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The Department of Health and Human Services today announced the names of the fifteen individuals invited to participate as public members of the newly reauthorized Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC). Among the 15 are Alison Singer, president of the Autism Science Foundation, who was reappointed for a second term. Dr. David Mandell, a member of the ASF Scientific Advisory Board and Matt Carey, parent of a child with autism and frequent contributor to the ASF blog were also appointed.

The committee was initially established in 2006 under the Combating Autism Act and was renewed in late 2011 by the Combating Autism Reauthorization Act.  The committee’s job is to advise the Secretary on research opportunities and emerging needs in the community and to write an annual strategic plan to guide federal spending on autism research.

“I am honored to be reappointed to this committee”, said Singer.  “The needs in our community are so great. We have so much work to do. We need to understand what is causing autism and we need to develop better treatments for children, teens and adults.  And that means we need to increase our investment in autism research. We have learned so much about autism’s genetic and biological underpinnings in the last few years. We have to understand more about what’s going wrong in the brain that causes autism so that we can develop appropriate medical treatments. This is no time for the NIH to back down on autism funding; it’s time to double down.”

Dr. Insel, Chair of the IACC and Director of the National Institute of Mental Health, is eager to begin work with the new members. “The individuals that have been selected by Secretary Sebelius each bring with them a great amount of expertise and valuable insight,” he said. “I have seen the committee’s evolution since its early days and I am hopeful we will continue to build upon previous progress.”

The individuals invited to serve on the renewed Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee include:

Idil Abdull
Ms. Idil Abdull is the parent of a son with autism and Co-Founder of the Somali American Autism Foundation. As a Somali-American mother, she has worked to raise awareness about the high prevalence of autism among Somali immigrants living in Minnesota and has helped to change autism policies in the state. She also has a special interest in serving as a voice for underrepresented groups more broadly, including those that are struggling with language, cultural, and economic barriers as they seek ways to help their family members with disabilities. Ms. Abdull holds a bachelor’s degree in Health Care Administration.

James Ball
Dr. Jim Ball is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA-D) who is the President and CEO of JB Autism Consulting. He has worked in the private sector field of autism for more than 25 years, providing educational, employment, and residential services to children and adults affected with autism. He is a Board member of the Autism Society’s (AS) Board of Directors and is currently the Chair of the National Board. He received his Doctor of Education degree from Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Anshu Batra
Dr. Anshu Batra is a developmental pediatrician specializing in autism and early childhood developmental disorders and the mother of two sons with autism spectrum disorder. She currently works in a private practice that provides medical services to more than 600 patients with developmental disabilities, the majority of whom have an autism diagnosis. The practice is unique not only in terms of the racial, ethnic, and socio-economic diversity of its patients, but also in its scope. Dr. Batra has become an outspoken advocate to educate both the professional and lay communities about autism and considers how to best integrate a growing subpopulation of individuals on the spectrum into society. She received her M.D. from the University of Michigan and trained in Pediatrics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Noah Britton
Mr. Britton was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome a decade ago as a freshman in college and has spent every year since working directly with people on the spectrum. He is an Adjunct Professor of Psychology at Bunker Hill Community College and has presented on autism as a guest lecturer at the University of Virginia and Tufts University. Prior to that Mr. Britton worked directly with teenagers on the spectrum as head counselor for the Northeast ARC’s Spotlight program and as a drama teacher at the New England Academy in Massachusetts. Mr. Britton currently serves on the scientific/educational advisory board of the Autism Higher Education Foundation. He received his master’s degree in psychology from Hunter College in 2010.

Sally Burton-Hoyle
Dr. Sally Burton-Hoyle, sister to a person on the autism spectrum, has focused her life and career on improving the education of people with autism and other challenging behaviors. She serves as area coordinator of the Masters of Autism Spectrum Disorders program at Eastern Michigan University (EMU). This program is based on Positive Behavioral Supports and family/community involvement. Dr. Burton-Hoyle has been at EMU since 2006 and was Executive Director of the Autism Society of Michigan prior to EMU. In addition, she has classroom experience as a special education teacher. Dr. Burton-Hoyle holds a doctorate in education from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in special education from the University of Kansas.

