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Autism Speaks:  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism…but doesn’t let that statement stand alone.

26 Mar

Autism Speaks has come out with some very strong statements about autism and vaccines.  And the back peddled. 

First, here is a statement by Robert Ring, Chief Science Officer:

Over the last two decades, extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccinations and autism.  The results of this research are clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.  We urge that all children be fully vaccinated.

Rob Ring
Chief Science Officer, Autism Speaks

 
In the past Autism Speaks had been sympathetic towards the idea that vaccines cause autism.  More than sympathetic, some would say.  Such a clear statement as above would have been unthinkable from Autism Speaks only a few years ago.
I wish they had made these statements earlier, but I am glad they are making these statements now.  The vaccine hypothesis has been the most damaging idea in autism since the refrigerator mother theory.  With Autism Speaks position as a well known autism organization, perhaps even fewer families will get caught in the vaccines-cause-autism trap in the future.Here’s the way the Autism Speaks vaccines and autism page looked just last year.  It includes many problematic statements and concludes: “A list of publications that used VAERS information to study associations with autism can be found here“.  “Here” is a link to pubmed with the search terms “vaers” and “autism”.  No surprise, it’s a list that is padded out by works by Mark and David Geier.  The Geiers have been performing poor research for years and have been discussed here at Left Brain/Right Brain many times.


The above statement by Mr. Ring was picked up by the press in February as it was so clear.
Next, Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks:
 

Over the last two decades extensive research has asked whether there is any link between childhood vaccines and autism. Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines. Vaccines are very important. Parents must make the decision whether to vaccinate their children. Efforts must be continually  made to educate parents about vaccine safety. If parents decide not to vaccinate they must be aware of the consequences in their community and their local schools.

Bob Wright
Co-founder, Autism Speaks

It’s a fairly stilted paragraph in my read.  It comes across as though Mr. Wright is trying to appear to ride the fence while at the same time pulling back dramatically from the clear statement by Mr. Ring.  Scientific research has not directly connected autism to vaccines?

Even with that, I can’t imagine that admitting that vaccines are “important” will go over well in some circles.  Close circles.  Even “important” is to positive a word for some.  But, seriously, here we have an invention that has saved more lives that possibly any other in medical history and we get “important”?

Yes, Mr. Wright, efforts must be made to educate parents about vaccine safety.  That’s what your chief science officer did.  Sadly, you can’t let Autism Speaks be a science led organization.

By Matt Carey

Note: I accidentally published an early draft of this article yesterday.

Is Autism Speaks supporting vaccine-autism causation proponent Congressman Bill Posey?

19 Aug

Someone forwarded an email from the “Autism Action Network” recently. The email asked people to support Congressman Bill Posey’s election campaign by attending a fundraiser. Looks like a few big donors to Mr. Posey were going to attend, including Sallie Bernard of SafeMinds and Autism Speaks. Ms. Bernard certainly is with both organizations, but I wonder if she was attending as an Autism Speaks officer or if Autism Speaks was even aware that their name was being used to promote the fundraiser.

Perhaps Ms. Bernard wasn’t aware that her Autism Speaks affiliation was being used this way. I’ve seen some of my affiliations used where I didn’t expect nor want them. Perhaps Ms. Bernard was aware that the AS affiliation was being used in this advertisement, but Autism Speaks wasn’t. Perhaps Autism Speaks was aware and supported this effort. I’m not betting heavily on that last option though.

