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Statement of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Related to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

7 Oct

With another mass shooting we have, sadly, speculation that the gunman was autistic. When the Sandy Hook tragedy occurred, I was a public member to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) and we put out the following statement. While it is not directly related to the current events, I felt it worthwhile to put this out again.

Statement of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) Related to the Sandy Hook Tragedy

The Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee, an independent Federal advisory committee that provides advice to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on activities related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), has issued the following statement regarding the tragedy that took place at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012:

The events of December 14 in Newtown, Connecticut shocked and saddened people worldwide. All of the members of the IACC express our deepest sympathy and support for the families and community affected by these terrible killings. Some news reports suggested the gunman had Asperger syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Because this tragic event has shaken so many, the IACC wants to ensure that continued speculation about the gunman’s diagnosis does not hurt others in the community. Our committee has collectively prepared this statement to address public concerns and questions about the implied association between autism and extreme violence directed at others.

There is no scientific evidence linking ASD with homicides or other violent crimes. In fact, studies of court records suggest that people with autism are less likely to engage in criminal behavior of any kind compared with the general population, and people with Asperger syndrome, specifically, are not convicted of crimes at higher rates than the general population (Ghaziuddin et al., 1991, Mouridsen et al., 2008, Mouridsen, 2012).1, 2, 3

Officials do not yet know whether the person associated with the school shooting in Newtown had been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, another developmental or mental disorder or disability, or multiple disorders. We may never know what undiagnosed conditions or motivations he may have had. Whatever his diagnosis, this individual’s acts are not representative of people with developmental or mental disorders or disabilities, very few of whom are violent or dangerous towards others.

While a rare event, the impact of violence is a tragedy for all of those involved. These devastating events remind us of the importance of providing the best care and support for those challenged by developmental or mental disorders or disabilities. We do know that individuals with autism spectrum disorders, including Asperger syndrome, do better with the appropriate medical, educational, mental health and community supports in place. The IACC strongly supports the development and expansion of those services and believes that more research is needed to identify predictors of violence, and to develop appropriate prevention and treatment strategies.


1 Ghaziuddin M, et al. Brief Report: Violence in Asperger Syndrome, A Critique. J Autism Dev Disorders. 1991 Sep; 21(3): 349-54. [PMID 1938780]

2 Mouridsen SE, et al. Pervasive Developmental Disorders and Criminal Behavior: A Case Control Study. Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol. 2008 Apr; 52 (2): 196. [PMID 17615427]

3 Mouridsen SE. Current status of research on autism spectrum disorders and offending. Research in Autism Spectrum Disorders. 2012 Jan-Mar; 6 (1): 79-86.

To all who use Paul Offit’s 10,000 vaccine paper to scare others–put up or shut up. And that means you, Age of Autism and all your team.

6 Oct

I’ve generally stopped countering the misinformation by the Age of Autism blog. They are pretty much irrelevant now that they lost their star power, now that Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey have dropped out of the picture. They still cause harm, but on a much smaller scale than in the past.

That said, I recently saw one of the Age of Autism contributors in an online discussion. And as is typical, the conversation devolved into throwing around the usual tired arguments. For example–

The notorious Offit 10,000 vaccine paper (we might add 10,000 vaccine doctrine) was written to be re-assuring to parents. The reality is that 1 vaccine might kill an infant. But what is the rhetorical effect of saying 10,000 vaccines (or 100,000 vaccines originally) are “theoretically safe”. It really says that if we give them 10 at time and hundreds over a childhood it is no big deal. What we are really on to here is the hit and run strategy. It doesn’t matter egregious the effects of the ever extended and mandated schedule are you can always insist that it wasn’t vaccines (which are theoretically safe). And you can flood the media with people like you deriding the experience of actual rather than theoretical families who have found that products are not necessarily that safe after all. And you can claim that everything you say is thoroughly scientific (hoho).

Now, this is a new way to misrepresent what Dr. Offit wrote. So far off that one wonders if the author of the comment (one John Stone) has actually read the original. He claims that the Offit paper’s claim is ” It really says that if we give them 10 at time and hundreds over a childhood it is no big deal.”


Nope. Not even close.

Here’s the section of the paper that that is being referred to:

Studies on the diversity of antigen receptors indicate that the immune system has the capacity to respond to extremely large numbers of antigens. Current data suggest that the theoretical capacity determined by diversity of antibody variable gene regions would allow for as many as 109 to 1011 different antibody specificities.38 But this prediction is limited by the number of circulating B cells and the likely redundancy of antibodies generated by an individual.