Matthew Carey
Dr. Matthew Carey is the father of a young child with multiple disabilities, including autism spectrum disorder, and is a frequent contributor to the Left Brain/Right Brain blog and the Autism Science Foundation blog. His writing focuses on reviewing current autism research in an understandable way for the public and he is deeply committed to communicating the importance of getting the science right for autism. He is also interested in analyzing trends in health and education public datasets.  Dr. Carey is an active industrial researcher in computer hardware whose current research interests include magnetic thin films, spintronics, and magnetic nanostructures. He received his Ph.D. in Physics from the University of California, San Diego, and his M.S. in Physics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Dennis Choi
Dr. Dennis Choi is the Executive Vice President of the Simons Foundation, the second largest funder of autism research, and he was previously a member of the Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board. Past positions have included Vice President of Academic Health Affairs at Emory University, Executive Vice President of Neuroscience at Merck Research Labs, and professor and head of Neurology at Washington University Medical School. His research experience has included work on the physiological mechanism of action of benzodiazepine drugs and the processes responsible for nerve cell death after ischemic or traumatic insults. His research on mechanisms of brain and spinal cord injury has been recognized with several awards. Dr. Choi received his M.D. from the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, as well as a Ph.D. in pharmacology and neurology residency/fellowship training from Harvard University, before joining the faculty at Stanford University School of Medicine from 1983-1991.

Jose Cordero
Dr. Cordero is the Dean of the Graduate School of Public Health at the University of Puerto Rico. Prior to this appointment, Dr. Cordero was an Assistant Surgeon General of the Public Health Service and the Founding Director of the National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. He served in this capacity from the time of the establishment of the center on April 16, 2001 until his departure in 2006. Dr. Cordero worked for 27 years at the CDC and has extensive public health experience in the fields of birth defects, developmental disabilities, and child health.  He obtained his medical degree from the University of Puerto Rico in 1973, completed residency training in pediatrics at Boston City Hospital and a fellowship in medical genetics at the Massachusetts General Hospital. In 1979, Dr. Cordero obtained a Masters of Public Health degree from Harvard University.

Jan Crandy
Ms. Jan Crandy is a case manager for the Nevada State Autism Treatment Assistance Program (ATAP) and has been a leader in raising awareness and treating autism spectrum disorders in Nevada for more than 15 years. She is a dedicated advocate and parent of a child with autism. In her current position at ATAP, Ms. Crandy manages and develops programs for more than 65 children with ASD. In 2007, Ms. Crandy was appointed to the Nevada Autism Task Force by Governor Jim Gibbons. In that role, Ms. Crandy helped develop policy recommendations for state policymakers on ways to improve the delivery and coordination of autism services in Nevada. She also serves as Chair of the Nevada Commission on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Ms. Crandy began her career in advocacy in 1996 when her daughter was diagnosed with autism. With the support of family and friends, Ms. Crandy started a nonprofit organization called Families for Early Autism Treatment (FEAT) to help parents of children with ASD in Southern Nevada.

Geraldine Dawson
Dr. Dawson is the Chief Science Officer for Autism Speaks, where she works with the scientific community and other stakeholders to shape and expand the organization’s scientific vision. In addition to her work with Autism Speaks, Dr. Dawson holds the positions of Research Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Adjunct Professor of Psychiatry at Columbia University, and Professor Emeritus of Psychology at University of Washington. Dawson is a licensed clinical psychologist who has published extensively on autism spectrum disorders, focusing on early detection and intervention and early patterns of brain dysfunction. In collaboration with Dr. Sally Rogers, Dawson helped to develop and empirically-validated the Early Start Denver Model, the first comprehensive early intervention program for toddlers with autism. She has collaborated on numerous studies of brain development and function and genetic risk factors in autism. From 1996-2008, Dawson was Founding Director of the University of Washington Autism Center where she directed three NIH Autism Center of Excellence Award programs of research focusing on genetics, neuroimaging, early diagnosis, and clinical trials. Dr. Dawson has served as a public member on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee since 2010 and has been invited to continue her service.  Dr. Dawson received her Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology with a minor in Child Clinical Psychology from the University of Washington.

