The Science and Family Struggles of Autism

Science has proven that there is no link between childhood vaccinations and autism. But an old, flawed study from the Lancet medical journal and celebrity pronouncements have combined to create a perpetuating culture of fear about the issue. Seth Mnookin writes about that in his book, “The Panic Virus.” He uses the fear about vaccines as a jumping off point to examine how our culture responds to perceived threats. Mnookin says the junk science that identified a link between vaccines and autism gained traction partly because mainstream media outlets didn’t challenge researcher Andrew Wakefield’s findings and supporters. The fear about vaccines has resulted in deaths amidst outbreaks of diseases like whooping cough and hib.

You can find Seth Mnookin’s blog about “The Panic Virus” here.

History records evidence of autism for centuries, but over the past three decades, more children than ever have been diagnosed. The cause of the disorder remains unknown for certain, but the effects on families are difficult and long-lasting. Composer Allen Shawn writes about his twin sister Mary, who has autism, in the memoir “Twin.” Mary was diagnosed in the early 1950s, only a few years after autism was intially described in medical studies. She has lived in institutions since she was eight years old. Shawn says his parents were forced to make a difficult choice about how to care for their only daughter. Mary’s life at home was tormented, but with help from professionals, she thrived. In the book, Shawn writes about the long process of reconnecting with his sister as an adult.