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Meaningless Blather: Wakefield

November 20, 2010

Thanks to Anne Dachel at AoA for providing the following  long quote from Wakefield’s speech at “parliament.”

Polly Tommey at Autism File has a film clip up of Wakefield speaking at the “European parliament” at the invitation of a Marta Andreason. It should be noted that this Marta Andreason who invited him didn’t apparently stick around to listen to him. Except he didn’t speak before Parliament as indicated, according to Mike Stanton. Wakefield immediately begins his speech with an extreme version of what he insists “mainstream” has long touted that autism is. Few of us who’ve history with autism spanning before Wakefield decided to throw his hat in the ring will agree with him on his characterization of autism. Wakefield has been spending time with Olmsted and Blaxill and argues against the mainstream’s view of autism as an ancient disorder, reading from Kanner’s work to “prove” that before 1938 autism wasn’t in existence. All the “brilliant clinicians” from previous centuries would have caught it, described it, diagnosed it.  Never mind that Downs Syndrome wasn’t first described until 1866.

At any rate, here is what Dachel quotes, which I will break down into constituent sentences. For some reason, Dachel and group seem to think this is stirring stuff, chock-full of truth. I’d argue it’s chock-full of truthiness:

Dr. Wakefield:

“It’s coming. The tsunami is coming. For many the tsunami has already come.”

Presumably, the wave of adult autistic children? My son, soon to be 21, is not a tsunami. He’s a sweet young man who won’t graduate from high school, won’t attend college, won’t most likely ever work a job, and he will always need help as he can’t live alone and manage his own affairs. We are his legal guardians, charged with his care. The question of what next, of how to help him create a life as an adult that meets his needs, has not been easy, but it has not been terrible, either. Of course, that’s because he began to attend a day center for the disabled nearly eight years ago, and seamlessly transitioned to it as an adult, so that took care of one potential heartache. He will not be moving to a group home; he’s staying right where he is with us, where he is well and truly loved.

However, my one anecdote is insufficient evidence. Is there really a tsunami? Are there a large number of young people reaching the age of 21, where they will move out of the school system and will there be no place for them? That’s complicated and depends on a number of factors. Generalizing like Wakefield and the AoAers like to do helps no one, gives no shape, no dimension, no facts to what is going on with special needs adolescents.

In order to evaluate whether we have a tsunami coming, I do what I usually do: I began to look on the government webpages and in the university databases. I found an article from 2005 looking at trends in diagnosing from 1989 to 2000, which concluded:  “Although substance-related and affective disorders were more common, the increase was more pronounced for ADHD, which evidenced a 381 percent increase over the study period, and autism, which evidenced a 358 percent increase. Increases were observed in successive periods for all disorders. Diagnoses of ADHD and autism showed peaks among seven- and 12-year-olds. In contrast, substance-related and affective disorders showed gradual increases in discharge rates, peaking among 17-year-olds.”

The National Center for Educational Statistics provided statistics for the number of students with disabilities served. The rates have been increasing. In 1997-1998, the percentage of students with autism compared to entire population was .1% and has now grown to .6% in 2007-2008 while the percentage of mental retardation has dropped from 1.3% to 1% in the same time. In 2007-2008, there were a total of 6.606 million disabled students from 3-21 served, with 296,000 students with autism. Note that 500,000 students were diagnosed with mental retardation that year. Why is it that so much noise is made over autism when there’s nearly double the population with an intellectual disability. The “tsunami” has been there all along. Total percentage of disabled in 1997-1998 was 12.8% and was 13.4% in 2007-2008. While the number of children in the school system with disabilities has increased in sheer numbers, in percentage it has not.

In attempting to find out about the students aging out of the public school system, I ran across this on page 654 of the Encyclopedia of Special Education: “Since 1992-93, the number of students ages 18 through 21served under IDEA has remained fairly constant.”

“The tragedy of this picture is that for those people in this picture, it’s already over. Some people recognize it and are trying to run away.”

What’s already over? Our children are with us, and nothing is over. Life continues. Who is trying to run away? This makes not one bit of sense.

“Someone in the foreground doesn’t realize that there is a problem or they’re running to save their own child who’s in the water.”

What? Okay, either people or clueless or too busy saving their own? This is meaningless blather, you know that, right? And the AoAers praise him as if he were a prophet. Maybe he’s speaking in tongues?

“Nonetheless, they’re running into danger. And that’s the situation we face. We have an utter catastrophe on our hands and something needs to be done.”

We face a meaningless, vague blather? The increase in autism diagnoses is worrisome. The increase in number of diagnoses across the whole board is worrisome. Is it because we have more labels, more recognition, more money, and more children going to school? Do we have a real increase in psychological and neurological disorders. The percentage overall of school children indicates the same overall percentage but does not speak to level of disability. We need to better address the severity of issues and the level of supports that our children, across disabilities, will need as they reach adulthood. Are services increasing apace? Are there sufficient placements? The simple answer to those questions is no; we have much work to do.

“But there are impediments to progress and the greatest of these are commercial influence, fear of accountability–fear that we as a profession may have done something to cause harm to children which is unthinkable and certainly not the intension.”

The impediments here to helping young adults with disabilities has nothing to do with fear or vaccines.

“Perhaps most difficult of all is ideological denial, an investment in the belief that vaccines are the greatest thing we’ve every done.”

Wrong again.  Coming up with solutions to the problem of what causes neurological disorders has nothing to do with vaccines. Vaccines come with risks and no reasonable person minimizes the risks.

“Or that there is no problem with a coal burning power plant or with environmental pollutants such as pesticides. …we can go one doing this because there is no evidence.”

Yeah, does anyone buy this? We know that environmental pollutants play a role in diseases and disorders.

“We’ve been dealing with the ‘tobacco is good for you’ science for a long time now. And we know where that went. … All of these have been compounded by an elaborate, a deceitful and indeed a failing public relations campaign and that has to change.”


Ironic, I suppose. Especially the whole deceitful bit.

What parents need is not vague, meaningless blather. They need real information on the number of children with special needs in our country (around 6 million); they need to know functional levels, assistance needed, and future needs. They need to know what resources are available and if these resources are sufficient (they are almost always not– group home wait lists can be backlogged for years, for example), and what their options are. SSI is wholly inadequate to set an adult child up in an apartment of his own; few people could live completely independently on eight thousand dollars a year. Job training and placement is woefully inadequate.

I do not hear in this meaningless blather anything that addresses these realities that most special needs families deal with wholly and totally alone. I do not hear any advocating for the disabled, nor any placing in context the number of individuals living with disabilities.

To be honest, I saw and read a waste of good air.

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