David Mandell
Dr. David Mandell is a health services researcher and psychiatric epidemiologist who seeks to identify the best ways to organize, finance and deliver services to children with psychiatric and developmental disabilities. He is an Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Medicine. The goal of his current research is to improve care for children with autism and their families by developing successful interventions at the individual, provider and system levels to decrease the age at which children with autism are recognized and enter treatment, and to improve the services and supports available to them and their families.  Dr. Mandell holds a Bachelor of Arts in psychology from Columbia University and a Doctor of Science from the Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health.

Lyn Redwood
Ms. Lyn Redwood is Co-Founder, Vice President and Board Member of Coalition for SafeMinds and Co-Founder of the National Autism Association (NAA). She became interested in autism research and advocacy when he son was diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder. Ms. Redwood served on the Department of Defense Autism Spectrum Disorder Research Program from 2007-2009 and was acknowledged for a decade of service by Spectrum Magazine as their Person of the Year in 2009. Ms. Redwood has served as a public member on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee since 2007 and has been invited to continue her service.  Ms. Redwood holds a Master of Science in Nursing from the University of Alabama and is a registered nurse in the state of Georgia.

Scott Michael Robertson
Mr. Scott Michael Robertson co-founded the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) in 2006 and currently serves as ASAN’s Vice Chair of Development. Mr. Robertson, an adult on the autism spectrum, is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in information sciences and technology at Penn State University’s University Park campus. His research pursuits in the fields of disability studies, human-computer interaction, and computer supported work/learning focus on understanding and improving the lives of people with neurological and developmental disabilities. Beyond his research, Mr. Robertson has actively served the cross-disability and autism communities as a mentor, teacher, advocate, public speaker, and writer. Mr. Robertson holds a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and a master’s degree in human-computer interaction from Carnegie Mellon University.

John Elder Robison
John Elder Robison is an adult on the autism spectrum who grew up in the 1960s before the Asperger diagnosis came into common use. At age sixteen, Mr. Robison left high school to join his first band as a sound engineer. Within a few years he was building equipment for Pink Floyd’s sound company, touring the hockey rinks of Canada with April Wine, and creating the signature special effects guitars for the rock band, KISS. John went on to design sound effects and other circuits for some of the most popular electronic games and toys of the era before moving into more conventional engineering management. In the late 1980s, John left electronics for a new career – cars. His company, J E Robison Service, grew to be one of the largest independent restoration and service specialists for BMW, Bentley, Jaguar, Land Rover, Mercedes, and Rolls Royce cars. Mr. Robison is an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Elms College in Chicopee, Massachusetts, speaks publicly about his experience as a person on the autism spectrum, and is the author of popular books about living life with autism, Look Me in the EyeMy Life with Asperger’s, and Be DifferentAdventures of a Free-Range Aspergian.

Alison Singer
Ms. Alison Singer is Co-Founder and President of the Autism Science Foundation, a not-for-profit organization launched in April 2009 to support autism research. The Autism Science Foundation supports autism research by providing funding and other assistance to scientists and organizations conducting, facilitating, publicizing and disseminating autism research. Ms. Singer is the mother of a daughter with autism and legal guardian of her adult brother with autism. From 2005-2009 she served as Executive Vice President and a Member of the Board of Directors at Autism Speaks. Ms. Singer has served as a public member on the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee since 2007 and has been invited to continue her service.  Ms. Singer graduated magna cum laude from Yale University with a B.A. in Economics and has an M.B.A. from Harvard Business School.

The committee is comprised of public members and federal memberes. The federal members of the committee (representatives of the federal government agencies involved in autism research and services) are expected to be announced shortly.

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By Clare Krusing

Discrediting a decade-long debate over autism and vaccines, the British Medical Journal (click here for link) published its findings proving Dr. Andrew Wakefield’s controversial study linking autism with the MMR vaccine was fraudulent. Backed by medical journalist Brian Deer‘s reporting (click here for link), the Journal cited the “clear evidence of falsification” in three of the paper’s conclusions:

1.  Wakefield’s 1998 Lancet study misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients, five of which showed developmental problems before receiving the MMR vaccine and three never had autism. In falsifying these records, BMJ found there was “no doubt” Wakefield was responsible.

2.  No studies have been able to replicate the results Wakefield published. Wakefield himself has been asked to reproduce his results and has been unable to do so.

