How I Learned to Stop Blaming Vaccines and Love Science

One of the worst things you can say to an autism parent is to ask if we believe vaccines cause autism. Just no. 

I remember researching autism while I was pregnant with my now autistic son. Maybe I had a feeling I’d be raising an autistic child, who knows. My recollection is I had seen articles that said having engineers in the family increased the risk, and we have quite a few engineers! But it took all of three seconds to see that the theory of vaccines as the cause of autism has been widely discredited and debunked. I learned quickly enough the only thing I could control was how much exposure I had to auto exhaust, and it didn’t reduce the risk much. Oh well, I thought. There wasn’t much else I could do to mitigate the risk.

Fast forward to my son being diagnosed. I knew I had done everything I could to prevent autism, which is to say there wasn’t much I could do. I was glad he was getting diagnosed early and that the condition wasn’t fatal.

It was around the time of diagnosis that I began researching much more and found that the working theory was that genetics made you susceptible and something in the environment triggered it. Again, doesn’t help much but at least it is based on science, not irrational fear. 

Every few days, more research into the how and why of autism is released. It is amazing how many people are studying the topic and slowly doling out these tiny, little bits of knowledge about autism. 

That said, the latest bit of research I saw was huge news. Autism Policy Blog recently reported on a study that determined autism is 83% genetic. Wow! So stop killing other people’s kids by causing measles outbreaks, anti-vaxxers!

I was texting with a policy nerd friend earlier this week, telling him about my son’s diagnosis. He asked how I was taking it and I mentioned that the autism community online is pretty great, but sometimes I’m unnerved when I see autism parents talking about vaccines causing autism.

I phrased it in such a way that he wasn’t entirely sure if I believed such things myself, so he asked what I thought.

I told him I believe it is some combination of genetics and environmental factors (and no, I do not believe vaccines to be one of the environmental factors). 

Good to see research that supports my own theories, of course. The interesting thing is, this is not completely new research. Instead, it is a re-evaluation and analysis of existing research. With huge replicability issues in science, the fact that looking at the data in a new way changed the outcome so drastically–from 50% to 83% genetic–does raise some questions. Not about whether or not it is true generally, but whether one way of analyzing the data is more accurate.

Here is a brief summary from APB:

Reanalysis of data from a previous study on the familial risk of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) estimates the heritability to be 83 percent, suggesting that genetic factors may explain most of the risk for ASD, according to a study published by JAMA.

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