Both Vaccinated and Unvaccinated Children Can Have Autism

No Link Between Vaccines and Autism

Andy Wakefield supporters.
Andrew Wakefield and his supporters at the General Medical Council investigation where he later lost his medical license. Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images

We still hear about vaccines and autism, even though evidence has shown that there is no link between them over and over again.

Vaccines and Autism

Vaccines do not cause autism.

This statement is supported by the fact that:

  • Over twenty articles refute any connections between the MMR vaccine and autism.
  • Over 100 studies have shown that there is no link between vaccines and autism.
  • A scientific review by the Institute of Medicine, "Immunization Safety Review: Vaccines and Autism," concluded that "the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between the MMR vaccine and autism. The committee also concludes that the body of epidemiological evidence favors rejection of a causal relationship between thimerosal-containing vaccines and autism."
  • A report by the Institute of Medicine, "Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality," concluded that "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines" and that "the evidence shows there are no links between immunization and some serious conditions that have raised concerns, including Type 1 diabetes and autism."
  • Studies that anti-vax folks use to claim a connection between vaccines and autism either have nothing to do with vaccines, nothing to do with autism, or are easily debunked.
  • Andrew Wakefield's study that started this talk couldn't be replicated and was later shown to be both flawed and fraudulent.
  • More and more studies are pointing to a genetic basis for autism and that autism likely occurs before a baby is even born

And since vaccines don't cause autism, it shouldn't be surprising that there are unvaccinated children with autism. The only reason there aren't more is that most parents vaccinate their children, so, of course, most autistic children are going to be vaccinated.

Unvaccinated Children with Autism

We don't hear about these children very often, but there are certainly unvaccinated children with autism.

In Japan, a 2005 study, "No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study," researchers found that the incidence of autism "rose progressively" even after the MMR vaccine was withdrawn from the country over concerns about aseptic meningitis.

In the study, at least 170 children were found to have developed autism even though they had not received the MMR vaccine.

Remember, MMR is the vaccine that Jenny McCarthy called the 'autism shot' on Oprah in 2007, the vaccine that Wakefield published a study about, only to have his study retracted and his medical license revoked because his "conduct was irresponsible and dishonest", and that Dr. Bob Sears advised parents to split up and delay in what many people describe as an anti-vaccine book.

But that's just one vaccine, there are also many examples of completely unvaccinated children who have developed autism.

Lara Lohne, although she was never vaccinated because her parents were anti-vaccine, had every intention of vaccinating her own child. She didn't though, because of financial issues. And although he had never received any vaccines, her son developed autism:

I must admit that it was through conversations with a coworker that I began to suspect something might be wrong with my youngest son. It concerned me so much that I started looking for information online. I read some of the stories and they sounded similar to what I was experiencing with my son – with the symptoms, the regression and the age at which it all started to become apparent.

In a more common scenario, a parent might have an autistic child and decide to not vaccine their next child.

Are these children protected?

These unvaccinated children are certainly not protected against vaccine-preventable diseases and they aren't at any less risk for developing autism.

A study that was published in the February 2014 issue of Autism, "Immunization uptake in younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder," found that "the rates of autism spectrum disorder diagnosis did not differ between immunized and nonimmunized younger sib groups."

And not surprisingly, there are many more stories like this.

For example, the Autism Science Foundation highlights this common scenario:

Tina Brown, mother of 2 boys with autism, decided not to vaccinate son Dylan because his brother Dalton had been inoculated and was subsequently diagnosed with autism. Sadly, even in the absence of vaccines Dylan demonstrated symptoms of autism at 4 months of age.

An author and contributor to what is considered one of the most anti-vaccine websites there is also has a totally unvaccinated child with autism. Did that make her think about changing her views on vaccines? Although you would certainly think it would, as it has for other parents, it seems like she simply went from blaming her child's vaccines to blaming those that she had gotten even before she was pregnant.

More on Autism Among Unvaccinated Children

One only has to look at personal stories and posts in parenting forums to see that there are many more cases of autism among unvaccinated and partially vaccinated children:

  • "It is highly likely my 4 year old son is autistic. And he is completely 100% vaccine-free. And I am just at a total loss."
  • "I have unvaxed kids on the spectrum, and my friend does as well."
  • "A good friend's son is autistic. He is totally non-vaxed."
  • "My DS is completely unvaxed, (also uncirc'd, natural childbirth with no pain meds, almost exclusively BF'd for the first 2 years, we eat mostly organic food, drink RO filtered water) ... and he's very likely on the spectrum."
  • "I seriously delayed vaccinating my son, so had very few vaxes at the time he was diagnosed"
  • "My son has an autism dx and I can tell you in our own case I don't believe vaccines had a single thing to do with it. For several reasons. First of all the only vaccines he ever received was the three-dose series of DTaP."
  • "We have autism in our unvaxed children"
  • "I know two little boys who are both autistic, completely non-vaxed"
  • "I have a DD who is not vaccinated and has autism."
  • "I have two unvaccinated children who are on the autism spectrum and have never vaccinated any of my children."
  • "I am not sure what caused my son’s autism, but autistic he IS! ... He is completely unvaxxed as we stopped vaxxing 10 years ago."
  • "My daughters have never received vaccinations due to my philosophical beliefs... they are vegetarian and do not drink cow's milk. We are still breastfeeding. My oldest daughter has autism. She was born in CT in an unassisted home birth."
  • "I have a 10yr old daughter with Autism spectrum disorder... My daughter has never had a vaccine, a decision I made shortly after she was born, after much research."

Unfortunately, while realizing that unvaccinated children can develop autism does help some parents move away from anti-vaccine myths and conspiracy theories, others get pushed deeper into the idea that it is just about toxins.

My DD has never been vax'ed, but she has shown some signs of being on the spectrum and I think some of the toxins in my body may have transferred to her while I was pregnant.

It is not uncommon for some of these parents to blame vaccines they got while pregnant or even before they became pregnant, Rhogam shots, or mercury fillings in their teeth, etc.

Not all though...

Juniper Russo "was afraid of autism, of chemicals, of pharmaceutical companies, of pills, of needles" when she had her baby. She just knew that vaccines caused autism when she first visited her pediatrician after her baby was born and knew all of the anti-vaccine talking points. She also later began to realize that her completely unvaccinated daughter had significant developmental delays.

I spent weeks crying over the idea that something was wrong with my baby. It wasn’t supposed to happen to me. I was doing everything right, and developmental delays were supposed to happen to other people’s children. I felt horrified and out of place when I went to the physical therapy office to try to boost my daughter’s development. The other children there had something wrong with them. What did I do to put my child in the same category?

Of course, she hadn't done anything wrong. Instead of continuing to believe that vaccines cause autism, Ms. Russo understand some things about her daughter and that she "could no longer deny three things: she was developmentally different, she needed to be vaccinated, and vaccines had nothing to do with her differences."

And she is "now the mother of a beautiful, brilliant, eccentric six-year-old who is both vaccinated and autistic."

Sources:

Abu Kuwaik G. Immunization uptake in younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism. 2014 Feb;18(2):148-55.

Honda H. No effect of MMR withdrawal on the incidence of autism: a total population study. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2005 Jun;46(6):572-9.

Immunization Action Coalition. MMR vaccine does not cause autism. Examine the evidence! Accessed September 2014.

Offit, Paul A. Vaccines and Autism: A Tale of Shifting Hypotheses. Clinical Infectious Diseases. Volume 48, Issue 4. Pp. 456-461

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