3.  The BMJ reports that Wakefield received more than $674,000 from a law firm intending to sue vaccine manufacturers, a conflict of interest that was not disclosed in theLancet study.
For those who suspect Wakefield’s conclusions may simply be wrong and he did not intentionally falsify the data, the BMJ refuses to accept such a stance. “A great deal of thought and effort must have gone into drafting the paper to achieve the results [Wakefield] wanted: the discrepancies all led in one direction; misreporting was gross.” The Lancet retracted the study in 2004, and British medical authorities revoked Wakefield’s medical license last May, but as the BMJ notes, serious harm has been done. “The damage to public health continues, fuelled by unbalanced media reporting and an ineffective response from government, researchers, journals, and the medical profession… Hundreds of thousands of children in the UK are currently unprotected as a result of the scare, and the battle to restore parents’ trust in the vaccine is ongoing.”

Wakefield Fallout Prompts Discussion on True Causes of Autism

Media reports exploded this week following BMJ’s editorial on Wakefield’s fraudulent study. Cable and network affiliates as well as major print outlets covered the story. CNN’sAnderson Cooper devoted two nights of coverage to the issue, including an interview with Wakefield immediately following the breaking news. CBS Evening News with Katie Couric featured Dr. Paul Offit, head of Infectious Disease at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Katie van Tornhout, a mother whose one-month-old daughter (who was too young to be vaccinated) died of whooping cough last year after she contracted the illness likely from someone who was not immunized. As reporting continued, a growing focus turned to supporting scientific-based research on autism and its causes. Alison Singer, President and Co-founder of The Autism Science Foundation, appeared on CNN encouraging the public and medical community to “finally put the question of vaccines and autism behind us” and “invest in studies that will allow us to find out what does cause autism.”

Offit, Mnookin Challenge Anti-Vaccine Movement with Book Releases

As the news began to spread on Wakefield’s fraudulent study, Dr. Paul Offit was speaking to a group at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. on the dangerous consequences of the anti-vaccine movement, which escalated following Wakefield’s controversial report. On that evening, Offit described his newest book, Deadly Choices: How the Anti-Vaccine Movement Threatens Us All, a comprehensive review of the outspoken voices against vaccines and how their unsubstantiated and false claims have lead to a generation of parents choosing to not vaccinate their children. As Shot of Prevention noted “standing before us was a man who demonstrated genuine compassion for children and who generously donates the proceeds of his book to autism research…outside of the room, journalists from most major news stations were busy putting Andrew Wakefield in the spotlight (once again), based on the immoral and fraudulent nature of his study that has had an overwhelming negative impact on the vaccination of children.”

On NPR’s Science Friday, Offit discussed the fatal implications such choices to delay vaccines would have on young children and society at large citing the recent California pertussis outbreak as an unfortunate, but preventable consequence of these decisions. In addition to Offit’s book, Vanity Fair contributor Seth Mnookin’s The Panic Virus: A True Story of Medicine, Science, and Fear comes out next Tuesday, and like Offit, Mnookin chronicles the early vaccine story, its players, and the emergence of vaccine opponents who have challenged public health experts and mobilized a vocal following in their search for answers to the proposed autism-vaccine link.

 

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From www.nysenate.gov

(June 9, 2010–Albany, NY) The Senate Democratic Majority passed groundbreaking legislation to protect children with autism, setting the bar for a new national standard for treatment and services. The legislation (S7000B/Breslin) requires early intervention screening, diagnosis and treatment for autism spectrum disorders, saving families facing autism thousands of dollars a year.

Despite research demonstrating that early intervention and intensive behavioral therapies can yield significant improvement in the quality of life for those with autism, diagnosis and treatment have been excluded from coverage by health insurance carriers in New York.

The prior insurance law did not provide clarity to consumers or insurers as to the scope of the required coverage.  This bill includes an updated definition of autism spectrum disorder, and tells insurers what must be covered.  The Commissioner of Health would be responsible for publicizing regulations identifying treatment and therapy options for autism coverage.

