Yet again… no link between autism and MMR vaccine #NotSurprised

By Tara Haelle from Forbes:

You might have thought scientists were done studying the MMR (measles mumps rubella) vaccine and autism. After all, numerous studies show no link between the two. But the anti-vaccine advocates who cling to the falsehood that any link might exist have frequently moved the goalposts, and one of their arguments is that the vaccine might “trigger” a developmental disability only in certain children who are already susceptible to it.

Therefore, in the seemingly never-ending quest to assure parents of the vaccine’s safety, researchers studied more than 95,000 children to find out if those at higher risk for developing autism were any more likely to develop the disability if they had received the MMR vaccine.

They weren’t. 
“This study has been long awaited in the autism community – a retrospective look at families where the older sibling has ASD and the parent either does or does not vaccinate the younger child,” said Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and a pediatrician in the Division of Infectious Diseases at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. “The benefit of this study is that the second child is at higher risk for autism, which makes for a more powerful study.
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In fact, in the raw analysis of the study published in JAMA today, the likelihood of developing autism was actually lower for those at-risk children if they received the vaccine, though that finding was not statistically significant and no one would suggest that vaccination reduces autism risk. What vaccination reduces is disease, the kinds that can disable and kill children and the kind that is even more likely to cause serious complications in children with neurological conditions.

“In addition to providing further evidence of vaccine safety, specifically MMR, this study dispels another myth: namely, that there’s a subset of children who are somehow genetically or biologically predisposed to have an adverse reaction to MMR,” said Dr. Mark Schleiss, a pediatric infectious disease physician at the University of Minnesota. “This is very useful because it provides parents with more reassurance about vaccinating children with neurodevelopmental issues – children who are particularly vulnerable to many vaccine-preventable diseases – and their siblings.”

All of the children in the study had older siblings, and the 2% who had an older sibling with an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were considered at higher risk for developing the disability since autism has a strong genetic component. Overall, 1% of the children in the study eventually were diagnosed with ASD, including 6.9% of those with autistic older siblings and 0.9% of those with non-autistic siblings.

The vaccination rates for the first dose were 84% at 2 years old for the children with non-autistic siblings and 73% at 2 years old for children with autistic siblings. When the researchers compared vaccinated and unvaccinated children, both those who did and did not have an older autistic brother or sister, they found no increased risk for the disability among any of the children.

“The findings were what one would expect,” Offit said. “Therefore, the choice not to vaccinate the younger child didn’t decrease the risk of ASD. It only increased the risk of contracting measles, mumps or rubella.
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Although the study’s findings might have been expected by those in the field and anyone who has followed the research, the research still cost money, and those funds, which came from the National Institutes of Health and a handful of major universities, might have gone to any number of other projects.

“Unfortunately, precious resources were invested in proving what we already knew – that MMR vaccine is safe and doesn’t trigger autism – because of the sham and fraud promulgated by Wakefield,” Schleiss said. “We must now focus those resources on legitimate scientific hypotheses about autism.”

Researchers also need to keep studying the measles disease and vaccine, he said, but not because of any possible link to autism. “It’s now unequivocally proven that MMR vaccine is not associated with autism spectrum disorders,” he said. But measles is still a threat across the world, killing hundreds of thousands of children, and the Disneyland outbreak last winter showed once again how highly contagious the disease is. “The research needs to focus on making measles vaccines easier to deliver, particularly in the developing world,” he said. As the Mayo Clinic ’s Gregory Poland has said before, researchers can always work to make a better measles vaccine. Developing a better aerosol vaccine like the one described here yesterday might be an effective use of funds as well.

In an editorial accompanying the study, Dr. Bryan King, a psychiatrist and autism specialist at Seattle Children’s Hospital, noted all the ways this research question has been studied. “Taken together,” he said, “some dozen studies have now shown that the age of onset of ASD does not differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, the severity or course of ASD does not differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated children, and the now the risk of ASD recurrence in families does not differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated children.”

In other words: the MMR vaccine and autism have nothing to do with one another for any child at any time in any place in any universe. The science is settled on this point. But that doesn’t mean the fear will vanish from all parents’ minds.

“Unfortunately, there will still be parents who have reservations about vaccines, but I don’t blame parents – they are only trying to do the best they can for their children,” Schleiss said. “I am more concerned about the financial forces driving the anti-vaccine agenda. Behind every anti-vaccine web site there’s someone looking to make a buck – by selling chelators, vitamins, creams, salves, natural foods, raw milk, nutritional supplements, secretin, electrostimulation, spinal adjustment, books, tapes and video. Fading Hollywood celebrities seek to revive their careers, and proponents of “alternative vaccine strategies” seek celebrity status and write best-sellers. They are preying on vulnerable, resource-limited families who are desperately seeking answers. It’s unconscionable, and no one’s talking about it.”

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Feeling Blue?? Today is World Autism Awareness Day!! #LIUB – light it up blue

Today is World Autism Awareness Day! More info here.

Being a little blue never felt so good. You may have noticed there are a lot of people out there wearing blue today and tweeting selfies with the hashtag #LIUB for “light it up blue.”

Today is World Autism Awareness Day, and even global landmarks like the Empire State Buildingand the Prince’s Palace of Monaco are celebrating with special blue lights for the occasion. TheUnited Nations declared April 2 World Autism Awareness Day in 2007, and we’ve been celebrating it ever since.

