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Want to understand acceptance? Listen to I am what I am

8 May

This weekend I saw another production of La Cage Aux Folles. The song “I am what I am” has long been one of my favorites, and the lyrics are posted in my kid’s room. I’ve posted this before, with some explanation. This time, I invite you to listen, read the lyrics and, if you don’t understand why I feel this is so fitting: ask.

I am what I am
I am my own special creation.
So come take a look,
Give me the hook or the ovation.
It’s my world that I want to take a little pride in,
My world, and it’s not a place I have to hide in.
Life’s not worth a damn,
‘Til you can say, “Hey world, I am what I am.”
I am what I am,
I don’t want praise, I don’t want pity.
I bang my own drum,
Some think it’s noise, I think it’s pretty.
And so what, if I love each feather and each spangle,
Why not try to see things from a diff’rent angle?
Your life is a sham ’til you can shout out loud
I am what I am!
I am what I am
And what I am needs no excuses.
I deal my own deck
Sometimes the ace, sometimes the deuces.
There’s one life, and there’s no return and no deposit;
One life, so it’s time to open up your closet.
Life’s not worth a damn ’til you can say,
“Hey world, I am what I am!”

By Matt Carey


Did autism prevalence increase by 20%? (answer: no)

28 Apr

The CDC came out with a new autism prevalence estimate yesterday. Their estimated autism prevalence is 1.68%.  That’s up from the estimate from 2 years ago (1.46%), but lower than a different recent study (2.76%).

I’m going to discuss some minor-league shenanigans.  It’s no surprise that some groups abuse facts and cherry pick data to make political points.  In this case it was useless.  there was no need to cherry pick.  I’ve done a lot of exposing the abuse of facts by some so-called autism advocacy groups.  I don’t get any joy from noting that people in my community are both dishonest and ignorant of science.  But much as that bothers me, it pales in comparison to the lost opportunities.  Millions of dollars were spent on this prevalence estimate alone, but all some groups do is dig for reasons to justify their “epidemic” story and push the long-ago failed idea that vaccines are to blame.

Over the years, news organizations and autism groups have jumped at the chance to put their spin on each new CDC autism prevalence estimate. Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time trying to unspin the takes of groups like the Age of Autism blog. AoA is, well…if you want to see autism done wrong, read the Age of Autism blog. Science, medicine, human rights and dignity, they can be counted upon to get things wrong.

With that in mind I decided the CDC announcement was a time to break my current trend of ignoring AoA. I literally haven’t read it in months. What I saw was both surprising and typical for them. Surprising in that they didn’t even bother to write their own pieces for the new prevalence numbers. Seriously–they just copied a couple of articles from other sites and left it at that.

By the way–this new low-level interest in autism prevalence appears to me to be a general trend–beyond just AoA. Autism is losing it’s status as having intense focus from the US media and public.  The chance to leverage the public’s interest into meaningul change is waning. That’s a far more interesting topic and far more important than this and I want to come back to it in the future.

So, what did AoA post? Big League Politics BREAKING: CDC Reports 20 Percent Autism Increase In Children and Breaking News: 1 in 59 children Born in 2006 have Autism, 1 in 36 between the ages of 3 and 17. What’s going on?. That first one caught my eye. First because in absolute terms, the autism prevalence increased by 0.22%. In relative terms, that’s about a 15% increase.  They could have said 15% and made their point, but why do that when 20% is even more scary?  More to the point–digging just a little into this 20% figure gives understanding that a true advocacy organization could use.

So how did they come to the idea that the autism prevalence increased by 20%? They skipped to page 13 and took one part of one paragraph out of context and, well, cherry picked. Completely unsurprising. They skipped over pages of data showing that we are failing to identify–and, therefore provide adequate services for–autistic minority children.

Sadly, AoA and their allies have spent over a decade denying this huge issue.   The reason is obvious: it doesn’t fit into the “vaccines cause autism” narrative.  So rather than push for better identification and better services for minorities, they’ve sacrificed these communities in for their political message.