Here’s the list of donors for the fundraiser in the email I got:

Jennifer Larson of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Sallie Bernard of Safeminds and Autism Speaks
JB Handley of Generation Rescue
Tony Lyons of Shy[sic] Horse Publishing
Barry Segal of Focus Autism
Mark Blaxill of the Canary Party and Health Freedom
Dr. Gary Kompothecras
Teri Costigan

The Autism Speaks name adds a legitimacy to this fundraiser that the other groups just can’t. The Canary Party and Health Freedom (which I assume to be Americans for Health Choice) are basically the same people with “Canary Party” as a political party and “heath freedom” as a charity. The Canary Party/Health Freedom team is led by the same people who funded large donations to Oversight & Government Reform Committee Chair Daryl Issa ($40k plus). JB Handley is not as vocal as he once was, but he founded Generation Rescue on the notion that “autism is just a misdiagnosis for mercury poisoning“. Sky Horse publishing is boutique publisher of many of the books on vaccines and autism, including “Age of Autism” and books by Andrew Wakefield. Barry Segal (Focus Autism) has been a large supporter of groups like Generation Rescue, the Age of Autism, SafeMinds and is very vocal on his belief that vaccines cause not only autism, but many other health problems as well. Gary Kompothecras has been funding Mr. Posey for years and is an autism parent and benefactor of groups promoting the vaccine/autism idea.

Without Autism Speaks’ name added to this, this would be very clearly all about a small but wealthy group of people pushing the failed ideas of vaccines and autism. People with failed and damaging ideas have the right to lobby members of congress along with everyone else. I, for one, am glad that the vast majority of Congress has moved on from the vaccine/autism-epidemic idea. I look forward to the day when that majority reaches 100%.


By Matt Carey

HHS Announces Appointment of New Public Members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

2 Jul

The U.S. Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC) will have two new members when it meets next week. The press release is below. The new members are Wendy Chung from Simons Foundation and Robert Ring from Autism Speaks. The Simons Foundation is the largest non-governmental funder of autism research and previously had a member on the IACC (Dennis Choi). My understanding is that Mr. Choi took a position working with a foreign government and that conflict required him to resign the IACC. Geri Dawson is still on the IACC and started this session working for Autism Speaks. Ms. Dawson has since left Autism Speaks.

For Immediate Release
July 2, 2014

HHS Announces Appointment of New Public Members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

The Department of Health and Human Services today announced the appointments of Wendy Chung, M.D., Ph.D., and Robert Ring, Ph.D., as public members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a federal advisory Committee composed of federal agency officials and appointed community stakeholders that provides coordination and a forum for public input on issues related to autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Prior to her departure, former HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius appointed Dr. Chung, Director of Clinical Research for the Simons Foundation Autism Research Initiative (SFARI), and Dr. Ring, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks, to join the IACC in order to provide additional perspectives and expertise to the Committee. Dr. Chung and Dr. Ring serve as leaders within the two organizations that are the largest private funders of autism research in the United States. Both organizations were previously represented on the Committee by individuals who were appointed in 2012, but who have since left or changed affiliation.

Dr. Insel, Chair of the IACC and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, welcomed the expertise and dedication that Dr. Chung and Dr. Ring bring to the IACC. “Both Dr. Ring and Dr. Chung will be important additions to the Committee, given the depth of their scientific and clinical experience, and their dedication to improving the lives of people on the autism spectrum,” he said.

Dr. Chung, in addition to directing clinical research at SFARI, served as a member of SFARI’s scientific advisory board. Dr. Chung is also the Herbert Irving Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Medicine and Director of Clinical Genetics at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, where she is the principal investigator for the Simons Variation in Individuals Project (Simons VIP), funded by the Simons Foundation.

Dr. Ring, who has been the Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks since 2013, also serves as the Chairman of the Board of Delivering Scientific Innovation for Autism (DELSIA), the venture philanthropy arm of Autism Speaks, and leads Autism Speaks’ collaboration with the Simons Foundation to launch the Autism BrainNet, a privately-funded multisite brain banking effort focused on supporting autism research. Dr. Ring previously served as Autism Speaks’ Vice President of Translational Research. He holds adjunct faculty appointments in the Departments of Psychiatry at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and Pharmacology and Physiology at Drexel University College of Medicine. Prior to his work at Autism Speaks, Dr. Ring served as Senior Director and Head of the Autism Research Unit at Pfizer Worldwide Research and Development and worked in the area of psychiatric drug discovery at Wyeth Research.

