Recently Facebook connected me with some old friends from the neighborhood where I grew up. It’s amazing to connect with friends who have been out of reach for so long. But social networking can uncover some real differences.
Last week I commented on Jenny McCarthy video that pokes fun at her anti-vaccine agenda. Some of my Twitter posts feed into Facebook. This was picked up by one of my childhood neighbors who I learned has a son with autism. She took real offense to my link and sent along a message making her position clear.
While I felt bad that I may have been insensitive, I found myself in a strange position: Do I temper my contempt for the anti-vaccine movement in the face of a friend with an autistic child who may feel passionate about a connection? Should I feel comfortable making my case with a mother living with an autistic child? After all, who am I to tell a mother that she shouldn’t believe what she understands in her heart? Tricky stuff.
The side of me that supports parents as active participants in their child’s care wants to offer some weight to their opinion. As someone who makes a living working with moms I sincerely believe in their expertise and intuition. But the side of me that understands the history and epidemiology of vaccines and autism wants to put a stop to anything perceived as a controversy.
So in the end, despite the passionate beliefs of some close friends and dear patients, I take a firm public stance on the issue of vaccines and autism.
Perhaps more importantly I keep an open mind to the potential genetic and environmental contributors that might be part of the autism puzzle. We would be smart to take our lead from Allison Singer, former executive vice president of Autism Speaks, who recently resigned her post after recognizing that the vaccine-autism connection was losing its legs.
I was once told by a PR professional that “as the mother of a disabled child you can’t attack Jenny McCarthy.” While I recognize the dangers of criticizing Jenny McCarthy or any mother struggling with an autistic child, it’s important that we put a critical light on discredited associations and those who promote them.