What causes autism?
This has been a firestorm of a topic lately with opinions split right down the middle.
Before you read any further, let me be clear. This is about my experience, my guilt and living with the constant question “could I have prevented this?”
This is NOT about vaccinations.
I believe in vaccinations and all three of my boys have them. This post is just to give you a glimpse into my mind and the constant stir of emotions that comes with the question “What if I had done something different?”.
“Did I give Taylor autism?”
This is a question that haunted me for years. Right after we received Taylor’s diagnosis when he was 2 1/2, I immediately began researching autism. What were the causes? Was it genetic? Who was more susceptible, boys or girls? Was there a cure? You name it, I looked.
This was twenty or so years ago. I remember reading so many different things that was believed that could possibly cause a child to have autism. So many…and of course just about all of it were theories and hypotheses or just flat out wrong.
The first thing I read said that if one or both of the parents were engineers, chemists or artists, their children were at a higher risk to have autism.
Of course I panicked! That was just great! Mike is an engineer and I am an artist. My conclusion? Our Fault. We must have given our son autism.
Another source said that consuming too much tuna could cause autism due to the amount of mercury in the fish.
Wonderful! The whole time I was pregnant with Taylor, all I wanted to eat was Kraft Mac and Cheese and yes, you guessed it, tuna! Tuna subways with lots of pickles to be exact. I think I ate one of those for lunch at least 3 times a week. Conclusion? My Fault.I must have given our son autism.
Yet another source said that high stress levels during pregnancy could cause autism.
Well, isn’t that fantastic? I was working at my first graphic design job right out of college during my pregnancy with Taylor. I can honestly say that to this day, that was probably one of the most stressful jobs I have ever had.
Conclusion? My Fault.I must have DEFINITELY given our son autism.
Everything pointed to me. For a long, long time, I blamed myself for Taylor’s autism. Finally, I woke up one day and realized that the summary of all these “studies” really said one thing clearly.
Nobody knows what causes autism.
Did I really believe that my tuna subway gave Taylor autism? I hate to admit it but for a while, I honestly did believe that. Did it? No, of course not. So, I finally began to move on and stoppef beating myself up for eating tuna fish sandwiches.
Oh, but then came the MMR studies. Oh my God! The more I read, the more I was terrified. All I could think to myself was “OH NO! What have I done?”
The MMR shot contains three vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella, and is given as one shot. I understood the seriousness of these diseases and did not hesitate when it came to giving Taylor that shot. I knew I did not want my child to die from some horrible disease, so the decision was pretty easily made. The doctors were giving it to all the babies so it had to be safe, right? This was for my child’s health and well-being.
I didn’t research it and honestly, why would I even think to do that? The doctor told us he needed it and we trusted our doctor. Where would I have even looked in 1997? There were no debates about it. No discussions among concerned parents. There were no news stories or articles. Social media didn’t even exist so there was no fear mongering about vaccinations. No one was even talking about autism in 1997 much less publishing studies on it! If there were any questions regarding the safety, I had no knowledge of it. When the doctor said it was time for shots, I took Taylor for shots.
As more and more studies came out over the following years, I read as many as I could. Each one I read made me feel like the worst parent ever. I would question myself as to why I didn’t ask more questions. It didn’t matter that I wouldn’t have known what questions to ask. The guilt was there and it was heavy.
“Did I give my son autism?”
BUT…there was an elephant in the room.
The thing that kept pecking at me, just sitting there in the back of my head was a very obvious question, “what about the kids who had the MMR shot that didn’t have autism?” I mean, wouldn’t ALL the kids have autism if it was caused by the shots? In spite of this very obvious discrepancy, I still was worried that I was the reason he had autism.
Soon, I began to worry about Brendan as it grew closer for his turn to get the MMR shot. What were my choices, though?
Now remember, at the beginning of this post I told you that all three of my boys are vaccinated, so stay with me here.