These two new members of the Committee will serve for the remaining months of IACC activity under the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act of 2011, which will expire on September 30, 2014. If reauthorized, the IACC will be open for nominations of new potential public members in late 2014.


By Matt Carey

Embryo screening to reduce autism risk: it’s not in the future. It’s now

28 Dec

A news article on screening of embryos came out last week and it was picked up under various titles by various news outlets.

From Australia and New Zealand

Why IVF parents are choosing girls over boys, which google news also listed under Parents call for embryo screening to cut risks.

IVF parents choosing girls over boys

And a different take

Parents Worldwide Prefer Girls To Boys: Will India And China Learn?

From India

Why girls are preferred over boys by IVF parents

Here’s a quote from one of the stories:

Figures from one of Sydney’s top IVF clinics show about one in 20 parents seeking embryo screening are looking to have a female baby to reduce their risk of autism.

Australia does not allow for gender selection of embryos. One can’t tell the IVF team to pick male or female embryos. But one can ask for genetic screening.

University of Sydney senior lecturer in bioethics Chris Jordens said autism had a strong genetic basis, so it was within the guidelines.

And the trend towards genetic screening is strong and building in the US.

At a recent conference in Chicago, he saw a number of United States IVF providers offering parents without the conditions tests for between 180 and 600 common gene mutations, such as the BRCA ”breast cancer” genes.

Gender selection to reduce autism risk is about the most basic, the most crude, genetic screening one could imagine. But it’s real and it’s happening.

The concept of autism prevention through genetic screening, either in IVF or in selective abortions, has been a major ethical question with the push for genetics research in autism in the past decade.

The first step in guiding our societies towards an ethical approach to genetic testing is to present autism accurately. This is one reason why I and others speak out when groups such as Autism Speaks or some parent “advocates” present autism with phrases such as as “These families are not living” or “Life is lived…in despair”. Is life harder, more challenging for my kid? Absolutely. But what message are we sending to prospective parents when we tell them that their lives will be lived in despair or they will no longer be living if they have an autistic child? We are telling them to do whatever they can to avoid having an autistic child. We are telling them to pick and chose their embryos. We are telling them to selectively abort. We are telling the autistics of today that the perfect world (in the view of the majority) is one without them.

My kid and other autistics, children and adults, deserve life. They deserve the right to pursue happiness. Disabled does not equate to despair.

This is why, Autism Speaks, when you portray my kid as less, my life as not lived, I and others will speak out. Autism Speaks, it’s time you started listening.

By Matt Carey

My response to Mrs. Wright of Autism Speaks

20 Dec

As I recently wrote, Autism Speaks has once again shown it’s lack of respect for autistics and their parents with an opinion piece by Mrs. Suzanne Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks.

I left the message below in response to Mrs. Wright’s piece.

I can not resign any position with Autism Speaks, as John Robison has done. I have been a member of one autism organization–a group which later became the local chapter for Autism Speaks. I resigned that group when they showed that they would waste their efforts lobbying against legislation that had nothing to do with autism. I’m glad I quit then.

One thing autism has taught me is that so many things we take for granted are gifts. It is a gift to have average or above intelligence. We don’t earn intelligence. It is our responsibility to use our gifts well.

Mrs. Wright, you aren’t using your gifts. After years with the autism community, you continue to speak for us as without understanding us. You aren’t using your gifts. My kid will never have the ability to understand the world like you can. Your gifts are squandered and that is a terrible shame.

I am doing more than “existing”. I am living. Is it harder with a disabled kid? Sure. It’s harder for him.

Use your gifts. Much more–use the gifts of those working for you. Learn how to frame the situation as being difficult, for that is what it is. But not as a life without hope. A life of despair.

I live. I love. I have joy. My son lives. Loves. Has joy. I have not lost touch with him. He has not lost touch with me.

