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Do Vaccines Cause Autism?


Doctor giving injection to baby boy (2-5 months).
Science Photo Library - IAN HOOTON./Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

Medical authorities have answered that question firmly in the negative. Mothers and fathers who believe their children were damaged by vaccines have refused to take no for an answer. The continuing debate over the subject is often framed as a struggle between science and parents. But parents also battle among themselves on the issue, even parents of children with autism.

About.com's Autism and Pediatrics sites have good discussions of the scientific evidence against an autism-vaccine link. Here, we'll look at the reasons this issue has become such a flashpoint of contention among parents, all of whom want what is best for their children and all children, but differ dramatically on what "best" might be.

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Concerns over vaccine damage have arisen at a time when parents have unprecedented access to information and platforms to share their views. Web sites make research that might once have been viewed and interpreted only by doctors available for any parent to draw conclusions on, while blogs, message boards, and e-mail lists bring parents together to share interpretations, plan protests, spin stories, and argue about what it all means.

As being an activist for your child has become easier, the need to do so has increased. Health insurance has set regulations on who patients can see, for what, and for how long -- damaging, along the way, the kind of close and caring relationship pediatricians used to have with their young clients and families. The days when your doctor could sit down and explain vaccines in detail, and do so from a deep personal knowledge of your specific child, have largely passed. That leaves parents feeling like case managers, charged with being the foremost experts on their children, following up on questions and concerns that can't be addressed in a rushed visit.

The American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents of children with autism to "learn as much as they can about all the different treatments available." Left to do their own research, though, parents may come to feel they know more about their child's disabilities than their doctor does -- and maybe more than researchers who regard autism from the comfort of a lab rather than the company of a child in distress. They may have found success with treatments that are not universally accepted, and feel less inclined to take the word of scientists and doctors over their own personal observations.

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