MMR. Mercury poisoning does have symptoms like psychiatric disturbances, mental deterioration and memory loss. These could look very similar to autism. However, thimerosal has been removed from MMR and yet autism rates have continued to climb. So let’s consider another possible explanation…


According to the Mayo Clinic, live virus vaccines are known to cause encephalitis, though they say this is very rare. Of course, MMR is a live virus vaccine so that risk is there. How rare is rare? Well a fascinating report from 1980 written by the Office of Technology Assessment for the House Interstate and Foreign Commerce Committee on the subject of a vaccine injury compensation program describes several vaccines as causing severe mental regression.

The authors of the report assure us that vaccine injuries like these are extremely rare, but also admit that an accurate picture of how many severe reactions take place and the chances of them happening is very difficult to quantify. They point out that their numbers are based on the number of doses of vaccines that are distributed, not the ones that are actually administered. Many vaccine doses may go unused and it is extremely difficult to track how many are actually administered, which means the ratios from the CDC are already inaccurate.

The other problem with these numbers is that they are based on reports of vaccine injury, not actual occurrence. A great many vaccine injuries probably do go unreported because physicians and parents are unaware of the effects of encephalitis, Guillain-Barre Syndrome and other vaccine associated conditions. Some parents may not know that they have an option of reporting an injury or see the point in doing so since merely reporting won’t make the individual reaction they are dealing with any better.

Encephalitis can have a wide range of effects from no symptoms to coma and death. In moderate to severe cases encephalitis can result in the following conditions, which may become permanent:

  • Persistent fatigue
  • Weakness or lack of muscle coordination
  • Personality changes
  • Memory problems
  • Paralysis
  • Hearing or vision defects
  • Speech impairments

From the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke: “In more serious cases, [meningitis and encephalitis] can cause hearing and/or speech loss, blindness, permanent brain and nerve damage, behavioral changes, cognitive disabilities, lack of muscle control, seizures, and memory loss. These patients may need long-term therapy, medication, and supportive care. ”

Now speech impairments, personality changes and cognitive issues are all associated with autism. It is entirely possible that someone could be vaccinated with a live vaccine, develop a severe case of encephalitis and then be diagnosed with autism, and then nothing is ever reported to the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System.

So while there may be a number of studies and research which state that autism is in no way connected to vaccines, encephalitis is known to be caused by live virus vaccines and can cause symptoms such as personality changes, mental regression, and speech loss seen in autism.

What are the rates of autism in unvaccinated populations? There is a 1 in 10,000 statistic that has circulated, supposedly coming from Dr. Max Wiznitzer. I have found a lot of people saying he said it, but I haven’t found any concrete proof that he did. For those who are interested, this is Dan Olmsted’s piece on his research into low autism rates among the Amish where he talks about the 1 in 10,000 stat. While there are some interesting ideas in it, it lacks the kind of proof I prefer to have before I recommend it to others. But a 1999 article from the LA Times stated that studies showed the worldwide incidence of autism was 4 in 10,000 during 1975-1985. Between 1985 and 1995, the numbers tripled to 12 in 10,000.



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