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TPGA: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?

8 Jul

An excellent article came out on the Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism last month: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?

This article speaks to me because it takes on two topics that are very important to me. First, the under diagnosing and under serving of racial/ethnic minorities in the U.S.. Second, the recent cynical abuse of the African American community by people who are antagonistic towards vaccines.

In Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?, Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett gives her perspective. Here’s one paragraph:

As both a Black pediatrician and mother of a son with severe mental health and learning disorders, I know that vaccines prevent diseases, save lives, and do not cause autism. Many studies unequivocally show that there is no connection between vaccine components and the development of autism. Autism manifests independently of the vaccine schedule. The reality is that autism is a complex neurodevelopmental condition that likely has both genetic and environmental components – components that do not include vaccines.

The full article is brief and to the point (my discussion is longer than the original article). I encourage readers to go to TPGA and read it.

This said, let me add a few thoughts of my own.

First, we do a poor job as a society in supporting people with disabilities, but this is a much bigger issue in racial/ethnic minority communities. This is very obvious. I found this over and over as I first explored the question of whether autism was an epidemic caused by vaccines. Countering this failure by our society has been a topic of my advocacy here, on the IACC and elsewhere.

Over the years it has been extremely frustrating to watch the groups who claim vaccines-cause autism deny this under diagnosing and under serving. The fact is that almost all autism prevalence studies show a lower apparent prevalence in minorities. And this presents a problem to the groups promoting autism-as-vaccine-injury: they need to explain why would vaccines (in their view) not affect minorities as much as non minorities?

I will also point out that these vaccines-cause-autism groups seem to be conveniently ignoring their past. Consider this example, an excerpt from an Age of Autism blog article from a few years ago (The Tipping Point: Questions about Autism, History, Race and Melanin)

Two years ago, it was unknown whether African American or Hispanic children had lower rates of autism than white children. Now there’s evidence—for what it’s worth— that certain groups are less affected.

A few years ago they were claiming that the lower rates of autism identification meant that African American and Hispanic children were “less affected” by vaccines. Now, with Brian Hooker’s (retracted) re-analysis of an old CDC dataset, they are claiming the opposite. Either way, they are wrong.

Why do they twist themselves into these logical pretzels? They have to accept that autism prevalence numbers are accurate counts of autistics (they aren’t) in order to support the idea of an epidemic. If they accept the fact that we still not diagnosing all autistics, then the data that shows an epidemic is in question. African Americans and Hispanics have lower reported prevalence numbers in the CDC autism studies. So they are forced to come up with explanations for some groups being “less affected”.

Getting back to that Age of Autism article we read:

Until it unfolded that the highest rate of autism in the world might be among the Minnesota Somali (1/28 or 1/26 depending on the source), it was a vague impression within the vaccine injury community that autism was, for lack of a better expression, a “blonde disease” or even a “redhead disease”. It just seemed to many that, with some exceptions, the paler the kid, the more likely they’d be impacted.

As we now know, the autism prevalence in the Minnesota Somali community is the same as the rest of the community around them. Moving past that point, did you catch that “blond disease” comment? Yes, rather than try to solve the problem of actually helping solve the problem of under diagnosis and lack of services in minority communities, they went into full denial mode and were labeling autism as a “blonde disease”. The same writer then goes into a complex (and confused) argument about how melanin is protective against mercury poisoning.

Did I mention that these Age of Autism articles are confused? The author ties herself into logical knots trying to cover all aspects of the discussion, while considering the conspiracy possibilities of each angle. Consider this line from the article:

On the other hand, if the CDC merely underreported rates of autism among minorities as part of a cover up of lack of assistance of minority children with autism, it would be appalling but not surprising.

Such a profound lack of awareness of facts there. First off, the CDC has been clear that the racial/ethnic disparities could be due to lower identification rates. CDC tends to be conservative in their language, but this early CDC report makes it clear that the disparities could be driven by socioeconomic factors. By this year’s report, CDC are actively calling for “[t]argeted strategies are needed to increase awareness and identification of ASD in minority communities.”

And, of course, there’s that “but not surprising” comment from the Age of Autism. Because one can expect people at the CDC, people who have dedicated their lives to helping people with disabilities, to be engaging in “cover ups”. One can believe this, if one abandons logical thinking. Ironically, it’s the Age of Autism and like-minded people who have abandoned their responsibility to advocate for communities with under-diagnosed autism. Yes, AoA, this is a big example of where you show that you are fake autism advocates and will abandon our community for your own attacks on vaccines.

