This brings up an interesting point that I didn't have space to cover in my recent Nature Medicine story about autism and the parents of autistic children who believe the condition was caused by mercury-based preservatives in vaccines. While reporting for the story, I interviewed several parents of autistic children. They fell into two camps: Those who believed that vaccines poisoned their otherwise normally developing children so that they developed the neurological symptoms associated with autism spectrum disorders; and those who believed that their child was born with a set of genes that would have caused autism regardless of whether their child had received a vaccination. At the heart of this bifurcation is a bigger question: Is autism a disease that can, or should, be "cured?"
One autism parent and fellow blogger, Kevin Leitch, says no. Leitch used to believe that mercury in vaccines caused autism, but changed his mind after several years of reviewing the scientific literature. His daughter's brain, he says, is not disease-ridden, but an example of "neurodiversity."
"The idea that shes damaged in some way became fairly repugnant to us," Leitch told me. "We just don’t see her like that. I objected very strongly to the language being used to describe them: poisoned, empty shells, dead souls, toxic train wrecks...You're talking about children here; we cant call them these things."Another blogger, Autism Diva, has an autistic child and has been diagnosed herself with Asperger's Syndrome (an autism-spectrum disorder). Autism Diva, who obviously doesn't have a hard time accepting that the disorder has a genetic component, had similar sentiments:
"I love my autistic child. How could you think of re-wiring them and making them someone else?" she said. "My child’s very impaired and needs a lot of help. If I left her alone in the world she would die. That’s kind of scary, and I can't see a lot of parents signing up for that. But it's common, it's not a new thing. Not an infection that we all ought to be fighting, it’s a part of humanity. You get on a slippery slope to eugenics very quickly. Is every brain one day going to be uniform?"This concept of "neurodiversity" is explored in depth—as it relates to autism but also to racism, sexual orientation, and even left-handedness—by yet another blogger, Kathleen Seidel at her website, neurodiversity.com.