It will be harder for him to enjoy life if the world sees him as less than a full person. It will be harder for him if we don’t put his needs first rather than mine. Please learn to put first the needs of the people we represent and advocate for.

If we in the autism community can’t put forth this message, how can we expect the rest of the world to do so?

Before we can craft a national plan we in the autism community must have a plan of our own. It must start with respect. Respect for autistics. Respect for families. And you are not showing that.

I saw the response Autism Speaks put forth in your home town newspaper in Florida. Please stop dodging this important question by framing it as “high functioning” adults vs. parents of “low functioning” children. Many of us who are parents of children with great challenges disagree with your stances. We’ve been telling you this for years. It’s time to listen.


By Matt Carey

Autism Speaks: it’s time to listen

18 Dec

I’ve always found the Autism Speaks motto ironic: “Autism Speaks. It’s time to listen.” Change he period to a colon and you get “Autism Speaks: it’s time to listen”. And, please, could you start listening, Autism Speaks?

Autism Speaks got off to a rocky start. Although they claimed an ” overwhelming positive response from the autism community”, the rollout of the organization was met with much criticism. Autism Speaks co-founder Suzanne Wright adhered to the “missing child” model of autism with phrases like: “It is as if he’d been kidnapped, or somehow had his mind and spirit locked in a dark hole deep within him”. She also had the parent-centric model of the autism community with phrases like “Such an effort must be driven by those with most at stake: the parents of autistic children.”

Shortly after their launch, Autism Speaks released a short film, Autism Every Day. While Autism Speaks told themselves and the world that the response was positive, in reality there was a great deal of negative reaction. (e.g. here, here, here, here, and more.)

It took years, but eventually Autism Speaks listened. The video disappeared from their website and YouTube channel.

Another video debacle came in the form of “I am autism” which depicted autism as a sinister monster stealing babies and ruining parent’s lives. Here’s the transcript in case you think I’m exaggerating. The video is now also removed.

Every now an then, I feel hope for Autism Speaks. There are some really excellent people at AS. AS took on the phrase “different, not less“. Sometimes a blog post comes by that I particularly like. And a lot of their research portfolio is quite good.

Then you get announcements like this one: Autism Speaks to Washington – A Call for Action. And we see that we are back to 2006. We are back to “I am autism” but this time it’s phrased “This is Autism”.

As a result of that opinion piece, John Elder Robison quit. He was one of the few (if not the only) autistics working in a high profile position with Autism Speaks. Here’s a section from his article, I resign my roles at Autism Speaks:

For the past four years I have worked very hard to defend Autism Speak after a series of public relations missteps; beginning with the I Am Autism video. The most recent “Autism Speaks Point of View” http://www.autismspeaks.org/news/news-item/autism-speaks-washington-call-action shows me that my words and efforts have had no real impact on the beliefs of the actual leadership of the organization.

I have tried to help Autism Speaks staffers understand how destructive its messages have been to the psyches of autistic people. We do not like hearing that we are defective or diseased. We do not like hearing that we are part of an epidemic. We are not problems for our parents or society, or genes to be eliminated. We are people.

We do have problems, and we need help. Some of us need counseling or training, while others have significant medical challenges. We also need acceptance, and support. There is a great diversity in our community, which means we have a very broad range of needs. Unfortunately, the majority of the research Autism Speaks has funded to date does not meet those needs, and the community services are too small a percentage of total budget to be truly meaningful. We have delivered very little value to autistic people, for the many millions raised.

A newspaper in Palm Beach, Florida (where the Wrights have a home) published the article: Autism Speaks post rattles some readers One board member resigns, saying he can’t stand by co-founder Suzanne Wright’s views. While they couldn’t get a comment from Mrs. Wright, they did get some statements from Autism Speaks itself.

Autism Speaks took the old cop out. Whenever there’s a discussion of whether a depiction of autism is demeaning, one can count on hearing the argument that the discussion is between parents of “severely” autistic kids and “high functioning” adults.

