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Wednesday, July 17th, 2013
The following post is by Darshak Sanghavi, M.D., a contributing editor to Parents and author of A Map of the Child: A Pediatrician’s Tour of the Body.
Barbara Walters announced earlier this week that Jenny McCarthy will begin co-hosting The View this fall, taking one of the chairs vacated by Elisabeth Hasselbeck and Joy Behar. Walters said in a statement that McCarthy “brings us intelligence as well as warmth” and “can be serious and outrageous.”
This decision has outraged many pediatricians and public health experts. For years, McCarthy has been one of the most public faces of the deadly anti-vaccine movement. The notion that vaccines cause autism has been discredited thoroughly. The British doctor who first proposed a link 15 years ago was found to engage in “callous disregard,” his article was retracted as erroneous by the journal that published it, and almost every author of the work has distanced themselves from it. However, the belief in a vaccine-autism link has survived with religious fervor ever since.
McCarthy isn’t the only Hollywood type to spout anti-vaccine nonsense (Chuck Norris and Rob Schneider have joined the bandwagon), but McCarthy even scorns reports of children dying of vaccine-preventable illnesses as a necessary price for her advocacy. “I do believe, sadly, it’s going to take some disease coming back to realize that we need to change and develop vaccines that are safe,” she blithely told Jeffrey Kluger of Time in 2009. (Only a month earlier, 1-month-old Dana McCaffery had died of whooping cough in an area with low vaccination rates in Australia. Over the past few years, vaccine-preventable illnesses and deaths have been tracked by jennymccarthybodycount.com.)
As Discover magazine points out, McCarthy’s concern about vaccine-related danger to brain cells is ironic, given she has no problem with getting regular cosmetic injections with the most potent neurotoxin known to mankind.
A spokesperson for The View said McCarthy would be free to discuss her anti-vaccine views on air. But why does any of this matter? After all, what parent gets their medical advice from The View?
The truth is that, for better or worse, celebrities have the power to influence people. In 2000, after her husband died of colon cancer, Today show host Katie Couric underwent an on-air screening colonoscopy, and nationally for about a year, colonoscopy rates suddenly jumped by 50 percent. Pop singer Kylie Minogue’s diagnosis of breast cancer led to a 20 percent jump in mammograms in Australia. When storylines about genetic testing for breast cancer appeared in Grey’s Anatomy and ER in 2006, viewers’ knowledge increased. Like it or not, celebrities have powerful effects on people’s health behavior and beliefs.
Still, one might argue: What is the harm in having McCarthy discuss her vaccine beliefs on The View? After all, people can hear all sides of the so-called “controversy” and make up their own minds. But as social scientists point out, repeating a claim–even if one’s trying to debunk it–only increases its apparent truthfulness. In other words, even if someone says a claim is wrong, hearing it over and over again makes people think it’s true. (A similar example concerns the untrue rumor that President Barack Obama is Muslim. The more it’s denied, the more some people tend to believe it.) That is the danger of giving McCarthy a platform to repeat her anti-vaccine claims to 3 million television viewers. No matter what the other hosts may say, a sizeable number of viewers will question and refuse vaccination for their children as a result.
It’s too bad that among the many intelligent, sassy, and provocative women the ABC could have chosen, they hired someone whose work has the potential to endanger children’s health. So for now, I’ll just hope that McCarthy keeps her erroneous vaccine beliefs to herself.
Image: Jenny McCarthy, via Shutterstock
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Thursday, May 30th, 2013
Service Allows Bully Reporting By Text
Students are getting a new weapon to fight back against bullies: their cell phones. (via Huffington Post)
Bicycle helmet laws linked to fewer child deaths
U.S. states that require children and teenagers to wear helmets report fewer deaths involving bicycles and cars, according to a new study. (via Fox News)
Sugary drink consumption down among U.S. kids
More evidence that Americans are heeding calls to cut back on sugary drinks appears in a report from researchers at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (via Yahoo News)
Early Brain Responses to Words Predict Developmental Outcomes in Children With Autism
The pattern of brain responses to words in 2-year-old children with autism spectrum disorder predicted the youngsters’ linguistic, cognitive and adaptive skills at ages 4 and 6, according to a new study. (via Science Daily)
ADHD medications not tied to drug, alcohol abuse
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Taking Ritalin and other drugs for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) doesn’t affect a child’s chances of trying or abusing alcohol and drugs later in life, a new review suggests. (via Reuters)
Thursday, April 25th, 2013
First Vaccine to Help Control Some Autism Symptoms
A first-ever vaccine created by University of Guelph researchers for gut bacteria common in autistic children may also help control some autism symptoms. (via Science Daily)
CPS Student Boycott: High Schoolers Skip Required State Exam To Protest School Closures
On a day they were slated to take a state-required test that directly affects their graduation eligibility, around 100 Chicago Public School students boycotted exams to protest the district’s plan to close 54 schools.(via Huffington Post)
Sugary drinks can raise diabetes risk by 22 percent: study
Drinking just one can of sugar-laced soda drink a day increases the risk of developing diabetes by more than a fifth, according to a large European study published on Wednesday.(via Reuters)
Fourth Grader’s Gay Marriage Essay Goes Viral
A fourth grader’s poignant plea for gay marriage is making the blogosphere rounds.(via Huffington Post)
Shire settles with Actavis, Watson Pharma on ADHD drug
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Drugmaker Shire Plc said it settled all litigation with Actavis Inc and Watson Pharma, allowing the two companies to sell a generic version of Shire’s drug, Intuniv, to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.(via Reuters)
Monday, April 22nd, 2013
So many moms do such a fantastic job of helping fellow parents understand what it feels like to have a child with autism. It’s not quite as common to hear from the dads, is it? (Of course, there are great exceptions, like Autism Daddy.)