Twenty states previously spoke up for those affected by autism by passing legislation to provide them with insurance coverage. The passage of this much needed legislation would make New York the 21st state to require such coverage.  This bill is one of the strongest in the nation, not only requiring policies to cover autism, but does so without a financial cap.  Furthermore, the coverage is extended for the entire life span of the individual.

The bill would only allow evidence-based and clinically proven treatments to be covered.

Senator Neil D. Breslin (D-Albany), Chair of the Insurance Committee and sponsor of the bill said, “This  law would restore the voice of those indirectly affected by autism.  Many families paying out-of-pocket for autism treatments risk their homes and the educations of their unaffected children, mortgaging their entire futures for something that should be covered by basic health insurance.”

The Centers for Disease Control have now estimated that the number of children with autism is 1 in 110 nationwide, up from previous estimates of 1 in 150.  The numbers are even more stark in New York, with the autism rate for children increasing by about 15-percent per year.  Recent studies have shown that close to 1 in 90 children are affected by autism.  Currently, there are 17,000 students ages 4 to 21 classified by New York schools as having autism.

Senator Craig M. Johnson (D-Nassau) said, “Every day I hear the horror stories from families who have re-mortgaged their homes and taken second and third jobs in order to pay for the autism-related treatments that their children need. Insurance companies are supposed to be there to help families during times of crisis. Today, we are ensuring that these companies live up to their responsibility.” 

“People often lament the political gridlock in Albany, but this legislation is an important reminder of what our elected officials can and will do to help New York’s families,” said Bob Wright, co-founder of Autism Speaks.  “Families here and around the country are literally going broke trying to give children the therapies they need and deserve to meet their full potential. It’s time that we eliminate this unfair burden and end insurers’ blatant discrimination against children with autism in every state in America.”

 “The passage of S7000B is an important step toward coverage of evidence-based autism treatment for New York families who have historically been discriminated against by the very health plans to which they pay premiums,” said Judith Ursitti, Autism Speaks regional director of state advocacy relations.  “We thank Senator Breslin, in particular, for his commitment and leadership on this issue.”

“The Autism Science Foundation is proud to support S7000B, which will enable thousands of New York families to receive the benefit of evidence based, clinically proven interventions and treatments for autism spectrum disorders, like Applied Behavior Analysis therapy (ABA),  as well as screening and diagnostic services” said Alison Singer, Westchester County resident and President of the Autism Science Foundation. “Research has shown that evidence-based intensive behavioral therapies like ABA can result in significant improvement in the cognition, communication and well-being of people with autism spectrum disorder.” 

“We enthusiastically support Senator Breslin and his colleagues in their efforts to bring equity in insurance coverage to children and adults who are challenged by autism and autism spectrum disorder.” said Dr. Henry Schaeffer, Chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics, District II, New York State.  “The more than 5,000 pediatricians across the state who provide health care to more than 4 million children stand with you in your work to assure that all children and families, no matter what their physical, psychological or intellectual challenges, can get the health care they need to live productive and healthy lives.”

“The Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association celebrates the New York State Senate’s actions in passing S7000B and affording autistic individuals access to quality health care,” said Patricia R. Schissel, LMSW, President, AHA Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA) Inc. “We welcome the Senate’s willingness to stand with us in our undying support of those whose lives have been touched by autism.”

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Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has announced the appointment of five new public members to the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee (IACC), a federal advisory committee created in an effort to accelerate progress in autism spectrum disorder (ASD) research and services.

The committee is composed of a diverse group of federal officials from HHS agencies and the Department of Education, as well as public members that include people with ASD, parents of people with ASD, and leaders of national ASD advocacy and research organizations.  Autism Science Foundation co-founder and president Alison Singer serves as a public member on the IACC.

In January 2009, the IACC released its first strategic plan for autism research. The IACC released a second edition of its strategic plan in January 2010.

“Today I am pleased to announce new members of the IACC, who will bring additional points of view and expertise to the committee,” Secretary Sebelius said. “I look forward to hearing from the committee members on important matters that affect people with autism and their families as we continue our efforts to address this urgent public health challenge.”

ASDs are a group of developmental disabilities that cause major social, communication and behavioral challenges with symptoms that present before age 3. ASDs affect each person in different ways and can range from very mild to severe. People with ASDs share some similar symptoms, such as problems with social interaction. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that an average of 1 in every 110 children in the United States has some form of ASD. 