A more practical way to determine the diversity of the immune response would be to estimate the number of vaccines to which a child could respond at one time. If we assume that 1) approximately 10 ng/mL of antibody is likely to be an effective concentration of antibody per epitope (an immunologically distinct region of a protein or polysaccharide),39 2) generation of 10 ng/mL requires approximately 103 B-cells per mL,39 3) a single B-cell clone takes about 1 week to reach the 103 progeny B-cells required to secrete 10 ng/mL of antibody39 (therefore, vaccine-epitope-specific immune responses found about 1 week after immunization can be generated initially from a single B-cell clone per mL), 4) each vaccine contains approximately 100 antigens and 10 epitopes per antigen (ie, 103 epitopes), and 5) approximately 107 B cells are present per mL of circulating blood,39 then each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10 000 vaccines at any one time (obtained by dividing 107 B cells per mL by 103 epitopes per vaccine).

The paper merely states that an infant’s immune system can respond to the antigens in 10,000 vaccines.

So here is the challenge to Mr. John Stone (who wrote the above comment), the Age of Autism blog (where he writes, but not the above comment.) and everyone else who claims that the 10,000 number is wrong.

Prove it.

Prove the claim is wrong.

What in the above calculation is wrong? Is it the biology? The assumptions? The math? State clearly what is inaccurate in that calculation.

The answer is that many who cry out about “10,000 vaccines” haven’t read the paper. Or they have and they don’t understand it. Or, in rare cases, they understand it and are willfully trying to use it to scare people.

I have posted this challenge before on various internet discussions. And it is always, and I mean always, met with silence.

Notice that Dr. Offit doesn’t say that an infant can take 10,000 injections. But that “each infant would have the theoretical capacity to respond to about 10 000 vaccines at any one time (obtained by dividing 107 B cells per mL by 103 epitopes per vaccine).” I.e. that an infant can respond to the challenge posed by the antigens in 10,000 vaccines.

But that’s not scary. And fear and doubt is what people are trying to create when they claim that Paul Offit’s 10,000 vaccine paper is “notorious”.

So, go ahead anyone and everyone that uses the 10,000 vaccine statement to scare people about vaccines. Back up your complaint. I’ve been waiting for years and expect to continue waiting.

by Matt Carey

Tom Insel to leave NIMH

4 Oct

Tom Insel has been the director of the U.S. National Institute of Mental Health for 13 years. He chaired three incarnations of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), taking that chair shortly after the first IACC was seated.

He will be joining Alphabet (Google) in the Google Life Sciences team.

As chair of the IACC, Insel has shown that he kept a very close watch on autism research and an interest in the autism community. More than one could normally expect from the chair. And this isn’t just my observation. I’ve had others who watch the IACC and NIH closely tell me this.

I wish him well in his next effort.

Here is Tom Insel’s statement from the NIH website:

Dr. Tom Insel to Step Down as NIMH Director

After 13 years as NIMH Director, I have decided to move on. I will be leaving NIMH at the beginning of November. These years serving as director have been inspiring, at times challenging, and ultimately gratifying beyond anything I might have imagined when I arrived in 2002. I was fortunate to serve under two visionary NIH directors, Elias Zerhouni and Francis Collins, and to work with extraordinary Institute and Center Directors. I will be leaving a team of gifted and dedicated colleagues within NIMH. The NIMH has accomplished so much during this past decade — progress in neuroscience, progress in diagnostics and therapeutics, and, most of all, progress toward a focus on the needs of people with serious mental illness. To be able to work on such important problems with such talented people has been the high point of my professional career.

Why am I leaving? I had always planned to depart after 10 years. I stayed longer because of the fun of first launching a new Institute, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS), and then the BRAIN Initiative, as well as my passion for what we have been doing at NIMH. I am not leaving because of a problem or crisis. Indeed, I chose this moment because I wanted to leave at a high point: for the first time in many years we have a complete and completely outstanding leadership team at NIMH, we have excellent engagement from the advocacy community, we have unprecedented support from Congress, and we have an inspiring strategic plan. I want to step away at the best of times with all signs pointing to a bright future.

