Mercy Raises Funds on National Autism Day; Parents Still Fear Vaccines To Young Children

By Delilah P. Valentin and Lauren Parfidio

Impact Staff

It starts with a decision.

The decision initially seems easy – vaccinations that would keep a child healthy are supposed to be an easy decision – yet the risk and rumors of the complications from the shots are difficult to ignore.

After research and reports over a decade ago stated that an abundance of vaccinations at a young age could cause autism, some are making the decision to hold off on the vaccinations until the child is at older, between the ages of 2 and 5.

Parents, scholars and doctors often are scrambling for answers, for which none have to come to light.

In celebration of World Autism Day, Mercy College held a joint fundraiser with the foundation Autism Speaks at the Dobbs Ferry campus on April 14. People who donated were given pins, bracelets and snacks while their names were posted on a bulletin board. Mercy College raised $341 for Autism Speaks.

“We were really surprised. We didn’t expect to raise that much money,” states Mindy Donovon, professor of natural sciences.

Many organizations are spreading the word on autism. Autism Speaks is campaigning on spreading the news that autism is closer to home than most think. Commercials state that the issue become more prevalent as more people have autistic children, are related to autistic children or are neighbors to autistic children.

Autism affects one in every 110 American children. The cases range from slight to severe. The spectrum of disorders from autism range from social disabilities to behavioral challenges. Diagnosis by parents typically begins around age 1 and is believed to be prevalent by 2.

Andrew Wakefield is a British surgeon and researcher who for years has published studies warning parents about the connection between the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine and autism. An article printed in 1998 in the Lancet featuring his research resulted in a steep decline of  the number of parents giving their children the vaccine, falling as low as 80 percent in 2004, according to the New England Journal of Medicine. Over a decade later, the research has been considered fraudulent and dishonest. A majority of researchers discredit his theories while others remain firm supporters.

While there are 93 percent of parents who say their children have received or are going to receive vaccinations, there are still those who are against too many vaccines too soon. Research shows that wealthier families with educated parents are more likely not to allow their children to receive these vaccinations than poorer families with less educated parents.

Yet numbers state that cases of measles in 2008 were the highest they had been in over a decade, and that 90 percent of those infected did not have the MMR vaccination, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“But perhaps as important as the scare’s effect on infectious disease is the energy, emotion and money that have been diverted away from efforts to understand the real causes of autism and how to help children and families who live with it,” commented an editorial by the British medical journal BMJ last year.

Popular stars have become public advocates in saying no to vaccinations; Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carey are recognized as two popular voices for holding off on vaccinations to small children.

McCarthy is now a recognized activist for children with autism informing parents that too many vaccinations too soon is harmful to children. McCarthy’s foundation, Generation Rescue, is an

organization building awareness to people and families about vaccinations. “Green our Vaccines” is a campaign that Generation Rescue is spreading. McCarthy marched in the Washington rally along with 8,500 families in order to raise awareness that 36 vaccines is “too much too soon” stated on the Generation Rescue website.

McCarthy claims that she cured her son of autism with a strict dairy free and wheat free diet, an anti-fungal medication, and various forms of behavioral therapy. Strict diets and lifestyles are something many families have adopted in their homes to treat their autistic child.

According to a study by U.S News Health, an estimated 24 percent of parents say they trust what celebrities have to say about vaccines.

Although various theorizes are debated, Autism Speaks states that the straight answer to the cause of autism is unknown. Due to the different levels of autism, there may be different causes, the organization feels. Multiple genetic components may cause autism on their own or possibly when combined with exposure to undetermined environmental factors.

Early intervention therapist Felice Abrams explained to The Impact that autism is a complex diagnosis that still raises questions.

“It is very hard to determine why autism is on the rise now. It is the nation’s fastest growing serious developmental disorder, with a new case diagnosed almost every 20 minutes. Some say it is because of the dangers in environment or the rise of vaccines to treat illnesses,” states Abrams.  “I believe it is a neurological disorder that was always around, but wasn’t recognized and diagnosed as autism.”

Funding towards Autism Speaks organization is helping towards more research on the diagnosis with over 1,000 scientists.

According to Autism Speaks, autism symptoms vary. Due to this, diagnosis may be delayed after some time of visible developmental delay. One step parents and physicians can take is to monitor developmental milestones. This can help physicians address whether the issue is minor or whether they should take notice and further action to properly diagnose the child. Impairment in social interaction is one sign to notice; an example of this would be impairments in non-verbal behaviors such as eye-to-eye gaze, facial expressions, body posture, and gestures.

New York resident Ana Geigel has an adopted son who was diagnosed with autism at age one. However, she has never once thought that vaccinations are linked to autism.

“When I adopted Aiden, he had a lot of problems from the start due to his mother’s drug use. I wasn’t surprised when the doctors diagnosed him with autism because I was the one pushing them to perform tests on him,” she said.  “I knew he wasn’t meeting the milestones he should have been at his age.”

Aiden’s early intervention consisted of speech therapy, physical therapy, analysis by specialists, all starting at the age of one. His consistent therapy was of great assistance to his development and social interaction. He began special schooling at the age of three among other autistic children his age with teachers who gave personal attention to each child and assisted with social interaction, according to Geigel.

In some cases, parents notice changes in their children. Symptoms can improve or even disappear.

The symptoms of autism have almost vanished with Aiden. His recent evaluation stated that he is borderline autistic. His ability to interact with other children his age is doing well along with making emotional connection with people and making eye contact.

“Early intervention was a key tool in helping Aiden with his autistic symptoms,” stated

Geigel.

The Center for Autism and Related Disorders, known as CARD, was founded in 1990 and focuses on treating children with autism and working on each child’s personal recovery and development.

Andy Blazaitis is a member of CARD and states that autism has no specific causes.

“There are no specific causes when it comes to autism. Some of the causes may

consist of the environment or a mutation. More research is needed on vaccines to determine whether they are one of the causes,” states Blazaitis.

Blazaitis states that therapy can help a child to recover from autism, along with a special diet.

“Behavioral therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, and a biomedical specific diet can help some autistic children,” he said.

Blazaitis also went on to say that the reason autism is on the rise may be due to the level of awareness and multiple studies to understand the disorder.

“When I was a child, Attention Deficit Disorder didn’t exist as a classification. Now many people are considered to have ADD. It’s easier to diagnose autism now because we are aware of the symptoms and we continue to study the disorder to eventually understand all the exact causes,” states Blazaitis.

“Parents need to address the signs immediately and take their child to specialists and get the child early intervention. This helps the child while he or she is young.”