It’s disgusting.

They didn’t dig any deeper into these numbers, even though the data were right in front of them. Also completely unsurprising. If they were the sort of people who dig into data and question, they wouldn’t be pushing the idea that vaccines cause autism.   Seriously.

Here’s the section they are relying upon:

Among the six ADDM sites completing both the 2012 and 2014 studies for the same geographic area, all six showed higher ASD prevalence estimates for 2012 compared to 2014, with a nearly 10% higher prevalence in Georgia (p = 0.06) and Maryland (p = 0.35), 19% in New Jersey (p<0.01), 22% in Missouri (p = 0.01), 29% in Colorado (p<0.01), and 31% in Wisconsin (p<0.01). When combining data from these six sites, ASD prevalence estimates for 2014 were 20% higher for 2014 compared to 2012 (p<0.01).

So, if you only pick the states where there were data in both this study (called 2014 because that’s when the data were collected to be analyzed) and the previous (2012) study, you get about a 20% increase (click to enlarge).

But what happens if you ask “why?”  As in, why do these states show a larger increase than the entire group?

I put some numbers in red and bolded them for emphasis. Those are states with lower than average autism prevalences. Take a moment to think about that–the states with low autism prevalences are showing larger prevalence increases than other states. Start with a low number, and you are bound to get bigger percentage increases.

Missouri, Colorado and Wisconsin started out with very low identification rates.  They’ve improved their identification rates. What if someone were to ask, “how did they do that?  Can we use that elsewhere to serve more unidentified autistic children?”

I’m sure the cherry-picking “let’s find a reason to fit this into the vaccines-cause-autism story” groups have already focused on New Jersey in the above figure.  New Jersey stands out–their autism rate increased by about 19% and they have a much higher autism prevalence rate. New Jersey also stands out for another reason: they aren’t lagging in identifying black or Hispanic autistic children:

In New Jersey, there was almost no difference in ASD prevalence estimates among white, black, and Hispanic children. Estimates for Asian/Pacific Islander children ranged from 7.9 per 1,000 (Colorado) to 19.2 per 1,000 (New Jersey) with notably wide CIs.

Wouldn’t it be great if someone were to say, “how did New Jersey close the gap in identifying some minority groups?”

Groups advocating for a better future for disabled people would do that.  People trying to keep the failed “it’s all vaccines fault” idea alive won’t.

Some people will be confused, and understandably so, at this point.  These are “autism prevalence” numbers.  Doesn’t that mean that this is a complete and accurate count of the number of autistic kids in each location?  No, they aren’t.  The people at the CDC are working hard and doing a good job with the information they have.  But this is a review of existing records, not a test of each individual kid.  The CDC have access to medical and/or school records (it varies by location what sort of records they have).

Keep in mind–the CDC autism prevalence numbers aren’t “these are the absolute accurate numbers for how many kids are autistic”. We are missing identifying kids. Doctors are missing autistic kids.  Schools are missing autistic kids. The CDC tries to make up for this by reviewing the records to determine which kids are autistic (i.e. they don’t just count existing diagnoses in the records–they “diagnose” from the records).  But they still miss kids in their counts. We need to get better. The fact that New Jersey isn’t leaving minority kids behind is huge.  The fact that lagging states are catching up is huge.

Doing things right–checking on numbers is hard. It takes time. AoA not only doesn’t take the time to be careful (which is typical for the “vaccines cause autism” groups), they know that it’s the simple message that scares people. “Autism increased by 20%”!!!! It may only take 5 minutes to actually dig and see what’s going on. But that’s five minutes most people don’t have time for.

Which is the long winded way to say:

A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on

Groups like AoA live and breathe on taking advantage of that.  They were fake news long before the term was coined.

That said, I knew with the new autism prevalence numbers people would misuse them. It’s pretty obvious.  They’ve used that misinformation to drag parents into a world of guilt and shame for being part of vaccine injuries that, in at least the vast majority of cases, didn’t happen.  Even more, the autism-is-a-vaccine epidemic community had the resources for over a decade to make a real difference in the lives of autsitic people. As we watch autism fade a bit from the public’s view, it’s difficult to not cry a bit for the lost opportunity. It’s that, not their failed logic or twisted facts that is why I wrote the above.