In terms of my own future, I am certainly not planning to retire. I am currently working out the final details for a move to the life sciences team at Google (or rather, Alphabet, now!). The Google Life Sciences (GLS) team is developing new technologies to transform healthcare, such as a contact lens with an embedded glucose monitor. The GLS mission is about creating technology that can help with earlier detection, better prevention, and more effective management of serious health conditions. I am joining the team to explore how this mission can be applied to mental illness. That the life sciences team at Google would establish a major exploration into mental health is by itself a significant statement — recognizing the burden of illness from psychosis, mood disorders, and autism as well as the opportunity for technology to make a major impact to change the world for the millions affected. The Google philosophy has been to seek a 10x impact on hard problems. I am looking forward to a 10x challenge in mental health.

A national search for a new NIMH Director will be launched, but in the meanwhile Dr. Collins has issued an official statement appointing Dr. Bruce Cuthbert as Acting Director. Bruce has held a number of leadership positions at NIMH, including leading our RDoC initiative as well as the NIMH Division of Adult Translational Research. He is an internationally recognized researcher. I greatly appreciate his willingness to lead the Institute during this transition period. I know with Bruce at the helm and the leadership team in place at NIMH, I leave the Institute in strong, capable hands.

By Matt Carey

Newsweek: Anti-Vaxxers Accidentally Fund a Study Showing No Link Between Autism and Vaccines

3 Oct

Newsweek has an article up at Newsweek about the recent vaccine study–the one discussed in the press release here. The title of the article pulls no punches: Anti-Vaxxers Accidentally Fund a Study Showing No Link Between Autism and Vaccines

Here’s how it starts:

Most experts today agree that the belief that childhood vaccines cause autism is based on bunk science. Even still, some advocacy groups claim immunizations are responsible for raising the risk for this neurodevelopmental condition, despite a growing body of research that shows there isn’t a link. (The study that most anti-vaccination groups point to was retracted after it was found to be based on falsified data.)

If the title didn’t tip you off that there would be no false balance here, this first paragraph is very clear.

Here’s the second paragraph, where they discuss how SafeMinds, called an organization in the anti-vaccine movement:

Despite the science, organizations involved in the anti-vaccine movement still hope to find some evidence that vaccines threaten children’s health. For example, the autism advocacy organization SafeMinds recently funded research it hoped would prove vaccines cause autism in children. But this effort appears to have backfired for the organization—whose mission is to raise awareness about how certain environmental exposures may be linked to autism—since the study SafeMinds supported showed a link between autism and vaccines does not exist.

SafeMinds, even though they funded the study and were kept aware of the progress, even though they knew the methods and approved of them, wants to do their own analysis.

But Sallie Bernard, president of SafeMinds, says she would at least like to see a re-analysis of the newest data. “We feel that embedded within these data sets there are animals that have potentially an adverse reaction to this vaccine schedule that would mirror what happens in human infants,” she says. “The majority who get vaccines are fine, but we believe there is a subset that have an adverse reaction to their vaccines. By looking at the raw data, not data in aggregate, we may be able to identify the subgroup that had that reaction.”

And who at SafeMinds would be better qualified than the authors to do this analysis? (who would even be remotely qualified?)

No one.

Has SafeMinds shown excellence in research methods and integrity in the past?


Does anyone doubt that SafeMinds would torture the data to the point of getting the answer they want?

Integrity would be accepting the results of the study they sponsored. SafeMinds lacks that integrity.

Matt Carey

Press Release: New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

30 Sep

Below is a press release from the Johnson Center for Child Health and Development (formerly Thoughtful House). The press release discusses a recent study which investigated the safety of vaccine schedules (present and past) using monkeys as test subjects.

The study is a follow on study to a previous series of pilot studies involving some of the same authors. The pilot studies were considered by many to be an indication of evidence that vaccines cause autism and other neurological conditions. This larger study shows no evidence of adverse effects from vaccines.

Here is the press release:

New Research Finds No Evidence That Thimerosal-Containing Vaccines Affect Behavior or Neuroanatomy in Infant Primates

(Austin, Texas) – September 28, 2015 – New research finds no evidence that thimerosal- containing vaccines cause negative behaviors or result in neuropathology in infant primates, according to a study that will be published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. In this study, conducted by Dr. Dwight German of the University of Texas Southwestern School of Medicine, and colleagues, infant rhesus macaques received several pediatric vaccines containing thimerosal (a mercury-based preservative) in a schedule similar to that given to infants in the 1990s. Other animals received just the measles-mumps- rubella (MMR) vaccine, which does not contain thimerosal, or an expanded vaccine schedule similar to that recommended for US infants today. Control animals received a saline injection.