For more information on the IACC, visit http://www.iacc.hhs.gov/.  The full committee roster is available here.

New Public Members of the Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee

Geraldine Dawson, Ph.D.
As chief science officer for Autism Speaks, Dr. Dawson works with the scientific community and stakeholders to shape and expand the foundation’s scientific vision. She also is a licensed clinical psychologist with a research focus on early detection and intervention, early patterns of brain dysfunction and the identification of biological markers for autism genetic studies. Dr. Dawson also serves as research professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill,  adjunct professor of psychiatry at Columbia University and professor emeritus of psychology at University of Washington.

Gerald D. Fischbach, M.D.
Dr. Fischbach is the scientific director for the Simons Foundation where he oversees the Autism Research Initiative. He has spent his career as a neuroscientist studying the formation and maintenance of synapses, the junctions between nerve cells which allow signals to be transmitted. Before joining the Simons Foundation, Dr. Fischbach served as the Director of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke from 1998 to 2001 and as the Executive Vice President of Columbia University Medical Center and Dean of the faculties of medicine from 2001 to 2006.

Ari Ne’eman
Mr. Ari Ne’eman is the founding president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, where he works to increase the representation of autistic people in public policy discussions. He is an adult on the autism spectrum and a leading advocate in the neurodiversity movement. Mr. Ne’eman has served on the New Jersey Adults with Autism Task Force and the New Jersey Special Education Review Commission, where he authored a minority report advocating legislative action against the use of aversives, restraint and seclusion. He is a board member of TASH, an advocacy group for people with disabilities, and is involved with the Maryland Coalition for Inclusive Education.

Denise D. Resnik
Denise Resnik is the co-founder and board development chair of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC). She is the mother of an 18-year-old son with autism. Ms. Resnik serves on the Autism Speaks Family Services Committee and Advancing Futures for Adults with Autism (AFAA) Steering Committee. She participated in the 2006 NIMH Autism Matrix Review and the IACC Scientific Workshops to develop the IACC Strategic Plan and subsequent updates.

Marjorie Solomon, Ph.D.
Assistant professor of Clinical Psychiatry at the University of California, Davis

Dr. Marjorie Solomon is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Psychiatry in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the University of California, Davis. She serves on the Faculty of the Medical Investigation of Neurological Disorders (MIND) Institute and the Autism Research Training Program where she conducts research on a social skills training intervention for high-functioning children with ASD, incorporating parents and siblings in the research. In addition to her clinical research work, Dr. Solomon studies cognition and learning in high-functioning individuals with ASD.

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ABC World News Tonight  (includes interview with ASF Board Member Dr. Paul Offit)

USA Today

New York Times

National Public Radio

Reuters

LA Times

CBS Evening News (includes interview with ASF President Alison Singer)

View scientific studies regarding autism and vaccines here

Read a summary of the King case here (from Kathleen Seidel at Neurodiversity.com)

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By Alison Singer

This afternoon, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims (i.e. Vaccine Court) issued its decision on whether thimerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism.  The decision, handed down by three Special Masters, was a resounding “NO!”.

From King: “This case is not a close case. The overall weight of the evidence is overwhelmingly contrary to the petitioners’ causation theories…based upon all the evidence that I have reviewed, I find that it is extremely unlikely that Jordan’s autism was in any way causally connected to his thimerosal-containing vaccines. In short, this is a case in which the evidence is so one-sided that any nuances in the interpretation of the causation case law would make no difference to the outcome of the case.

From Dwyer: “In an effort to render irrelevant the numerous epidemiological studies of ASD and TCVs (thimerosal containing vaccines) that show no connection between the two, they contend that their children have a form of ASD involving regression that differs from all other forms biologically and behaviorally. World-class experts in the field testified that the distinctions they drew between forms of ASD were artificial, and that they had never heard of the “clearly regressive” form of autism about which petitioners’ epidemiologist testified. Finally, the causal mechanism petitioners proposed would produce, not ASD, but neuronal death,and eventually patient death as well. The witnesses setting forth this improbable sequence of cause and effect were outclassed in every respect by the impressive assembly of true experts in their respective fields who testified on behalf of respondent.