Michael Rosen, executive vice president of strategic communications at Autism Speaks, said Robison was the only one who resigned over the post. He said the organization understands that higher-functioning people with autism may have a different point of view about the issue.

“The people who are not sick, not unhappy, and are totally fulfilled and happy with their differences, we totally support them as well,” Rosen said. “We’re not looking to change anybody, we’re looking to support and get services for everyone who needs them.

“What that column had was a lot of empathy for those who are struggling the most. But for those who just need support and services, we work for them as well.”

Eight years ago Autism Speaks could pretend to be ignorant of the fact that much, a great deal in fact, of the criticism they get is from parents like me. Parents of children. Children who are “struggling the most”.

Then there’s the old “they see autism as a good thing” bit:

He said some people with autism feel it’s “a good thing” that just makes them “neurologically different. It’s a matter of diversity, and diversity is a good thing. We understand that and get that. They’re proud of their diversity and we salute them.”

Unless John Robison was VERY different at Autism Speaks meetings than the John Robison I’ve seen at IACC meetings, Mr. Rosen had no business saying what he did. Perhaps he could have read Mr. Robison’s resignation article:

I celebrate the gifts autism brings us, and I have discussed at length the emerging realization that autism – as a neurological difference – confers both gift and disability on everyone it touches. It’s the fire the moves humanity forward, while simultaneously being a fire that can burn us individuals as we try to make our way.

Many autistic people are aware of this dichotomy. Some of us feel “totally disabled” and others feel “totally gifted.” Most of us – I’d venture to say – feel both ways, at different times, depending on what we’re doing at that particular moment.

It’s so much easier to build the straw man that criticism comes from those who are “totally fulfilled and happy” than to face the criticism head on.

Doing a quick google search, I found these criticisms of Mrs. Wrights op-ed:

A Reporter’s Guide to the Autism Speaks Debacle
by Lucy Berrington, autistic adult

AWN SQUARES OFF WITH AUTISM SPEAKS OVER NATIONAL AUTISM PLAN
by the Autism Women’s Network

A Poem For Suzanne Wright. A Call To Action; A Call To Be. November 15, 2013
By Cheairs Graves, mother of an autistic child.

no more – a letter to suzanne wright
by Jess, mother of an autistic child.

The Price We Pay for Autism Speaks
by Heather Clark, mother to two autistic children

Why Autism Speaks Doesn’t Speak for Me
by Emily Willingham, mother of an autistic child.

And there’s more. I did run into a couple articles supporting Mrs. Wright too. But this isn’t about who has more articles, it’s about the fact that Autism Speaks chose to frame the discussion in a very simplistic and, frankly, insulting way. They dismiss the criticism and ignore the fact that much of it comes from parents. The people Autism Speaks claims to represent in this discussion.

Autism Speaks: it’s time to understand.


By Matt Carey

Was Mark Roithmayr pushed out of Autism Speaks over vaccines?

1 Mar

Last June Autism Speaks suddenly announced that their president, Mark Roithmayr, was leaving and being replaced by Liz Feld. (Mr. Roithmayr is now Chief Development Officer at the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society) There was little information about why Mr. Roithmayr left. The suddenness and the lack of information given out for the departure of an executive pointed to there being much more going on behind the scenes. Things going on which Autism Speaks would prefer did not become public.

In reading up on the group Focus Autism, I found a past webpage of emails from the founder, Barry Segal. One of those is copied below:

Barry Segal’s email to Bob Wright June 21, 2012

Bob,

Good work on Mark. On June 1st, I sent an email to you as well as Peter Bell that stated, “I feel Mark Roithmayr is not an asset to Autism Speaks.” In three weeks he was gone. You acted faster than Warren Buffet. When I wrote him that his top three men at JM knew nothing about roofing, it took him 90 days to replace them.

Here’s the problem. The gist of it is that the government was not going to do the necessary environmental and vaccine research due to political restrictions of public money, but that did not mean that private sector organizations, like Autism Speaks, had to follow those restrictions, per Kevin Barry.

