Letter to Salon.com
in response to Robert F. Kennedy, Jr.'s article, Deadly Immunity
To the Editors:
RFK Jr. is justified in his concern about mercury toxicity. However, he does a disservice to autistic citizens by relying on an insular circle of informants directly involved in a well-funded P.R. campaign designed not only to convince the world that thimerosal should be removed from vaccines administered to children and pregnant women, but also that most autistic people are "victims of poisoning" and in need of detoxification procedures. Many participants in this campaign have either a financial interest or emotional investment in public acceptance of this highly debatable assertion, and no fewer "conflicts of interest" than anyone else.
There are many whose lives are affected by autism whose experience includes evidence that autistic traits run in families, and no evidence of vaccine damage. Many have also have recognized their own autism in adulthood. While some have been diagnosed, others have no need for professional evaluation, yet benefit from understanding how their life experience has been shaped by their autism. Autistic cognitive differences persist over the lifespan, into maturity, even after resolution of health problems that may significantly impair a person's functioning.
Kennedy quotes Boyd Haley's oft-repeated sound bite, "If the epidemic is truly an artifact of poor diagnosis, then where are all the 20-year-old autistics?" In fact, Professor Haley knows that there are plenty out there, but acknowledging their existence or the legitimacy of their claims that they're just as autistic as the children he has met would contradict his misconception that autism did not even exist before major vaccination programs. He corresponded with many autistic adults after I initiated protesting his coinage and use of sensationalistic terms to describe autism. The petition bears 677 signatures from autistic citizens, families, friends, researchers, service providers and others from around the world. It remains online and continues to gain signatures from those who disagree with his rationalization that degrading descriptions of autistic children are appropriate to employ in order to raise public awareness about the dangers of mercury.
It is disrespectful to automatically discredit those who seek to discuss disability issues publicly but who are unwilling to participate in games of medical show-and-tell, or to publicly portray their lives in devastating terms, or to agree that they or their family members are poisoned and in need of detoxification. Nonetheless, autistic citizens who dispute the conclusions and tactics of autism-equals-poisoning crusaders are commonly met with demands to produce diagnostic documentation, accusations that they are "pseudo-autistics," and outright contempt. Dissenting parents have been called "in denial," "clueless," "ignorant," and other such insults. I have had offer to pay for hair tests for my children in order to disprove his suspicions that they are somehow "toxic," simply because I publicly stated my concerns in an documenting the nasty side of the autism-equals-poisoning P.R. juggernaut, a side of which Mr. Kennedy must either be unaware, or unwilling to acknowledge.
17 June 2005