The Anti-Vaccine Movement is Offensive to Autistic People

Believe it or not, the anti-vaccination movement is still going strong, particularly in the United States. One of the most famous claims by these people is the idea that it is vaccines are what cause autism. I shouldn’t have to do a lengthy post refuting this, you should know at this point that vaccines absolutely do not cause autism, or any other recognized disability. They don’t increase your likelihood of developing any disability. This has been test countless times by dozens, if not hundreds, of independent, credible research organizations. There is simply no correlation anywhere in any scientifically sound data.

This does not, however, stop the anti-vaxers from saying this. Over and over again. I’ve found they can be rather unpleasant to engage with in discussion or debate. I saw an anti-vaccine comment on an open Internet forum, specifically again making the claim that vaccines cause autism, so I took the ten minutes to bring together all the evidence in a fairly matter-of-fact reply. The meanest thing I said was “Get out with your pseudoscience.” This is the response I was given:

“You are a horrible person! I wouldn’t put it below you to point and laugh at vaccine damaged children!”

This is what is known as an ad-hominem argument, and it’s a logical fallacy. But really, it’s not an argument at all.

By “vaccine damaged children” she of course means autistic children. It wasn’t stated anywhere on the page that I myself am autistic, so she didn’t know. In my reply to that, I informed her that I’m autistic, so no, I don’t exactly point and laugh at autistic children (and that reply immediately blew up with likes. Yay!).

But, the use of the word “damaged” to describe autistic people is part of the rhetoric that myself and many other autistics have been fighting against for years. Autistic people are not damaged. We are just different. Yes, we struggle in this world not made for us, but I’ll tell you that most autistic people will tell you that they suffer because they live in a society that isn’t accessible to autistic people and not because of autism itself.

Rhetoric like this directly hurts autistic people. Fear is such a common and completely unnecessary response to autism. Words create action, and calling autistic people less-than, broken, defective people is why people can murder their autistic children while in mid-meltdown and then receive basically no sentence (not even prison time) because the judge “understands” how hard it is to have one of those *terrible* autistic kids. Yes, this happens, too often to count unfortunately. It’s why it’s so hard for people to embrace autism acceptance.

People have forgotten how bad the diseases that vaccines eradicated were. Pertussis, also called whooping cough, is now easily preventable by vaccine. But before this, it was a killer. The National Institutes of Health reports that in 1922, there were 107, 473 cases of Pertussis in the United States, resulting in 5,099 deaths. It gets even scarier in areas that had less access to medical care. Worldwide, during pertussis outbreaks, it has been estimated that the disease could have a mortality rate of up to 38.6%, meaning pertussis, at some points, was the the cause behind 55% of children who died under the age of four. Historically, whooping cough was the thief that came in the night and stole children, certainly not autism.

Polio is even scarier. Polio is a disease that causes all of your motor neurons to literally waste away. This results in partial or full paralysis, even of the muscles that facilitate breathing. Total paralysis can come on in a number of hours. People with severe cases of polio were forced to live their lives in the iron lung – a lifesaving medical device that looks like it came out of a steampunk sci-fi novel – simply so they could breath. Waiting rooms turned into polio wards as hospitals overcrowded during the polio outbreaks of the 1950s. Polio can cause lifelong disability, if not death. (See: The Last of the Polio Survivors) Polio has since been essentially driven extinct because of the polio vaccine.

A polio ward with an iron lung.

By not vaccinating your child out of fear of autism, you are saying that you would rather your child have one of these, or many other, diseases than be autistic. You’re saying you would rather your child be paralyzed than autistic. You’d rather your child be dead than have autism. It doesn’t matter if autism actually is caused by vaccines or not at this point, any autistic person (or any sane person) would tell you it’s better to be autistic than be dead.

This is why the anti-vaccine movement is offensive to autistic people. It says “we’d rather people die than be autistic.” It says “I’d rather my child die than be like you.” Why this is hurtful shouldn’t need to be explained.

There are people who straight up say “I’d rather have a dead child than an autistic child,” and those who mean similar when they say “autism is worse than cancer.” (Which is additionally offensive on two fronts because I’m an autistic person who has lost loved ones to cancer.) They say this when they shovel money at research into finding a genetic marker for autism so autistic fetuses can be selectively aborted. This rhetoric is offensive and directly hurtful to autistic people living now.

So we should fight the anti-vaccine movement not just because of the potential health risks it poses and because we should fight pseudoscience, but also because it is offensive and harmful to your friends, neighbors classmates, family, or even yourself.

I do hope you can understand and consider.

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