Therapy [for ASD] has its greatest chance of success if the child is diagnosed before the age of five ...
By RICHARD MEEHAN
The Cool Justice Report
April 5, 2008
EDITOR'S NOTE: This column is available for reprint courtesy of The Cool Justice Report, http://cooljustice.blogspot.com
The epidemic of autism is growing. It has been in the last 25 years, but now has attracted worldwide attention.
In the center of the storm is a debate: on one side activist parents supported by some of the pediatric medical community; on the other, pharmaceutical companies and the American Academy of Pediatrics. The topic: what, if any part do the myriad immunizations given to children from infancy on up, play in the development of autism.
Some argue that vaccines are a primary contributor; while others argue that it is not the vaccines but the intense schedule of inoculation that is the culprit; a third group points to a vast body of scientific literature that purportedly debunks a link between vaccination and autism.
Until recently, I didn't know much about autism. My wife and I had raised five very healthy sons. It wasn't until our fifth granddaughter, Nina, was born, that autism became a reality in our lives. Nina is almost three and has recently been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).
It is not called a disease. Health insurers refuse to pay for treatment, claiming it is not a medical condition. Rather, they assert, it is an educational issue.
A simple definition of autism can be found on the website Wikipedia.org:
"Autism is a brain development disorder that first gives signs during infancy or childhood and follows a steady course without remission or relapse. Impairments result from maturation-related changes in various systems of the brain. Autism is one of the five pervasive developmental disorders (PDD), which are characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, and severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior."
Pediatricians and parents often struggle to fully understand the child's delayed development. Since ASD can be of varying degrees, a spectrum has been developed to better aid diagnosticians and treaters:
"The autism spectrum, also called autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or autism spectrum conditions (ASC), with the word autistic sometimes replacing autism, is a spectrum of psychological conditions characterized by widespread abnormalities of social interactions and communication, as well as severely restricted interests and highly repetitive behavior."
The link to environmental toxins and heavy metals in childhood vaccines is slowly becoming understood. The fear expressed by the American Academy of Pediatrics is that young parents are beginning to refuse any vaccinations of their babies. Polio, diphtheria, measles, small pox and a host of other calamitous diseases have been nearly eradicated in this country. A knee-jerk reaction to refuse all vaccination could lead to the reintroduction of any number of these diseases.
For parents of autistic children there is more heartache then help from school boards and social service agencies. Parents are forced to hire advocates to guide them through a bureaucratic maze in an effort to force their communities to provide essential services.
If discovered early enough, aggressive behavioral therapy can potentially lead to the removal of a child from the spectrum and into mainstream school and society. One marvelous modality is Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy. Dedicated and immensely patient ABA therapists work one on one with a child to teach the most rudimentary tasks. These kids have to be "rewired" to learn to walk and to speak and to develop social skills.
There is no funding for this, and the cost can be a staggering $500 to $1,000 per week. Most ASD parents cannot afford this. We have been told that the therapy has its greatest chance of success if the child is diagnosed before the age of five.
This past Wednesday was the United Nations World Autism Awareness Day. The debate over the contribution of vaccines has been the focus of many programs that aired
this past week. Mothers tell of stories where their otherwise healthy infant developed a high fever after receiving a vaccination and then stopped talking or interacting.
As parents began to suspect that vaccines were harming their children, lawsuits against pharmaceutical companies proliferated. In response, in 1988, Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (VICP). Its mission: "To fairly compensate individuals injured by covered vaccines quickly, easily and with certainty, and create an environment that fosters the production and use of existing vaccines, and the development of new, safe and effective vaccines."
What was created was a little known, and questionably effective "no-fault" alternative to the traditional tort system for resolving such claims. Claims are administered through the United States Court of Federal Claims.
In a monumental decision the court recently -- finally -- recognized a link between vaccines and autism.
The heroine of that decision was little nine-year old Hannah Poling. The court conceded that her pre-existing mitochondrial disorder was aggravated by her inoculations, and awarded compensation. A google search will uncover links to various stories describing her case. In particular, journalist David Kirby, in his blog on the Huffingtonpost.com, has reprinted in full the late February decision.
Several weeks ago parents and pediatricians assembled before the legislature to call for a change in how funding is categorized. This is not an educational dilemma; it is a medical condition. The number of children, predominantly boys, who are being diagnosed on the spectrum is staggering. If we address their needs with aggressive therapy, many can be reclaimed. If not the burden to care for them as adults when their parents are gone will be staggering.
Bridgeport attorney Richard Meehan Jr. was the lead defense counsel for former Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim's corruption trial. Meehan is certified as a criminal trial specialist by the National Board of Trial Advocacy since 1994 and serves on the organizations Board of Examiners. He is a Charter Fellow, Litigation Counsel of America -- Trial Lawyer Honorary Society. Meehan has also obtained multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements in complex medical and dental malpractice and personal injury litigation. He is a past president of the Greater Bridgeport Bar Association and appears regularly on Court TV. Website, www.meehanlaw.com