By Matt Carey

Americans are still failing to identify and serve minority autistic children

27 Apr

The CDC recently published another autism prevalence study. It’s 23 pages long and has 26 authors, took 2 years to put together and no doubt cost millions of dollars. Out of that, the one fact from it that will be quoted is simply–the autism rate is now at 1.68%, or 1 in 59.

There’s so much more. But sometimes focusing on one simple message makes more impact than a lengthy analysis. So I’ll pick my own simple message (of my own):

we are failing to identify minority autistic children. And with that, we are failing to provide them the appropriate services and supports they deserve as citizens and residents of the U.S.

We can and we should do better.

Here is table 3 from the report:

The estimated autism prevalence for Hispanics is 1.4%. For Whites, it is 1.7%. Thousands of Hispanics and other minorities are being missed. Overall, thousands of autistic children, and many, many more adults, are being missed. But that’s another discussion.

By Matt Carey

What Autism Awareness Means

20 Apr

We are often told to be “aware” of autism. But what does that do, really? With awareness comes acceptance. And for my son acceptance means being able to live his life.

A few years ago, I took my son for a walk to our local shopping center. We have done this every weekend day since he was in a stroller. This time we passed Nicco’s hardware store, where they always keep a stock of the American flags my son likes to buy. When they see us pass, they often start a fresh batch of the free popcorn he loves.

At the donut store, Mary and Monica helped him learn to buy things and to wait his turn. We’ve been doing this for years, but they never lose enthusiasm. At the bagel store my son walked right up to the counter as where Sylvia handed him his favorite cinnamon raisin bagel with her traditional “this is for you!” To this day, the workers at the bagel store hand him a bagel with a smile as he walks in. He eats while we wait in line to pay.

At our local market, I got distracted, as parents are wont to do. And my son wandered off, as children are wont to do. I ran to the door panicked because I had to make sure he was safe from traffic. Once I was pretty sure he was still in the store, I ran from aisle to aisle, yelling his name. Still scared. And what I found was a neighbor smiling at me, pointing and saying, “he’s over there”.

She knew us. She was aware that he needed support. When she saw him alone, she kept an eye on him.

He was 7 years old then. He’s 14 now. He still needs a lot of support, and always will.

When my father was growing up, people like my son would be institutionalized. When I was growing up, people with disabilities were hidden. Now that my son is growing up, he lives in a time and a community in which people are aware that he needs support. They accept him and know he deserves respect.

Awareness means my son can be in a community. Acceptance means he can live his life.

With a Perspective, this is Matt Carey.

The above was given as part of the Perspectives program on KQED radio. The original, complete with audio, can be found on the KQED website at What Autism Awareness Means

Autism Awareness Month Begins

1 Apr

One will read comments to the effect of “I didn’t see any autistics when I was a kid”.  As in “autism is an epidemic!  I didn’t see it when I was a kid”.

Rather than take that on for the millionth time, let’s start autism awareness month with this:

Thank you to those who changed the world so that I can go into public with my obviously autistic kid.

When I was a kid, people with disabilities were shamed.  Mocked.  Told to stay out of the public’s eye.

The world has changed.  My kid’s life and mine are better for it.

Today I took my usual weekend morning walk with my kid.  At our local supermarket I saw someone watching us with that “this is a bit out of the ordinary” look.  One I don’t see too often, thankfully.

That person saw something more than an obviously autistic person in public.  That person saw an obviously autistic person being obviously autistic and being hugged by a smiling and obviously happy parent who was telling his obviously autistic kid how proud said father is of the obviously autistic kid.

I’ll let you read that through a few times to get what I said.

I don’t do that to set an example.  I don’t try to show people who aren’t used to obviously autistic people being in public that it’s OK.  I just love my kid and I’m allowed to show it publicly.

