The following is the content of an email that I sent to the office of Senator Rand Paul on February 4, 2015. It was in response to the following statement that he made in an interview with CNN:
Senator Paul “also asserts that he’s heard of cases where vaccines have caused ‘profound mental disorders. I’ve heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines,'” Paul said.
Dear Senator Paul,
Lest you continue to say otherwise on this national platform which you’ve been given, my daughter is “normal.” Yes, she has autism. That, however, does not make her “abnormal.” And just to clarify, autism is not a “mental disorder”, rather it is a complex “neurodevelopmental” disorder. You see, facts and language matter here. They matter not only when they perpetuate falsehoods about autism and vaccines, but they matter in how my daughter sees herself.
How shall I answer her when she asks why a possible presidential candidate gets to go on national TV and distort the truth? When he demeans her value as a human being, reducing her to a “side effect” of a choice her parents made in order to protect her health and well being? Yes, you see, that is the implied message in this whole bizarre dialogue. We did this to her! Have you any idea how many distorted and perverted ways in which we, and even more significantly, I as the mother, have been blamed for our child’s autism? Enough!
Wouldn’t it be refreshing if conversations about autism could focus on the many ways we as a society need to work towards creating better educational, support, job, housing and independent living opportunities for people with autism? What if you used your air time to change the conversation? I know if I had your platform that is exactly what I would do.
Vaccines save lives. The MMR vaccination does not cause autism. How many children will have to get seriously ill or die from preventable illness while politicians like you wave the fear mongering flag in regard to autism? How many autistic ears heard your words? How many autistic eyes saw you on the news? How many autistic hearts broke at your distortions? How many autistic souls felt even more diminished at your mischaracterization?
To be clear, you and I are on opposite ends of the political spectrum. I’m not one of your constituents. Regardless of what you say or do, you were never going to get my vote. But I am a mother, consistently battling stereotypes about autism and working hard to empower my daughter to do the same. So it is on her behalf that I speak out. She deserves better in this national political discourse. I will not allow you to shame and blame without responding.
My beautiful girl was born with brown eyes, a full head of hair and chubby little thighs. She was born with a compassionate heart, a strong spirit, a quiet sense of courage and yes, autism. It’s part of her. It’s not always been easy, in fact it has been downright painful and hard along the way. But I’ve learned from her, I’ve marveled at her, I’ve been astounded by her…. She is not an abnormal other…. She is a differently-abled 16 year old young woman. And you know what? I would vaccinate her again in a heartbeat.