Like all seven-year-olds, my eldest daughter Mia is full of surprises. One evening when she was four, I found her on the couch apparently whispering to the pages of an open book my mother had brought over. I got close enough to realise that she was reading it.
This was the girl so afraid of the alphabet only a year before that she would put her hands over her ears and run from the room when Sesame Street announced its letter of the day. How would she ever learn to read, my wife and I pondered. It turned out that Mia taught herself. It was a lesson in turn for us – not least for me to remind my mum not to leave her trashy airport novels lying around.
Our world was knocked sideways forever the day Mia, when two, was diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder. We were in denial, probably out of pure shock. Because we knew no better, we thought an autistic child was one who never said a word, was in nappies until adolescence and was completely locked in their own world and unable to engage with the outside one. There are certainly people whose lives are like that, but that was not Mia.
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On Tuesday morning I was getting a coffee near my Adelaide office when something really awful happened.
A little boy aged about four or five wandered up to me on his own as I was waiting at the intersection. He was walking around as if in dreamland. He stepped onto the road into the path of a taxi. A woman standing next to me screamed and I stuck out my arm and grabbed him. His parents were nowhere to be seen.
The two of us stood with him, asking where Mum and Dad were. He couldn’t talk very clearly, and was sort of mumbling to himself.
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A sure-fire way to make the blood boil for the parent of an autistic child is to make them read stories about “over diagnosis”.
In the past few days we’ve seen the predictable follow-ups to the Government’s decision to screen three-year-olds for mental illness, including autism.*
“Parenting experts”, and the usual trolls who rabbit on about ADHD and Ritalin prescriptions, claim it’s all the parent’s fault and that kids will be diagnosed just so parents can access funding.
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From next year three year-old children will be screened for mental illness. GPs will screen kids for general physical issues at routine appointments, and three year-olds will also be assessed from the neck up for issues including depression, anxiety, and autism spectrum disorder.
The Healthy Kids Check is a wacky idea, even if it is being promoted with the best of intentions.
While the mental health of our children matters a great deal and there are clearly mental illness concerns for children, a policy that encourages doctors and parents to look for signs of mental illness at such a young age is misplaced and is likely to lead to several problems, all of which are worse than the proposed ‘cure’.
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ABC TV’s new series, The Slap, is getting a lot of attention, and deservedly so. It’s Australian drama that’s true to life, featuring all the stereotypical folk we see in backyard barbeques any weekend across suburban Australia, but featuring real-life dialogue. There’s the wog, the hippy, the slob, the cheater, and the cute young thing. But no backyard barbeque these days would be complete without a kid with autism.
So I’m calling it. Hugo’s family is one of the half a million Australian families who live with Autism or one of its variants – known as being “on the spectrum”. I’m no psych, but that’s not gonna stop me from flinging around my experience and attitude.
My ears pricked up in the opening scenes where the adorable looking kid with the mop of hair was banging around on the cupboards with wooden spoons. Kids on the spectrum often seek input by making their own noises, and ones that the rest of us find obnoxious, repetitive and annoying fit the bill (I know of a family who has to listen The Wiggles “Big Red Car” at Every. Single. Mealtime).
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The final in a three-part series exposing the fraudulent link between autism and vaccination is out today.
The three authors of a British Medical Journal editorial accompanying the final part argue that science is “our best way of knowing”, despite the numerous people and systems at fault for perpetuating the myth that the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination is linked to autism in children.
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The link between autism and vaccines is dead, and should be buried.
However, that destructive little idea received a couple of good, hard kicks last week - the violence of which may have given the illusion that some life was left in the debate.
Many have been blamed for keeping the myth going, and now an author and expert is also blaming the media, who he says perpetuated the myths through a mistaken sense that they were being balanced.
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The British Medical Journal has devoted an editorial to stating that an article published in popular medical journal The Lancet in 1998 linking childhood vaccination with autism “was in fact an elaborate fraud.”
The Lancet had already retracted the article by Andrew Wakefield early last year, but BMJ now sought to totally discredit the “study”, which led to a decline in the triple vaccination of measles, mumps and rubella in Britain as well as in the United States and Australia.
Sadly, despite the strength of the BMJ articles - brought on by the work of Sunday Times investigative journalist Brian Deer - there will still be people who will not only ignore it but view it as further evidence of the conspiracy.
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I have always been a great communicator. Sometimes excessively so.
My first report card – in kindy - said “Josie talks too much.” I am known to like a good chat.
I even studied “Communications” at uni and my job demands constant interaction with people.
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Not long ago Lateline did an excellent job of taking apart the Australian Vaccination Network, a group (group being a strong word) of anti-vaccination zealots posing as an information service. In the US the debate has a much more Hollywood vibe, with the most public faces of the don’t jab your kids movement being mega-star Jim Carey and his ex Jenny McCarthy.
McCarthy has made a career out of warning people vaccination is linked to Autism - a claim that’s been widely and profoundly discredited. But elsewhere in Hollywood someone is fighting back. Check out this video, which was posted on YouTube last month.
West Wing tragics will know the comedians Penn and Teller, who have a show in the US called “Bullshit!”. They’ve called Bullshit! on the anti-vaccination brigade in a short and powerful sketch. It’s worth a watch (*strong language warning).
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