Because the world changed.

And if it keeps changing, just a little, because of me and my kid, I’m good with that.

By Matt Carey

Remember the fake supplement OSR #1? It’s still being developed

5 Apr

A few years ago a fake supplement was marketed to autism parents for use on their children. The “supplement” was called “OSR #1”, OSR for “oxidative stress releif” or something to that effect. The name was a bit of a dodge, just as packaging it as a supplement rather than a drug was a dodge. It was/is a chelator. The chemical used–a novel synthetic chemical–was developed for use in environmental heavy metal polution.

This is obvious but worth noting: one can not “supplement” one’s intake of a chemical that humans have never been exposed to before.

If you remember OSR #1, you probably remember that the drug was pulled from the market. But you may be surprised to hear that it may be about to resurface.

The FDA found out that this chelator, this drug, was being sold as a supplement (which avoids thorough tests for safety and efficacy). The FDA sent the Boyd Haley, whose company was selling the “supplement” a warning letter that made it very clear:

The claims listed above make clear that OSR#1 is intended to affect the structure or any function of the body of man or other animals. Accordingly, OSR#l is a drug under section 201(g)(1) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(g)(1). Disclaimers on your website, such as “OSR#l® is not a drug and no claim is made by CTI Science that OSR#1® can diagnose, treat or cure any illness or disease,” do not alter the fact that the above claims cause your product to be a drug.

Moreover, this product is a new drug, as defined by section 201(p) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 321(p), because it is not generally recognized as safe and effective for use under the conditions prescribed, recommended, or suggested in its labeling. Under sections 301(d) and 505(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. §§ 331(d) and 355(a), a new drug may not be introduced or delivered for introduction into interstate commerce unless an FDA-approved application is in effect for it. Your sale of OSR#1 without an approved application violates these provisions of the Act.

emphasis added.

Even as a supplement, OSR#1 appeared to be mislabled. Customers were not fully informed of potential side effects, per the FDA letter:

Your website states that” [s]ome reports of temporary diarrhea, constipation, minor headaches have been reported but these are rare and the actual causes are unknown,” as well as “OSR#1 is without detectable toxicity” and “OSR#1® … has not exhibited any detectable toxic effects even at exceptionally high exposure levels.” However, animal studies that you conducted found various side effects to be associated with OSR#1 use, including, but not limited to, soiling of the anogenital area, alopecia on the lower trunk, back and legs, a dark substance on lower trunk and anogenital area, abnormalities of the pancreas, and lymphoid hyperplasia. Based on these animal studies and side effects known to be associated with chelating products that have a similar mechanism of action to OSR#1, we believe the use of your product has the potential to cause side effects, and the before-mentioned website statements falsely assert that the product does not have the potential to cause side effects. Therefore, these statements render your product’s labeling false or misleading. As such, OSR#1 is misbranded under section 502(a) of the Act, 21 U.S.C. § 352(a).

Mr. Haley’s company reportedly sold about $1.5M of OSR#1 as a supplement from his company CTI Science. I saw reports that OSR#1 was selling for about $2/pill so that’s maybe 750,000 pills. That’s a lot for somethiing untested for safety or efficacy. CTI appears to be a shortened version of the original name of the company: Chelator Technologies, Inc.. Chelators are drugs, not supplements.

All this said, CTI Science doesn’t appear to exist any more. If you go to the old website,, you get directed to a non operating website,

But obviously I haven’t written all this to say that CTI Science doesn’t exist. It’s not ermesmedical (as their link would suggest), it’s EmeraMed. No idea why they have this confusion over ermesmedical/emeremed. That said, Emeramed describes themselves as:

EmeraMed Limited is a biotechnology firm developing the antidote – heavy metal chelator and antioxidant – Irminix® (Emeramide). The Company is working to obtain marketing authorization in the EU and the US for the treatment of mercury toxicity. Phase 1 and Phase 2a clinical studies have been performed.

