Broken pieces and the anti-vaxx movement

Yesterday, in advance of Nova’s program on vaccines (embedded above), I tweeted the following:

I received a wave of responses from the anti-vaxx folks thanks to that. It wasn’t unexpected and it could have been worse.

In the past, I’ve reacted to this stance and mindset from a place of anger. I still stand behind most of that, but last night I thought more about the roots of why parents and others cling so tightly to such a widely discredited theory.

I’m a parent of now two children - both diagnosed with Autism. And I know - at least a little - what other parents go through.

A doctor tells you your child, the light of your life, has a condition that no one knows where it comes from or how to make it better[1]. For a bit, the doctor probably leaves your little family alone in the exam room. Just you, your significant other and the child you now have been told there is something “wrong” with.

Maybe they play with a toy or line up blocks while you try to gather yourself.

And the questions start.

What happened?

Did we do something wrong?

Is my child broken?[2]

What caused this?

The problem is that the last question has no answer. You can ask the doctor and they might give you some leading theories - genetics, environment and the like - but the truth is no one knows.

There is no answer. There might be no cause at all. It’s entirely possible that this is simply what your child is - always has been and always will be to a degree.

We all like answers. Especially to burning questions like “Why?” Especially when it affects your child.

So, we grasp for answers. And we latch on to whatever seems to answer this unanswerable question that maps best to our own existing belief system or which answer makes us feel better or what answer we hear the most or the answer that gives us someone/thing to blame.

Some answer that gives reason to that lonely moment alone in the exam room - still sitting in the wreckage with a head full of questions to which there are few if any satisfying answers.

You spend the weeks, months, years ahead still yearning for those answers. It’s a hole that needs filled in your heart and in your soul.


Why my son?

Why my daughter?

So you find something to latch on to - something to fill that hole. It can be vaccines. It can be gluten or lactose or gut bugs. It can even be nothing - but even then the question remains itching at the back our your skull on random nights while you try to fall asleep.

There might be an answer someday. Maybe.

But in the meantime, there is just a hole that needs filled.

And any old thing will do.

  1. There are a handful of scientifically-proven treatments found to be effective. Applied Behavior Analysis, most notably. We got both of our children into ABA therapy as quickly as possible after their diagnosis and in both cases the results have been astounding. If you live in Indiana, we can’t recommend their therapist group - BACA - highly enough. If you’re looking for an ABA therapy provider, feel free to contact me and ask about our experiences.  ↩

  2. If you have a recent diagnosis, let me reassure you. Your child is still the loving and awesome one you went into that exam room with. They are not broken. They are amazing and awesome and all sorts of other words that start with A. Love them. Hold them. They are awesome (and so are you).  ↩

Chris Vannoy @v