We can also read this rather astounding logical pretzel–if vaccines don’t affect minorities as much, then that would mean that the CDC and others are somehow less evil than expected. No really, read this:

But if that disparity in autism incidence is real, considering government health agencies’ and mainstream medicine’s history of supporting racist policies like the Federal Violence Initiatives, etc., if differences in melanin or other forms of natural resistance among certain minorities do play a protective role against vaccine toxins, then one thing would be clear: the epidemic probably wasn’t planned. That’s because these same “eugenitic” general authorities and often racially exploitative pharmaceutical corporations (deaths from Pfizer’s Trovan in Nigeria?) would probably never have deliberately culled white children over black and Hispanic in the US.

Yes, somehow in their eugenic plan to use vaccines to to eliminate racial/ethnic minorities, the CDC missed the mark and “culled” whites instead. Per the Age of Autism’s amazing logic.

All this rather than AoA actually advocating for better awareness, better access to diagnosis, better access to services in racial/ethnic communities. You know, the sorts of things the CDC and research community have been working on for some time.

But now with bad Wakefield documentaries and junk science from Brian Hooker the African American community is no longer seen as a liability to the “vaccines-cause-autism” movement.

The sudden turnaround to embrace the African American community is so very cynical and hypocritical.

I could go on as I feel very strongly about the failure of our society to serve racial/ethnic minority communities. But I see that I’ve already written more than Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett did in her excellent article: Black and Autistic – Is There Room at the Advocacy Table?.


By Matt Carey

You know, “Dr. Bob”, minority health disparities are HUGE in the autism community.

1 May

Robert “Dr. Bob” Sears is advertising himself again on the TacaNow blog. He’s telling us all about how he was an early adopter on biomed approaches to autism and how it’s all about listening to the parents. He tells us about how it all started with a parent asking for a prescription for an antifungal. No discussion of actually testing the kid for a fungal infection, just the standard story: parent asks, DAN doctor writes prescription story, DAN doctor takes credit for any gains, and no mention ever of any adverse reactions.

So, clearly, a case of same old/same old. So why write about it here? Because once again “Dr. Bob” shows how out of touch he is with the needs of the autism community. Oh, sure, he knows what parents at conventions like AutismOne want to hear (snarky remarks about vaccines and, you, the parents are always right). But what is one of the biggest problems in the autism communities right now? And has been for, well, ever? Disparities in diagnosis and access to treatment.

Here’s an example: racial and ethinic minorities are vastly under diagnosed and under served. In my state (same as “Dr. Bob’s”) if you are Hispanic, you are about 70% less likely to get special education services under the autism label as if you are white. I’ve plotted it out for my district that that ratio has remained basically constant for the past 14 years (as far back as the data are available).

I’m sure “Dr. Bob” can rattle off the latest CDC autism prevalence figures, or at least some of them. But if one actually reads the report, what does one find?

Non-Hispanic white children were approximately 30% more likely to be identified
with ASD than non-Hispanic black children and were almost 50% more likely to be identified with ASD than Hispanic children.

Given that, take a look at what Dr. Bob wrote on the TacaNow blog:

Yet, there is a shadow over all this success: April was supposed to be Autism Awareness Month. Did anyone even know? I checked the CDC website, and they proclaim April to be National Minority Health Month, with the catch phrase “Learn about CDC and HHS efforts towards eliminating health disparities,” as if THAT is the most important health crisis facing America today.

If “Dr. Bob” really believes that biomedical approaches are so helpful, why discount the need for outreach to minorities? Really, we have a HUGE problem with under diagnosis of autism in California among minorities. But you seem unaware of this.

One does wonder how many minorities, especially those with low incomes are served by the Sears clinic. I grew up in “Dr. Bob’s” home, Orange County, going to school along side farmworker kids. There’s a huge population of underserved minority kids there.

As an aside, here’s how one does an internet search, “Dr. Bob”. Top hit is Announcement: Autism Awareness Month and World Autism Day — April 2015. But that’s an MMWR (Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report) from the CDC, and as a doctor you must follow those, right? Especially since the MMWR’s include, say, information about the recent California measles outbreak which you downplayed.

Here, while we are at it, let’s do another google search. The word “minority” on the “Dr. Bob’s” family website (askdrsears.com).

Gee, 5 hits. One on how only a minority of families skip the MMR vaccine. Only one on racial/ethinic minorities, an article on lice.

No hits for “Hispanic” on the Sears family website.

“Dr. Bob”, if you want to pretend to speak for the autism communities (you don’t), at least show us the respect of acknowledging one of the big issues in our community: under served and under diagnosed populations.

Of course, to acknowledge these points you have to also acknowledge that autism isn’t always diagnosed, and that we need awareness to get diagnoses and services to these communities.

Which is to say, you have acknowledge that autism “rates” are under counts. And that doesn’t fit with your ideas on vaccines causing autism, does it? Or did I misread you when you wrote that you were waiting to “proclaim from the rooftops” that the MMR causes autism? (odd how you edited the original version of that article to remove that comment, isn’t it.)

Seriously, “Dr. Bob”. Get out of the corner of the autism community you profit from and take a hard look at what we really need.


By Matt Carey