To the Editors:
RFK Jr.'s "Autism, Mercury and Politics," parrots the arguments of a subset of parents determined to hold pharmaceutical companies at fault for their children's disabilities. If they can prove that their own children have suffered from vaccine reactions, and obtain fair compensation for real damage done, then more power to them. However, anti-thimerosal crusaders lose my sympathy when they attempt to convince the public that most autistic citizens are "poisoned" and in need of detoxification.
Kennedy's correlation of increases in autism diagnoses with changes in the vaccination schedule disregards sociological factors contributing to this phenomenon -- broadened diagnostic criteria and the success of stepped-up efforts to educate clinicians about autism. He accuses government agencies of "turning a blind eye" to studies supposedly incriminating thimerosal at the same time that he disparages studies that do not conform to his prejudices. His accusations of "ginning up" and "deceptive data gathering" border on libel against those professionals who conducted the studies he criticizes.
I also disagree with Kennedy's characterization of autism as an "illness." Autistic citizens experience illness, and certainly suffer from intolerance; however, autism is neither illness nor tort, but a distinctive pattern of development and cognition -- a part of the human condition.
3 July 2005
Autism's So-Called Epidemic
Diagnosis of autism: Current epidemic has social context
Incidence of Autism in Olmsted County, Minnesota, 1976-1997
Increase in autism due to change in definition, not MMR vaccine
Increase in autism is due to changes in diagnosis
Is There an Epidemic of Autism?
Prevalence of autism in early 1970s may have been underestimated
Public Policy and the Shaping of Disability: Incidence Growth in Educational Autism
Three reasons not to believe in an autism epidemic
US Department of Education Data on "Autism" Are Not Reliable for Tracking Autism Prevalence