At least twice a week someone asks me about the connection between vaccines and autism. For a long time, it has been a difficult task to avoid giving them a straightforward answer. Without having the research that could easily be explained, it was best not to conjecture or hypothesize. Now, we’re prepared to theorize.
Jean Piaget was the first psychologist and philosopher to brand this type of study as “cognitive development”. Other researchers, in multiple disciplines, had studied development in children before, but Piaget is often credited as being the first one to make a systematic study of cognitive development and gave it its name. His main contribution is the stage theory of child cognitive development. He also published his observational studies of cognition in children, and created a series of simple tests to reveal different cognitive abilities in children.
Piaget describes a unique stage of 18 to 24 months in which a number of changes in cognition and cognitive behaviors change from earlier periods of life. A child is likely to become more aware of the feelings of others. In other words, it is this period, most often towards the end of it, that the child’s empathy begins.
We already know that empathy and autism are directly connected. Most believe autistic individuals have no empathy, but studies have shown that in fact, the autistic child experiences too much empathy. A flood of emotions, often those of others, overload their systems, causing the individual to shut down in order to protect themselves from the overload, or to meltdown as a cleansing method, rather like rebooting a computer that is struggling to process data.
Based on Piaget, we can postulate that before the age of two, children do not experience these floods of emotion because their own capacity for empathy has yet to develop. However, we can also theorize that with that empathy, the autistic child will display signs of their autism, such as avoiding interaction with others, lack of eye contact, etc.
Some children show signs of autism soon after they’re able to open their eyes. This is also an avoidance of emotional overload, but not as strong, clear or understood by the child as it is by the 24-month period. Other behaviors between birth and age two may appear normal for a child of that age, even though autism is present. Some may develop speech, others may not. Some may be happy with touch by others, while others may resist it or react negatively to it.
Coincidentally, it is at age two that children begin getting vaccinations; particularly the MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella) vaccine that has been the subject of so many conspiracy theorists. Many parents say that after the child received the shot, the child’s behavior changed. Let’s examine that.
Not everyone gets the vaccine at that age and some have received it later in life, without any evidence of the development of autism. Basically, that means the vaccine is not the cause. Additionally, autism has been a part of human evolution since the dawn of our species, more than 500,000 years ago. The MMR vaccine has only been around since the 1960s.
The children who are vaccinated and subsequently show signs of autism would doubtlessly show those signs even if no vaccination were made. Any child would cry when injected with a hypodermic needle. It is simply human nature. Now imagine you’re autistic, don’t like touch, and suddenly some stranger who you can tell is putting on a fake smile, suddenly and rapidly grabs your arm and jabs you with a sharp object.
The natural reaction would be to distrust your parents for taking you to such a place, and learned distrust of others, generally. Remember, it is just at this time when you’re beginning to learn and particularly to learn how to apply what you’ve learned to your daily behaviors.
It is not the vaccine that causes autism. It is autism that causes the child to react to the injection and learn to react negatively to those who the child perceives as hurtful. It is purely coincidental that a significant change in cognition, applicable to all humans, occurs at the same time as the vaccines are being administered.
The coincidence of autism, immunization, and learned behavior leads many parents to believe those speculative theories and conspiracies. Our advice is to dismiss the conspiracy theorists. Your child’s life and healthcare should not be trusted to those who postulate that aliens are running the world, or that Elvis is still alive. Believe instead that your child has a future and it’s important to begin planning for that, rather than wasting time on foolish conspiracies.