A writer I’ve worked with, whose 5-year-old son has what his doctor describes as a “severe” autism, alerted me to her husband’s new blog, which was created during a weekend he spent in a Milwaukee hotel. A “sane-cation,” he called it, because he was starting to feel like he was losing his mind: “My wife checked me in yesterday because she could see–even if I could not–that I needed to get away. To get away from the three hours of sleep a night. To get away from random screams that could be words but for some neural-gastrointestinal-immunological quirk. To get away from the hours of my son literally crawling the walls as I sit in impotence and despair. To get away from autism, even if only for two days and two nights.”
The getaway (and I use that term very loosely) did provide some clarity: “Autism culture–rightly–focuses on concentrating not on who your child could have been, but on who your child is: difference not deficiency. I believe in this culture, but I wasn’t ready for it… I needed to mourn, to release the anguish that comes whenever our visions of our lives create dissonance with the reality of our lives.”
And then he zeroed in on what he feels is the biggest difference between moms and dads whose children have autism: “[Men] cannot speak with one another. We cannot speak with our larger families. We feel racked by guilt as we look at our wives and just can’t pull it together, can’t be strong in the ways they need us to be. We self-destruct. Drink. Smoke. Cheat. Scream. Run. We need to mourn. We need to talk…”
Finally, he explained how he saw his new role: “Mourning is about transition. I’m transitioning now… I will move on. I will become a ‘Kick-Ass Autism Dad.’ For my autistic son, my neurotypical son, my wife, my larger family, I will move forward. For other autism dads, I will move forward, say the things that we shouldn’t say so that maybe one more dad can hear another voice and can mourn as he should, not as permission to live in despair, but as acknowledgement that things are different than we first imagined.”
For those of you who can relate, what’s your experience been? What resources are available to dads? Do they (or do you) utilize them? Who’s the “Kick-Ass Autism Dad” in your life?
Image: Happy father and son playing on sky background via Shutterstock.
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Monday, April 15th, 2013
When you have a child with autism, it’s sometimes the little things that make all the difference.That’s why Soft, a clothing brand that makes extra cozy outfits specifically for children with sensory sensitivity due to Autism, Sensory Processing Disorder, and other conditions, has created a limited edition Autism Awareness tee for kids. Designed in collaboration with a mom of a child with autism, the tee is made of soft organic cotton, non-irritating seams, and non-toxic dyes and inks, and has printed labels in place of the scratchy tags that make us all cringe. The adorable and incredibly soft (trust me, I’ve felt one!) shirts will be available for $25 through the end of the month on softclothing.net. You’ll also feel good knowing that 20% of the profits go to Soft’s network of Autism organizations, such as Autism Speaks and Autism Society of America.
Image via softclothing.net
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Thursday, April 11th, 2013
Because it’s Autism Awareness Month, I feel like it’s worth revisiting a story we posted last fall, about my friend’s sister. She has four children, ages 15, 13, 8, and 4. This woman’s 13-year-old son has a severe form of autism and a mood disorder with psychotic episodes; doctors have told his parents that their son is a very unusual case. As a result, life is extremely challenging for the entire family. Because their son is prone to frequent and uncontrollable outbursts, they’re all having a particularly difficult time in the condo complex where they moved not long ago for his mother’s job as a biotech scientist. Her heartbreaking Facebook post, which she allowed me to share, strikes me as the kind of thing every parent should read, particularly if he or she doesn’t have a child with autism–or any other disability or mental illness.
“I would like to say something to those people in our community who look at my husband, myself, and our disabled son in disgust or shout out your windows for us to just keep him quiet. He is a minor inconvenience to you. You get to go back to your lives, travel as you please, eat what you please, and go about your merry way. Imagine what it is like for us, constantly struggling to keep our son safe. Imagine what it is like for our other three children, whose friends’ parents won’t allow them to come over while our son is home, who are constantly told they can’t go places because it’s too difficult, and who often can’t make their needs heard above his yelling. But most of all, imagine what it is like for our son, whose level of anxiety is so great, whose suffering is so enormous, that he is driven to cry, driven to scream, driven to bang his head and bite his arms and legs. Have you ever in your life felt so much pain that you were driven to that? Be grateful for what you have, for being born with a normal functioning brain, and maybe you would consider being helpful instead. We could always use a home-cooked dinner, an offer to take one of our other children to a movie, or just a smile of support.”