Popular autism theories and science have a huge disconnect – Scott Lilienfeld explains why @US_Conversation

Science debunks fad autism theories, but that doesn’t dissuade believers

By Scott O Lilienfeld, Emory University

According to a 2014 National Consumers League poll, 29% of American adults believe that childhood vaccinations can trigger autism. To many, these views are difficult to comprehend. After all, multiple controlled studies conducted on huge international samples have debunked any statistical association between vaccines and autism. Moreover, when the Danish government removed thimerosal – a mercury-bearing preservative that most anti-vaccine advocates regard as the suspect ingredient – from its vaccines in the late 1990s, the rates of autism went up rather than down. Why, then, does the belief persist?

Well, it’s not that surprising. The false link between autism and vaccines is merely the tip of a massive iceberg of fads and misconceptions. In a 2008 review, psychologist Tristram Smith of the University of Rochester Medical Center identified more than 50 disproven or unsupported therapies for autism that were still in use, and the number has only mushroomed since then. These therapies run the gamut from gluten-free and casein-free diets, anti-fungal treatments, Pepcid, testosterone and secretin to dolphin-assisted therapy, magnetic shoe inserts, hypnosis, hyperbaric oxygen chambers, sheep stem cell injections, trampoline therapy…and on and on.

Debunking another fad treatment – facilitated communication

Despite the prevalence of these fad therapies, relatively few scientists who study autism have raised their voices to rebuke these methods. Perhaps that is because most do not regard public outreach as part of their job description.

In a recent article in the journal Evidence-Based Communication Assessment and Intervention, my co-authors Julia Marshall, Howard Shane, James Todd and I examined the persistence of facilitated communication, a scientifically discredited autism therapy. The premise of facilitated communication is that autism is primarily a movement disorder, not a mental disorder. As a consequence of supposed motor deficits, individuals with autism cannot articulate words properly, which presumably explains why many are incapable of speech. With the aid of a facilitator who offers gentle support to their arms, previously uncommunicative individuals with autism can supposedly type eloquent sentences and paragraphs.

If it all sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is.

Scores of controlled studies performed soon after the widespread introduction of facilitated communication to the United States in the early 1990s demonstrated that its seeming effectiveness is a mirage. Facilitators are unintentionally directing autistic individuals’ fingers to the desired letters, much as Ouija board players unknowingly direct the planchette to specific letters and numbers.

We found that facilitated communication, despite being debunked by the late 1990s, remains alive and well in much of the autism community. The method continues to be widely practiced in the US and parts of Europe. It’s still publicized in numerous trade and academic books, seminars, workshops and high-profile documentaries.

This revelation has taken many of our academic colleagues by surprise. One told me that earlier this year, he had invoked facilitated communication in a psychology course as a prime example of a fad that had long been consigned to the dustbin of pseudoscientific history. This is a critical point – for scientists these matters are settled. But that doesn’t mean the information in studies disproving claims from fad therapies has hit the mainstream.

Why is there so much misinformation about autism?

Why is autism such a magnet for fads? And why have discredited ideas endured in the face of contrary evidence? Several likely culprits conspire to create a “perfect storm” making those desperate for a cure or an effective treatment receptive to misinformation.

In the case of the autism-vaccine link, the soaring increase in autism diagnoses over the past two decades is certainly a contributor. But there is growing evidence that much of this spike reflects two factors: increasingly lax criteria for autism diagnosis across successive editions of the official psychiatric diagnostic manual (DSM), and heightened incentives for school districts to report autism and other developmental disabilities.

There is therefore ample reason to doubt that the “autism epidemic” actually reflects a genuine increase in the frequency of the condition. But the dramatic rise in diagnoses has led many people to believe in shadowy causal agents, such as childhood vaccinations.

The fact that the symptoms of autism typically become evident at about age two, soon after routine vaccinations begin, lends this belief further surface plausibility. The link in timing is coincidental, but some people connect the dots into a tidy causal narrative.

And many fad treatments for autism are surely born of desperation. There are no known cures for the condition. It’s not surprising that most parents of children with autism simultaneously seek out four to six different treatments for their children. Nor it is surprising that this field has been remarkably fertile ground for ostensible quick fixes, such as facilitated communication.

And some probably fall victim to a diabolical illusion. A number of the behavioral problems associated with autism, such as inattention and anger, often wax and wane over brief periods of time. If a natural – and unrelated – downtick in symptoms happens during or after therapy is delivered, parents and teachers may then conclude that the treatment brought the improvement, even though the decline in symptoms would probably have occurred anyway.

With autism, we sometimes see what we want to see

Appearance shapes how we view autism. Children with autism do not have the distinctive facial markers of, say, children with Down Syndrome or fetal alcohol syndrome. That fact might lead some to assume that individuals with autism are cognitively and emotionally normal individuals trapped inside a malfunctioning body. If that is so, all that is presumably required is an intervention, such as facilitated communication, to unlock their unrealized mental potential.

The popularity of autism fads imparts two sobering lessons. First, we can all be misled by the raw data of our sensory impressions. Virtually all autism misconceptions stem largely from what psychologists call naïve realism, the error of placing uncritical trust in our unfiltered observations. Second, scientists need to play a more active role in combating false information about autism and other mental disorders.

When researchers conduct studies that dispel the alleged dangers of vaccines or the alleged effectiveness of pseudoscientific treatments, they may assume that their job is done. That’s not the case. The legacy of autism fads suggests that their real work may have only just begun.


Tristram Smith’s study “Empirically supported and unsupported treatments for autism spectrum disorders” appeared in the Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. 2008; 6:3–21.

The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Terrific TED talk on Autism and Genetics by Wendy Chung!

Wendy Chung: Autism — what we know (and what we don’t know yet)

In this factual talk, geneticist Wendy Chung shares what we know about autism spectrum disorder — for example, that autism has multiple, perhaps interlocking, causes. Looking beyond the worry and concern that can surround a diagnosis, Chung and her team look at what we’ve learned through studies, treatments and careful listening.