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The Vaccine-Autism Debate Is Terribly Harmful For This Reason

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It's the issue that just won't die: After a discredited study in the '90s linked autism to the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, more and more American parents have chosen to keep their kids from going under the needle. In fact, according to TIME, the measles, mumps, whooping cough, and chicken pox have seen higher numbers of outbreaks in recent years, thanks to a larger unvaccinated population in the country. But there's another group of people that the anti-vaccination movement are hurting in the debate: Is autism really worse than measles?

By not vaccinating their children, parents aren't only turning their backs on scientific evidence disproving a vaccine-autism link, nor are they only choosing to endanger their children. Instead, they're also sending the message that they would rather risk having their child become ill or die from nearly-eradicated diseases than risk having their child become autistic — all based on one fraudulent study. Is autism really a fate worse than illnesses that can cause encephalitis, seizures, meningitis, deafness, miscarriage, and death? Because by not vaccinating their children, parents are saying that autism-spectrum disorder is worse than risking their children's lives.

As Sarah Kurchak, an autistic writer and advocate, wrote for Medium:

NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Washington, UNITED STATES: Demonstrators carry signs against the use of mercury in vaccines in front of the US Capitol in Washington 20 July 2005. Some 300 people marched demanding that mercury not be used in vaccines anymore amid growing concern that it is the cause of autism and other neurological diseases in children. AFP PHOTO/Nicholas KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Anti-vaccination advocates seem to forget that autism spectrum disorder is just that: it's a spectrum. Fear-mongering anti-vaccination campaigns make it seem like all children with autism fall only on the extreme end of the spectrum, showing severe autism with an inability to speak, low IQs, sensory dysfunction, and aggressive behavior, according to Verywell.

But, as with most disorders, people fall on a spectrum, and many people with autism live very high-functioning lives thanks to behavioral management, communication approaches, therapy, and support. Unlike some of the diseases we vaccinate against, autism is not life-threatening, and there are many incredibly successful autistic people who live full, fantastic lives (ever heard of Andy Warhol? Tim Burton? Courtney Love?).

By making life choices for their child that suggest that autism is worse than the threat of serious disease or death, anti-vaccination activists are distorting what autism spectrum disorder actually is. They further alienate those with autism, rather than striving for understanding and inclusion. And shouldn't that be what we're teaching our children?