Another reason I wanted to post this again is because right now, the story has a happy ending: Her son is on a new medication, one that has made a tremendous difference in his mood and behavior. As she explains, “I had almost given up when we found the right drug. I know it might not last forever, but at least we get to have a somewhat normal life for a while.”
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Image via Shutterstock.
Friday, April 5th, 2013
Two years ago, Ilene Krom wrote a GoodyBlog post about her twins and their shared autism diagnosis. Today, she is back to give an update on Rachel and Simon, now 6 years old, and what has changed for their family since she last wrote for us.
It has been two years since I’ve written something here, and so much has changed. And yet, so much has remained the same. My twins are still as different as night and day, even though they both have the same multiple diagnoses.
What hasn’t changed is my worry about their future, although that worry has changed shape. Two years ago, their “future” was entering kindergarten. I couldn’t bring myself to look too far ahead (I still can’t). I couldn’t imagine they would ever be ready for the experience that their older brother was already going through. But now, they are 6 years old. They are kindergarteners, and they’ve been handling the new change quite well.
All thanks to early intervention.
Like most things, the earlier you are aware of a problem, the better off you are. Thanks to specialized preschools, they are both on academic tracks. My daughter is in a general education classroom, alongside her typical peers. She is slowly learning to make friends and play with toys in appropriate ways. She has someone helping her get through her day and stay on task. And my son is right next door. He’s in a more specialized classroom where they can address his needs better, but he is still working towards a college-bound high school diploma, my original target for them both.
However, they do stick out a bit. My daughter does things “different” from her classmates. They’ve asked me directly why she is so “strange” (in the innocent way that kindergarteners ask questions). My son still looks like he doesn’t fit in, nor does he have a desire to make friends. This makes them both bullying targets. And every day, I read more stories on the Internet about children on the spectrum being bullied — by their classmates or so-called “friends,” by bus drivers, and even by teachers. I am very comfortable with our situation in elementary school, but what happens as they grow?
I don’t want my kids to conform. I want them to embrace their individuality, but I don’t want to see them chastised for being who they are. And, as they grow, the need to “fit in” will grow, too.
I can’t foresee what their future holds, but they will always know that they are loved, with all of their parents’ and older brother’s hearts. And hopefully they will have the inner strength to brush off anything negative that others may try to push onto them.
Read more from Ilene on her blog My Family’s Experience With Autism.
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Friday, April 5th, 2013
District Parents Say Mayor Should See First-Hand School Routes Their Kids Will Tread
Fearing the dangers posed by the new routes their kids will be forced to take after the district shutters 54 neighborhood elementary schools, Chicago Public School parents are calling on Mayor Rahm Emanuel to come to their communities and “walk the walk.” (via Huffington Post)
Head Start Families Left With No Good Options Due To Sequestration
The ripple effects of sequestration are taking hold. And among the first and most affected are hundreds of lower-income parents forced to game out major life adjustments to accommodate cuts to Head Start. (via Huffington Post)
Wisconsin Dad’s Anti-Bullying Facebook Plea Goes Viral After Son Allegedly Tormented At School
His son said he was being bullied at middle school, so Matthew Bent fought back on Facebook. Now, the Kaukauna, Wisc., dad’s plea to end school bullying everywhere has attracted hundreds of thousands of readers with over 900,000 likes and shares. (via Huffington Post)
Family uses medical marijuana to treat severely autistic son
Medical marijuana is a controversial treatment option for adults – let alone children. But Jeremy Echols, of Oregon, says that that the drug is helping his autistic – and severely self-destructive – 11-year-old son, Alex. (via Fox News)
Missouri Lawmaker Wants To Tie Welfare Benefits To Public School Attendance
A Republican lawmaker in Missouri wants to tie welfare benefits to school attendance with a bill that would require 90 percent attendance for children of families receiving benefits. (via Huffington Post)
Judge strikes restrictions on “morning-after” pill
A federal judge on Friday ordered the Food and Drug Administration to make the “morning-after” emergency contraception pill available without a prescription to all girls of reproductive age. (via Reuters)
Lead poisoning toll revised to 1 in 38 young kids
More than half a million U.S. children are now believed to have lead poisoning, roughly twice the previous high estimate, health officials reported Thursday. (via Yahoo! News)
Michelle Obama Slips, Says She’s ‘Single Mother’
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First lady Michelle Obama slipped up in a local TV interview Thursday and accidentally called herself a “single mother.” (via ABC News)
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