More autism parents believe the “will of God” is behind autism than vaccines

15 May

Why is so much attention and so much money spent on genetics and autism? How about 75.8% of autism parents think that genetics is involved with autism. How many believe in vaccine causation? 41.8%. Less than half. 42% is a sizable minority, but less than the fraction who felt the will of God was involved (46.3%). Parents with a child who regressed were much more likely to endorse vaccines as a possible cause.

What do autistics think? I’ve never seen a study where someone asked.

So often in the online discussions I’ve been told, “well, if you had ever spoken with a parent of a child with autism you’d think differently”. This happens after making it clear that I do not subscribe to the vaccine-induced-autism-epidemic notion. Many people take it as a given that autism parents all think that vaccines are behind the increase in diagnoses. But as we see, that’s just not the case. In fact, the majority of parents don’t endorse vaccine causation. The study I’m referring to is being presented at IMFAR this week: Regression in Children with ASD: Associations with Parents’ Beliefs about Causes of ASD. The abstract is below.

To pull one line from the abstract: “The five causes that families most frequently endorsed were genetics (75.8%), child’s brain structure (59.7%), will of God (46.3%), toxins found in vaccines (41.8%), and environmental pollution (37.4%). ”

It would be interesting to see how the statements are phrased. Saying, “genetics may be involved with autism” is different than “genetics was involved with my child’s autism”.

Here’s the abstract:

Background: Parent-reported developmental regression occurs in an average of one-third of children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). While prospective, clinician-rated studies detect higher rates of skill losses, understanding parent perception of this phenomenon is valuable, as it may subsequently color parents’ thoughts about ASD and decisions they make on behalf of their families. Limited data suggest that parents who observed regression in their children were significantly more likely to believe that external factors—most often vaccines—caused ASD (Goin-Kochel & Myers, 2005). Fears about immunizations causing autism is now one of the leading reasons behind a growing trend of delayed or refused vaccine uptake (Offit, 2008), which has important public-health ramifications (e.g., increased disease outbreaks). Understanding more about how regression shapes parents’ beliefs and actions is key to developing targeted education efforts.
Objectives: (a) To provide descriptive information about regression status across three related samples; (b) To assess parents’ degree-of-agreement with various potential causes of ASD; and (c) To determine whether child history of regression is associated with beliefs about causes of ASD.

Methods: Data were analyzed for children with ASD (probands; N=2758; M age=9 years, SD=3.6 years, range=4—17.9 years) who participated in the Simons Simplex Collection (SSC). Regression was defined according to the Autism Diagnostic Interview—Revised (ADI-R), with rates of language and social-skill losses calculated for the full SSC sample; SSC probands from the Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) site (n=203); and a subset of BCM probands who were recontacted for additional data collection (n=68), including parents’ beliefs about causes of ASD via the Revised Illness Perception Questionnaire (IPQ-R; Moss-Morris, et al., 2002). Frequencies of agreement/disagreement with possible ASD etiologies were calculated for the IPQ-R’s 21 closed-ended items about potential causes. Qualitative analyses were used to categorize parents’ open-ended rankings of their top three beliefs about causes of ASD. ANOVA’s were conducted to determine whether parents’ degree-of-agreement with various etiologies differed according to their child’s regression status.

Results: Regression rates were only slightly higher in the BCM samples: full SSC=29.5%, full BCM=34%, recontacted BCM=35.3%. The five causes that families most frequently endorsed were genetics (75.8%), child’s brain structure (59.7%), will of God (46.3%), toxins found in vaccines (41.8%), and environmental pollution (37.4%). Parent-provided causes were organized into 10 categories, with genetics/heredity being first-ranked among the largest proportion of parents (42.6%); however, external factors were ranked (i.e., 1st, 2nd, or 3rd) by nearly 84% of families as causing ASD. Parents who reported regression in their children were more likely to agree with “toxins in vaccines” (F[1,66]=3.74, p=.05) and “environmental pollution” (F[1,66]=3.25, p=.07) as causes.

Conclusions: Findings support an association between parent-reported regression in children with ASD and parental endorsement of vaccines/external mechanisms as causing autism, even within this small subsample. That so many also endorsed “will of God” may reflect potential geographical and/or cultural differences within the BCM subsample. Replication of this study at other SSC sites will elucidate varying belief patterns by locale for targeted education efforts.

This isn’t the first of these studies. I’ve seen ~20% and ~40% as the fraction of autism parents who subscribe to vaccine-causation in studies before.

By Matt Carey

7 Responses to “More autism parents believe the “will of God” is behind autism than vaccines”

  1. brian May 16, 2014 at 00:34 #

    When considering what the public thinks about scientific questions related to autism, it’s reasonable to recall what the public thinks about other scientific questions–for example:

    According to a National Science Foundation poll released last February, as many American adults are ignorant of the basic fact that the earth orbits the sun as believe that vaccines cause ASD.

    According to a 2005 Gallup poll, more American adults believe in astrology–and far more believe in haunted houses–than believe that vaccines cause ASD.

    That public opinion reflects ignorance and innumeracy has been clear for years.

  2. Samuel Brooks May 16, 2014 at 02:53 #

    Autism is more scientific…Physics does a good job of explaining today’s autism at

    • Chris May 16, 2014 at 18:33 #

      That is terribly unreferenced and mostly speculative. Not worth the click.

  3. Mark May 20, 2014 at 11:24 #

    It’s true that we need to ask autistics about “What caused your autism?” I am autistic and if I were ever so lucky to be asked, this is how I would answer:

    When you burn a piece of paper, and it goes up in smoke, the material from the paper still exists, it’s just in a different form. Nothing material ever actually seizes to exist.

    Eventually everything in our universe will burn and the remnants sucked into a black hole. When there is nothing left in the universe except for black holes, the black holes themselves will gravitate and converge into one singularity where all matter exists that existed in our universe, in one small tiny singularity in gravity and then….BOOM…the Big Bang happens again. It’s a cycle that contracts and expands. It’s like a pure functional self-similar universe computer program.

    Just like when everything (ie. Sperm and Egg) contract into the Zygote, and then boom, the dna replicates and new cells form leaving only the memory of the zygote and how everything contracted to it – this is the autistic mind. “Low functioning” are more intelligent because they have more connections in their pre-frontal cortexes, which means they see more illogic in this world that is illogic.

    At some point during the early stages the autistic mind pushes out some cells and a new embryo forms for a monozygotic twin. The autistic then, sometimes (most cases in past), vanishes, as in “vanishing” twins, and what you’re left with is the non-autistic mind which does not have the memory of how the universe (ie. The zygote) began, and therefore feels lost.

    The reason we are seeing more autistic today, than before, is simply because we, as humans, are becoming more intelligent, and our autistic offspring which is inherent at zygote (all zygote are autistic) are realizing we no longer need as many non-autistic as we figuring this world out now. Non-autistic should be very nice to autistic because it all starts with autistic, and the way for non-autistic to live forever, is to love an autistic because all autistic live forever inherently because of the connections and those people who are fond in the memory of autistic will be brought along for the ride of infinity…LOVE an AUTISTIC today.


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