With so much news attention lately on the growing number of parents who have become concerned that vaccinations might be linked with autism, I thought it would be fun to spend a few posts on what is known about the neuroscience of autism.
For my first post on this topic, I am going to start with the reason this topic is in the news so much; the belief that vaccines may cause or increase the risk of autism. This is the least interesting aspect of this topic for me because the scientific answer is resoundingly “NO!” and also because there are so many fantastic blogs and articles discussing this (see here, here, and here). I have nothing to add to what those experts have already said, but because there is so much misinformation and skepticism out there I feel obligated to start any conversation about autism with a discussion on what is known about the link between autism and vaccines. So, here we go. To start, let me unequivocally state that there is no scientific evidence to suggest that receiving vaccinations increases the likelihood of acquiring an autism spectrum disorder. The controversy has mostly come from one paper published in The Lancet which did suggest a possible link in 1998, but a slew of follow-up papers could not replicate those findings. These many follow-up papers have now examined autism rates in over a million children and compared them to their vaccination records, and have found no effect of vaccination. Compare that to the Lancet paper that started this mess, which looked at only 12 children. It turns out there are more problems with that Lancet paper than just a low number of patients; it appears the researcher in question did not randomly sample to get those 12 children and in fact may have selected them in a biased manner. It gets even worse; the researcher’s funding may have come in part by lawyers who were carrying out lawsuits against vaccine manufacturers. Because of these and other problems the Lancet has retracted that study.
There is zero credible evidence that vaccines cause autism. There are now many credible studies suggesting vaccines do not increase the risk of autism.
The sad thing is that all of this fear and mistrust means scientists have to spend precious time and even more precious resources conducting major clinical studies to prove to the public something we already know. Vaccines are not the cause of autism. That means it will take us that much longer to figure out what is causing the harmful disease.
And speaking of harmful diseases, the vaccine in question prevents measles, mumps and rubella. Measles is a horrible, painful and deadly disease. Worldwide 146,000 people die from it each year.It is a tragedy that a fatal disease with a known method of prevention is making a comeback.
So what is this autism disorder causing so many parents to put their children at risk of measles? In my next post in this series, I am going to delve into the question what exactly is an Autism Spectrum Disorder?