From Dwyer: “Petitioners propose effects from mercury in [vaccines] that do not resemble mercury’s known effects in the brain, either behaviorally or at the cellular level. To prevail, they must show that the exquisitely small amounts of mercury in [vaccines] that reach the brain can produce devastating effects that far larger amounts experienced prenatally or postnatally from other sources do not.”  

The special master also dismissed claims that some groups of children are unusually susceptible to the effects of mercury. “The only evidence that these children are unusually sensitive is the fact of their [autism] itself.”

This whole process began back in 2002 when the Special Masters from the Vaccine Court createdan omnibus proceeding for handling the claims that alleged that vaccines were associated with autism. Today’s ruling focuses on whether thimoerosal-containing vaccines can cause autism. Last August, the court ruled that thimerosal in combination with MMR vaccine could not cause autism.

There are two key points to keep in mind today. First, the special masters are not scientists and they did not answer a scientific question today. The science has been in for some time now in and it’s quite clear. Vaccines do not cause autism.  We have multiple studies (www.autismsciencefoundation.org/autismandvaccines.html) that have been done looking at whether or not thimerosal, at the level contained in vaccines, causes autism and again, looking at hundreds of thousands of children on several different continents by several different investigators and different populations of children. Children who received thimerosal in vaccines as compared to those who received lesser quantities of thimerosal in vaccines or no thimerosal in vaccines all had the same risk of autism. And frankly, the amount of mercury one is exposed to in the environment or even breast milk as compared to what’s in vaccines would argue against vaccines being causative.

Secondly, when you look at the history of vaccine court, this court hasn’t always come down on the side of the science. The standard of evidence bar is purposely set very low in vaccine court. The court was designed to compensate victims of vaccine injury, which of course is very real. The standard of evidence is biologic plausibility, rather than scientific evidence. In other words, you don’t have to prove that thimerosal actually causes autism, only that it might. One of the goals of the legislation creating the vaccine court in 1986 was to be generous with compensation because there are people who have very real, very serious adverse reactions to vaccines and they should be compensated.  And if you look at other rulings, this court tends to err on the side of overcompensating to avoid a big spillover into civil courts. Another goal of the vaccine court is too avoid massive civil litigation that could put us back where we were in the early 1980s where companies were exiting the vaccine manufacturing business over fear of litigation.

I can understand wanting to find a reason for why your child was diagnosed with autism. As a mother, it’s hard to accept the idea that your child is going to struggle and have all these challenges.  It’s natural to want to blame someone or something. Believe me, I’ve been there. We love our children so much and we just want to do everything possible to help them. I can understand parents who are upset and angry and just want to know how this could have possibly happened, and I feel for the families who filed in vaccine court because they are clearly in a lot of pain. But they need to look at the data. You can’t be so focused on anger that you lose sight of what the science is saying because that’s not in the best interest of the kids.  At the Autism Science Foundation we always encourage parents to look at the science and make decisions based on the science.  And this is what the special masters did. They looked at the data.

And I want to stress one more point; this is really not an issue over which parents and scientists disagree. Parents have access to the studies on the internet and we know how to read. The studies are very clear. The vast majority of families have come to the same conclusions as the special masters. It’s not a scientists vs. layperson or scientist vs parents issue.  Everyone is coming to the same conclusion, except a small, vocal minority of parents who just don’t want to believe what the data clearly show.  And frankly it scares me to see children with autism being put at risk by therapies that have grown out of the incorrect vaccine hypothesis, like heavy metal chelation, that have no evidence of efficacy and can do real harm, especially when they divert time and energy away from therapies like Applied Behavior Analysis which have been proven to help our kids.

Hopefully after today’s ruling, we can put this issue behind us and move forward and direct our scarce autism research dollars to studies that will provide new information about what causes autism and how best to treat it.

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Autism Science Foundation President Alison Singer has an OpEd on CNN.com/Opinion about the medical journal The Lancet ‘s decision to retract the controversial 1998 paper that first linked the MMR vaccine to autism and set off an unfounded fear of vaccination. Singer says new research has been overshadowed as some cling to the discredited theory that vaccines cause autism. She says research must move forward with science as the guide.  Read the full story here.

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