They have offices in Ireland, Swedend and the US (Kentucky–home of Boyd Haley). But no mention on the website about who is involved with the company, which I find rather odd. They note that the drug is not yet approved, but that they may be able to supply it to people under an “early access program”. Yes, why wait for actual approval and confirmation of safety and efficacy. This would be for use as a chelator–no mention of work as an autism treatment. There never was a good reason to use this for autism. Boyd Haley was long a proponent that autism is a form of mercury poisoning. Put simply, Boyd Haley was wrong. Very clearly wrong.

Mr. Haley and others may not be named on their website, but on SEC documents, he is named as part of Ermes Medical. If I read this document correctly, they have raised over $3.5M for the company.

As noted in their literature, they have been involved with clinical trials. For mercury poisoning. In Ecuador. No small irony there: many of Mr. Haley’s supporters complain that “big pharma” performs their clinical trials (or experiments, as his supporters would characterize them) in developing countries.

They are still pursuing patents for the treatment neurological disorders. No trial that I have found. Likewise for evidence of efficacy in humans. But a patent application.

A similar patent for treatment of COPD.

Should OSR#1 (under whatever new name) be approved for chelation, we can expect that it will return to the fake autism treatment world. Many still subscribe to the failed idea that autism is caused by mercury poisoning. That idea, pushed by Mr. Haley and others, was based largely on the idea that as mercury exposure from infant vaccines increased, so did the rate of identified autism. Biologically the idea was clearly wrong (autism and mercury poisoning are not similar). Also, even though mercury was removed from infant vaccines, autism rates have not fallen.

All that clear logic said, there still are people who chelate as an “autism treatment” and a new product will almost certainly cause a spike in the numbers trying chelation.

So, yeah, OSR#1 is gone. Except it may return soon under a new name. And likely a higher price tag. And it still won’t be a real treatment for autism.

Matt Carey

An open letter to William Shatner on autism awareness

3 Apr

Mr. Shatner,

I see that you have been involved in a rather large tweet storm this weekend, focusing on your support for Autism Speaks. My guess is you would agree that 140 characters at a time is far too limiting to take on a complex discussion. Open letters such as this are as well, but at least I can go into a bit more detail. I hope you take the time to read and at least try to see at least my side of this discussion.

First off, yes, I am part of the autism communities. My kid is autistic. I try to guard my kid’s privacy so I don’t give out a lot of details. But let me just say this: if people tell you, “Obviously his kid is ‘high functioning’ so he doesn’t understand what ‘real’ autism is about”, they are wrong.

Let me add: anyone who takes the position of discounting another’s voice based on some measure of “severity” of autism is harming our communities. My kid’s challenges are very different, but no less real than those of self-advocates you are hearing on twitter. Just as my kid’s challenges are very different, but no less real, than those of the other kids at his school who will likely never be on twitter.

Another way to put this is this: people will likely tell you this is a divide between parents of kids with “real” autism vs. self-advocates with “mild” autism. For what it is worth, some of my kid’s strongest allies are those self-advocates you are hearing from. Some of those who have done the most damage are other parents who, well meaning as they are, have increased the stigma of autism.

I haven’t seen that misconception (“real” vs “mild” autism) in your tweets (I haven’t read them all, but I haven’t seen it), but I have seen others. For example:


There is a difference, a big difference, between autism awareness and promoting Autism Speaks. “Light it Up Blue” isn’t an autism community effort, it is an Autism Speaks effort. Most autism organizations don’t promote “light it up blue”. I didn’t find one in my search yesterday other than Autism Speaks. There probably were some, but major organizations were not a part of “light it up blue”.

This is why people focused on the avatar you used on Twitter yesterday. It was an Autism Speaks “light it up blue” logo. The blue light bulb logo with the Autsim Speaks puzzle piece.

So, why would supporting Autism Speaks spark a strong response? I bet there are as many answers (more even) that tweets directed at you. But let me tell you about a few reasons. First on the list for me is the fact that over the years Autism Speaks has used truly bad depictions of autistics in their promotional materials. Their “I Am Autism” video is an example of this. It’s the sort of inspiration at the expense of the disabled that we saw in generations past. It presents autism as a monster that steals children. It presents the autism community as all the allies, but not the autistics. Seriously, read the transcript on who the community is.