Regardless of vaccination status, all animals developed normal social behaviors. Cellular analysis of three brain regions, the cerebellum, amygdala and hippocampus (all known to be altered in autism), was similar in vaccinated and unvaccinated animals.

“This comprehensive analysis of social behavior and neuropathology in 12-18 month old rhesus macaques indicated that vaccinated primates were not negatively affected by thimerosal; the same was true for animals receiving an expanded 2008 vaccine schedule, which is similar to that recommended for US infants today” explained Dr. Laura Hewitson of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development, one of the principle investigators working on the study. Hewitson was part of a team of researchers from The Johnson Center; the University of Texas Southwestern; the Center on Human Development and Disability Infant Primate Research Laboratory; the Washington National Primate Research Center (WaNPRC) at the University of Washington, Seattle WA; and Texas A&M Health Science Center & Central Texas Veterans Health Care System.

According to Hewitson, the study was designed to compare the safety of different vaccination schedules, including the schedule from the 1990s, when thimerosal was used as a preservative in multi-dose vaccine preparations. The data from this study indicate that administration of TCVs and/or the MMR vaccine to rhesus macaques did not result in neuropathological abnormalities,or aberrant behaviors, like those often observed in autism.

Administration of thimerosal-containing vaccines to infant rhesus macaques does not result in autism-like behavior or neuropathology. Bharathi S. Gadad, Wenhao Li, Umar Yazdani, Stephen Grady, Trevor Johnson, Jacob Hammond, Howard Gunn, Britni Curtis, Chris English, Vernon Yutuc, Clayton Ferrier, Gene P. Sackett, C. Nathan Marti, Keith Young, Laura Hewitson and Dwight C. German. PNAS

This article can be downloaded for free here.

This study was supported by The Ted Lindsay Foundation, SafeMinds, National Autism Association, and the Johnson and Vernick families. This work was also supported by WaNPRC Core Grant RR00166 and CHDD Core Grant HD02274.

About The Johnson Center
The mission of The Johnson Center for Child Health and Development is to advance the understanding of childhood development through clinical care, research, and education.

Previous Press Releases
For Immediate Release

By Matt Carey

Study shows societal inclusion improves life satisfaction

27 Sep

I know a lot of people will read the title of this post and say, “that’s obvious”. But keep in mind–studies give people a chance to advocate better. Now for the limitations–the study was only on individuals who did not have difficulties in areas of daily living skills. And, yes, the study population did not have intellectual disability.

But with all that, here’s the sentence I’ll highlight from the abstract: “Participating in society was identified as the only factor predicting life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.”

Here is the pubmed link
Psychosocial Functioning and Life Satisfaction in Adults With Autism Spectrum Disorder Without Intellectual Impairment.

and here is the abstract:

This study aimed at (a) comparing psychosocial functioning and life satisfaction in adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and nonclinical participants and (b) identifying areas of functioning that are most predictive for life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.
A total of 43 adults with ASD without intellectual impairment (age: mean = 31, standard deviation = 10 years; 63% females) and healthy nonclinical individuals (N = 44) were surveyed.
Individuals with ASD reported significant functional impairments and less life satisfaction compared with nonclinical individuals in many areas of life. Although impairments were prominent in domains involving interaction with other people such as understanding and communication, getting along with others, and participation in society, daily living skills (e.g., getting around, self-care, and household) were not different from nonclinical participants. Participating in society was identified as the only factor predicting life satisfaction in individuals with ASD.
There is a need for interventions facilitating functioning on a broad level and support toward societal inclusion for individuals with ASD.

By Matt Carey

Thank you Kevin Moon Loh

25 Sep

An actor in a major musical production has a facebook post about a recent performance. In this performance, an autistic child made noise during a quiet part of the show. And Mr. Loh comes to the defense of the child.

The post begins:

I am angry and sad.
Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.
That being said- this post won’t go the way you think it will.
You think I will admonish that mother for bringing a child who yelped during a quiet moment in the show. You think I will herald an audience that yelled at this mother for bringing their child to the theater. You think that I will have sympathy for my own company whose performances were disturbed from a foreign sound coming from in front of them.
Instead, I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?

Mr. Loh quotes Joseph Papp that theater is created for all people. It’s a message that resonates with my family. We have worked to make the theater experience accessible to our own child and also to other disabled people in our community. I am proud to say that my wife started on this effort even before the idea of a “sensory friendly” performance became big news. Proud not because she was ahead of the curve, but because this shows that this is an effort of passion on her part.

Mr. Loh, I thank you. Theater is for everyone.

By Matt Carey


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