It doesn’t matter whether you have Liz Feld, Donald Trump or Alex Rodriguez on the board. Unless Bernie relents and lets Autism Speaks go after the vaccine involvement, nothing will be gained.

Barry

It appears clear to me from this email that Mr. Roithmayr was pushed out. If we take the email above at face value, Barry Segal (a large donor to Autism Speaks) wrote to Bob Wright (Founder of Autism Speaks) and Peter Bell (executive vice president for Autism Speaks), pushing for Mr. Roitmayr’s ouster. Mr. Segal has elsewhere indicated that both Bob Wright and Peter Bell want more work done on vaccines and autism.

Given the next two paragraphs of the email, it appears that Mr. Segal’s complaint about Mr. Roithmayr was, indeed, his stance on vaccines:

It doesn’t matter whether you have Liz Feld, Donald Trump or Alex Rodriguez on the board. Unless Bernie relents and lets Autism Speaks go after the vaccine involvement, nothing will be gained.

I read this to say that while pushing Mr. Roithmayr out was a step forward (in Mr. Segal’s view), that Bernie (I assume Marcus, of the Marcus Autism Center and Autism Speaks) is still in the way of the wish to push Autism Speaks further into pursuing vaccines.

Kevin Barry, on the other hand, is a former president of Generation Rescue (an organization which especially then was very vocal about vaccine causation) who went to work as a consultant for Autism Speaks in 2006. While at Autism Speaks, Mr. Barry was apparently using others to post his messages to discussion boards. In this case, a call was sent out on the “Evidence of Harm” board for people to give input to Autism Speaks on the “epimdemic ‘debate’ “:

Hi Heidi, Confidential. I am not allowed to comment on the Boards. Would you post this to the EOH board as if you can upon it yourself? It is a page where people can comment on the epidemic “debate”. It would not hurt if Autism Speaks heard more feedback from EOH parents. Thanks, Kevin

In 2009 Autism Speaks lost Eric London (founder of NAAR and member of the Autism Speaks Scientific Affairs Committee) largely due to difference over vaccines. Earlier in 2009, Autism Speaks’ executive vice president of communications and awareness, Alison Tepper Singer, resigned prior to an IACC meeting in which a vote was to take place on vaccine related research. “Knowing she might cast a vote with which Autism Speaks might disagree, she resigned from Autism Speaks prior to the meeting.” In the press release following her departure, Ms. Singer wrote:

“However, for some time I have had concerns about Autism Speaks’ policy on vaccine research. Dozens of credible scientific studies have exonerated vaccines as a cause of autism. I believe we must devote limited funding to more promising areas of autism research.”

The same day, Autism Speaks published a press release, Autism Speaks Withdraws Support for Strategic Plan for Autism Research, Decries Unexpected Change in Final Approval Process. Yes, Autism Speaks pulled it’s support for the Strategic Plan because it didn’t include vaccines. The press release included this statement from Bob Wright:

“We are angered and disappointed by this last-minute deviation in the painstaking process of approving the Strategic Plan. Members of the autism community have worked tirelessly during the last two years to develop a plan that would set the stage for significant progress and discoveries for autism research over the next five years,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks. “In a matter of minutes, the Federal Members of the IACC destroyed much of the good will that had been established during the course of this process. Because of this surprise tactic, we now have a plan that is tainted and cannot be supported by the autism community.”

It appears that even though Autism Speaks has not made such strong statements about vaccine causation in the past few years, the sentiments remain strong within the organization. Strong enough apparently to push the president out.

If it is true that Mr. Roithmayr was pushed out over vaccines, this would mean that the fears of many are validated: that Autism Speaks has a public face adhering to the science of today, while inside they still have a strong faction, including the founders and executives, pushing for a focus on vaccines. And that there is no room for someone with an opposing view.


By Matt Carey

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