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Dear anti-vaxxers: Stop using autism as a bogeyman

When my pediatrician first murmured the word autism, I almost passed out in her office. Would my son stop talking? Stop looking at me? Stop cuddling? Was it all my fault? Did the vaccines cause it?

I was in my late 20s and didn’t know any better. I’d heard moms in play groups associate vaccines with autism. I honestly thought I’d contributed to my son’s neurological condition by getting him vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. I was devastated and terrified.

Nearly a decade later, I know better. But there are still plenty of moms out there who don’t know better. When you drag autism into the vaccine debate, you’re not only perpetuating ridiculous myths — you’re insulting everyone on the autism spectrum and everyone who loves someone with autism.

Do you understand that?

Autism isn’t a punishment. It isn’t a bogeyman. It shouldn’t be what keeps parents who vaccinate their kids up at night.

You don’t get to use it as your shield if you choose not to vaccinate. Some parents do have good reasons to keep their kids from getting vaccines, but those reasons are typically limited to serious medical conditions like cancer treatment and severe allergies. Being a member of the Church of Jenny McCarthy isn’t a legitimate reason to forego vaccines.

Don’t skip out on vaccines because you’re afraid of autism.

It’s rude.

It’s disrespectful.

Stop sharing memes and “helpfully” letting your friends know that measles isn’t as bad as autism. Don’t amplify the voices of ignorant politicians who associate vaccines with autism and associate autism with disease.

My son has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism no longer officially classified as a separate developmental disorder. He doesn’t flap his hands and he isn’t nonverbal, so maybe you never would have realized he’s on the spectrum. Maybe you thought it was OK to invoke autism in my presence, to whisper in hushed tones that it was the vaccines that messed all those kids up.

It’s not OK. If you’re going to choose not to vaccinate, find a different shield. Stop using us as an excuse to make a decision most doctors believe is dangerous not only to your own children, but to other people’s children.

While you’re trying to incite hysterics to further your agenda, I’ll be over here choosing to love and admire my child with autism.

More on vaccines

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What’s behind the “safe shot” approach to vaccines?

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