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Asperger’s and vaccinations

Allison Chase
Allison Chase

On Friday, March 21, over our wonderful (but still too short) Spring Break, the Colorado House of Representatives advanced a bill that requires parents seeking to avoid immunizing their children to get educated about the facts. This could not come at a moment too soon. The idea that not having your kids get shots is better for them is absolutely preposterous, and it stems from that ridiculous fear of autism. That theory is absurd, and a prime example of the fact that correlation does not equal causation, and about just how ableist our society is.

It really, really makes me angry, absolutely furious, that people say that vaccinations cause autism. Speaking as someone with Asperger’s Syndrome — and therefore, on the autism spectrum — I’m pretty sure that that’s just parents seeking to place blame on someone where there is none. I don’t think there’s a rise in autism; just a rise in people reported as being on the spectrum. I think people in the past either tried to hide autistics or lie about them, and that the rise in statistics is just a sign of changing times. People like me were taught to pass as normal, and even with help, I was desperate to be seen as a real person, having internalized the general ableism toward autistics and Aspies. Even now, it scares me to admit that I have Asperger’s in print.

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I’m certain that autism has a genetic component; my maternal grandfather died before I was born or the Asperger’s diagnosis existed, but my mother says he showed signs of being on the spectrum. Signs were there from my infancy, before I was vaccinated; I walked early (and on tiptoes) but my speech was a bit delayed. When it came, my vocabulary was more extensive and sesquipedalian than any toddler’s had a right to be. I read early, I could pick up songs in a matter of minutes, and my senses were so heightened that I threw fits every time I was forced to wear a shirt with tags; the feeling distracted me and drove me insane. I didn’t know most social cues, so I often wound up in trouble for being a smart-mouth when I was actually trying to ask an honest question. The slightest change in routine sent me into a howling fit; I was prone to huge, Three-Mile-Island-style meltdowns, and I was — and still am — a largely friendless person, preferring to engage in my own fantasy world than with other kids.

Eventually, with help in elementary and middle school, I learned to act as if I wasn’t raised by wolves. I observed, I learned how to make eye contact and identify gestures that most people are born knowing, I learned that the appropriate reaction is never a temper tantrum and what I can do instead when I start to feel overwhelmed, and my fiction written for class has been praised for realistic dialogue and subtle cues for the audience. I am capable of mimicry, and that’s largely what I’ve been doing since I was nine, so I can pretend to be neurotypical, but the Asperger’s is still there: I have absolutely no sense of rhythm, I’m incredibly disorganized, I need directions completely explained to me, otherwise I make the wrong assumptions, and I’m still at sea when it comes to parties and crowds. I still feel, to some extent, like there’s a barrier between myself and the rest of humanity that I cannot cross.

I got picked on a lot in school, and I remember crying because I could not understand why I was a target and how the grown-ups could be so well-meaning yet so stupid in their suggestions on how to deal with it. Nothing they tried worked. It wasn’t until I was older that I understood that they were just as clueless as I was and just as frustrated that their ideas worked for other people but not for me. They knew I was different, but they were ill-equipped to handle me.

Perhaps the rise in people like me accounts for many of the characters seen on television and in the media. Some days I feel like quoting Sheldon Cooper: “I’m not crazy, my mother had me tested!” (I do have the results of the IQ tests done in third grade, if anyone’s curious.)

Other days, I identify with Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal of Sherlock Holmes: “I’m not a psychopath, I’m a high-functioning sociopath, do your research!” I have Asperger’s, I’m not Rain Man. I’m just as human as the rest of you, and I was born the way I am; no vaccine created me.

Allison Chase is a junior Creative Writing major. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

In Brief:

Fear of autism is not a decent explanation for not vaccinating children

I am convinced that there is a genetic component to autism; I am a prime example

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A vaccine did not make me who I am

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