She must be stopped

Jenny McCarthy is going beyond claiming that vaccines are dangerous, she’s claiming that her son has been “cured” of autism. As opposed to, say, “my son’s autism was not as severe as we previously though and with intensive sensory and neurodevelopmental treatment he has improved significantly compared to his previous functioning when he didn’t have any of those adaptations or treatments”.

Her claim betrays the assumption that autism is a static condition. That as a child ages and develops, the symptoms will be as severe as they ever were. This is not true of almost any disorder or illness. Especially considering that at about age 3, kids with autism begin receiving treatment that improves their condition. Some kids don’t get the intensive treatment that would improve them as much as possible because it’s expensive and time-consuming, so they have to settle for functional rather than global improvements. McCarthy however has the money to give her child everything he needs and more so.

Children with autism have seen improvements with occupational therapy, speech/language therapy, and other skills development and sensory interventions. That does not mean they have been cured of their autism. That means they have learned the skills necessary to adapt and have worked harder than children without autism to become functional in their daily life. In a family with plenty of time and money, and in a child who was low to moderate on the spectrum of autism (if at all), there can be vast improvements in their social and functional behaviour compared to when they were younger.

McCarthy has been promoting her son’s improvement in relation to changes in his diet. However what she’s not mentioning is the other treatments her son would likely have received — even if it was not from trained professionals. If she gave him extra help in learning to tie his shoes or write? Occupational Therapy. Extra help in learning his words? Speech therapy. It may not have been correct or efficient, but extra attention in any skill is technically “therapeutic”. Consider also the changes she would have made to his environment such as sensory-stimulating toys. I find it disingenuous and insulting that she would pretend that all she did was change his diet and — poof! — autism gone. This from a woman who allegedly tried her son’s medication and assumed it would have the same effect on her, an adult woman, as it would on her tiny male child. This is just silly.

She’s also assuming that her son has autism, which he may not have ever had. The mere utterance of one diagnosis does not mean that it is correct. It means that, at that time and given that particular information, he appeared to be following an autistic pattern. Parents have the right to second opinions and further tests if they feel their child has been misdiagnosed. Doctors are not 100% right 100% of the time — this is not a fault, it’s just reality. It is a parent’s responsibility to make sure that they get multiple opinions if they feel they should so their child received the correct therapy for their condition. If she thinks he was misdiagnosed, fine, but she shouldn’t pretend that he was cured of something he may have never had.

McCarthy is diverting attention away from genetic research that could tell us more about the causes and treatments of autism by assuming she already knows the cause. Nobody knows the cause yet, although vaccines have been essentially ruled out. This is because there has been no association in vaccine rates and autism rates, despite her saying otherwise. Autism rates appear to be rising because of certain changes in its diagnosis: 1) realizing it is a spectrum disorder thus allowing low-spectrum children to be diagnosed; 2) early screening for autism which helps prevent children from going their lives without a diagnosis ,which can happen in mild cases; 3) the necessity of a diagnosis to qualify for funding (meaning that children with a delay not otherwise specified may be diagnosed “autistic” when their symptoms don’t technically qualify as autism proper); and 4) increased general awareness.

McCarthy is not doing parents any favours by making them distrust modern medicine and health care practitioners. Her assumption is that her personal research and “mommy instinct” trumps years of medical research, years of training and studying to become a health care practitioner, and years of experience in interpreting scientific literature. Not that I want to use an ad hominem, but it angers me when people who used to pick their nose on MTV for a living go on TV spouting nonsense as if my 6 years of training in science research and 2 years of graduate training in [a health profession] means nothing. I’m also angered by her assumption that I’m ruled by some “model” of medicine due to my association as a health care practitioner, as if I don’t have the skills to critically evaluate evidence for myself. Or as if my skills as a dispationate and hopefully objective evaluater are less than her emotional mommy evaluations.

I may not be an expert and I don’t pretend to know everything, but I know that I am much more qualified than her to evaluate the evidence on autism and vaccines and come to a sensible conclusion. On television she is emotional, she is dogmatic, and she is often yelling about how angry she is and how doctors tell her she’s imagining things. She is not contributing to furthering autism research. She is stifling it by ignoring the evidence she doesn’t like and yelling misinformation to vent off a soapbox. She has the freedom to believe and say anything she wants, but she is not doing anyone any favours by being ignorant.

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2 responses to “She must be stopped

  1. she’s not doing science-based medicine any favors, but her perceived (or true) ignorance of the situation may serve as an extra warning to parents who were considering going down her path.

  2. Hopefully. *We* perceive her ignorance though, but desperate people who are terrified of “giving their kids autism” may not. So it’s a little scary.