You have not properly been introduced to this community of parents and grandparents, of siblings and friends and schoolteachers and therapists and pediatricians and scientists.

This is a systemic problem in the autism community: considering it a community of the allies, not the autistics.

The I am Autism video is old, and I will admit that Autism Speaks has evolved since then. But they aren’t where we need them to be yet.

I saw that people tweeted to you about how Mr. John Robison, an autistic self-advocate, left Autism Speaks. He was at the time the first and only autistic in an important position in Autism Speaks. Please take the time to read his article (in the link I just gave) about his reasons for leaving.

Analogies are always flawed, and coming up with a good one here is difficult. But imagine that the NAACP were staffed by well meaning white parents who had adopted African American kids. That African American’s themselves didn’t have a voice in their own advocacy organization. That they didn’t listen when an African American voiced a different opinion than theirs.

Please don’t fall for the false dichotomy of whether it should be parents or self-advocates who direct autism advocacy. It should be both. There will always be parents and siblings and others who hold the place at the table for autistics who can’t be there themselves (by the way, this includes many self-advocates. But that is another discussion). But we as parents have to work with the spectrum of our community, or we are only advocates for our own child not the whole. We need to work with adult and non-adult self-advocates. Not in spite of our differences in focus, but because of our difference in focus.

I have seen you respond to people that, instead of tweeting at you, perhaps they should focus their attention on organizing their own advocacy efforts. Many have. By the way, tweeting one’s opposition to your actions is advocacy. That said, one of the issues with Autism Speaks is that they have corportatized autism advocacy, branded themselves as the one-stop autism adovcacy location, to the point that local dollars are not available for small, community based advocacy efforts.


Case in point: you chose the Autism Speaks logo, the Autism Speaks motto (light it up blue), as being a generic autism advocacy effort.

Again, this is a big reason why that logo, that icon, garnered the reaction you received.

Lastly, let me point out that over its history Autism Speaks has promoted the failed and damaging “autism is a vaccine epidemic” idea. Again, they have evolved over time. But they still have far to go.

The vaccines-cause-autism idea is so incredibly damaging to our communities, to autistics, that I could easily triple the length of this piece by discussing it. Let me try to be brief. First off, it’s wrong. Simply and clearly, it’s wrong. You will find parents who believe it, who promote the idea. That doesn’t make it correct.

Listen to the parents who promote the vaccines-cause-autism idea. Hear and feel their pain. And ask yourself, if you could help them to not feel that pain, wouldn’t you? If what you are doing is causing more people to feel that pain, wouldn’t you want to change?

The path to stopping that pain is by getting good information out. Accuate information. Vaccines do not cause autism.

You probably woudn’t believe me if I told you all the fake “cures” sold to autism parents under the guise of “healing vaccine injury”. Chemical castration. Bleach drinks and enemas. Those are but two of the more abusive. There are many more, fake cures which tend to have one thing in common (in addition to being worthless): costing families lots of money. But if you say your “treatment” is for “vaccine injury”, no-one in the vaccines-cause-autism community will speak out against you.

That’s where Autism Speaks could and should step up. Could and should make a difference for our communities. Some have tried, but as an organization, this has been a spectacular failure for Autism Speaks.

Rob Ring, Chief Science Officer of Autism Speaks (which touts itself as a science based organization) was very clear about this. He made the statement below on the Autism Speaks website:

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

Here’s the thing–Bob Wright vetoed that message. First he put his own message up together with Dr. Ring’s. Then he disappeared Ring’s message.

I hope you took the time to read this. I hope you can take the time to understand the positions here. I don’t ask you to agree, but to understand. I don’t see that so far. Understanding–it’s a form of acceptance. Understand the positions of the people who disagree with you. Accept that they have a different point of view. Even if they are sometimes harsh.

By Matt Carey