My middle son, Brendan, was born right about the time all these new and very controversial studies started coming out. I was so confused on what I should do for Brendan. For every article that said MMR shots were the smoking gun, there were 10 more that said it was all a bunch of bull. Still, I continued to feel that I was responsible. That I had done this to Taylor. Because of this, when it came time for Brendan to have his shots, I was torn. I believed the shots would save him from the terrible diseases but would they give him autism? Would they cause other problems I hadn’t heard of yet?
I was scared, so I decided that the best person to discuss my fears with was their pediatrician.
Let take a second and express this point because it is very, very important. Your pediatrician should make you and your children feel like they are the only patients in the world. Find a doctor who loves your kids and doesn’t treat them like they are just a name in an appointment book. A great doctor is so important, especially if your child has special needs.
The boys doctor really is amazing. When I talked with her about all the things I had read and heard, she listened to me. I even brought a few articles to get her opinion on. She understood my fears and concerns as a mom and she never once made me feel stupid for having them. What she did was give me another option for the shots. So, we split up the shots and gave them to Brendan on three different days. Still vaccinated just not all at the same time. Did it make a difference? I don’t know, but for this momma’s peace of mind, it made all the difference!
By the time my youngest son, Jordan, was born there were new vaccines that did not contain the preservative. So, of course we chose to give Jordan those instead. Even then, his doctor still let us split up the shots, giving them on different days.
Today the studies still continue to be debated but here is what I believe. I believe that my children were genetically predispositioned to have autism. Maybe that MMR shot was all that was needed to push Taylor over the edge and under that autism umbrella but then maybe it had nothing to do with it at all. I have swung between both opinions over the years because I honestly have no idea.
So, I decided a long time ago that I wouldn’t talk about vaccinations with anyone anymore. What is the point, really?
It’s like an endless cycle. Time goes by and the talk dies down, then out of nowhere, someone with good intentions tries to strikes up the vaccination conversation with me.
In the past, when someone would learn I have a son with autism, inevitably they would ask my opinion on vaccinations. They would tell me about the articles they had read about vaccinations and the possible connections to autism. During each of these well-meaning conversations, I would feel the words began to creep up in the back of my head. “Your fault.” “You did this.” “You are responsible.”
What I want people to realize is that every time someone asks me one of these questions, it sounds remarkably like, “Did you know you gave Taylor autism?”
That is a very dark and lonely place to be. To feel like you have caused injury to your child is gut wrenching. The well meaning people who thought they were helping when they gave me their opinions on this subject had no idea they were hurting me instead. So, I tried to shut these conversations down before they really got started. I couldn’t talk about it anymore.
Here’s the thing I came to finally realize. They were only hurting me because I allowed myself to feel hurt. I had let that guilt eat me up for so many years. Guilt that I had giving Taylor autism. Guilt wondering what I could have done differently. It was a very heavy burden to walk around with and it was crippling. The question I finally had to ask myself was “how does this any of this help Taylor now?”
It does not matter. At least not for our family. Taylor has autism. Period. Why does he have it? I don’t know and even if I did, there is nothing whatsoever I can do to change it.
Regardless of what studies prove or disprove, I will always, ALWAYS wonder about the “what if’s”. What would have happened if Taylor had his shots split up like his brothers or what if I hadn’t been stressed during my pregnancy with him or what if I hadn’t eaten so many tuna sandwiches, or what if my husband was a teacher instead of an engineer or I was an accountant instead of an artist…what if, what if, what if. The problem is that wondering and daydreaming about the “what if’s” do not help Taylor today.
Taylor has autism. It doesn’t matter to him why. What matters is helping him have the best life possible. If I spend my time blaming myself, genetics or the doctors, then I am wasting valuable and precious time. Time that would be better spent on something productive, positive and beneficial.
Did I give Taylor autism? YES, I DID. He is my child. I gave birth to him. I gave him life. I gave him the blood running through his veins, my DNA. I also gave him the shape of his lips, his blue eyes and his blond hair. I gave him his broad shoulders, his skin color and his love for art. It goes with reason to say that I also gave him autism however it came to be.
Okay, so that has been established. We are moving on!