Over the past 10 years, the US Centers for Disease Control has kept tabs on the number of American children diagnosed with autism…and the news is quite concerning. The rate has increased from 1 in 150 in 2002, to 1 in 125 in 2006….to 1 in 88 in 2008!

The rise in autism is scary and all reasonable parties should be working around the clock to solve the mystery. But, as we work towards a solution we must resist the temptation to latch onto conclusions that sound logical but are wrong. History is filled with good guesses that have just fallen flat! For example, recent studies have identified genetic flaws that probably explain a handful of cases (siblings who are identical twins are more likely to both have autism than non-twin brothers and sisters). But, scientists agree that the rapid rise in autism is way too fast to be caused by new changes in our DNA.

Is there an autism and vaccine correlation?

What about vaccines? A steady chorus has accused vaccines of being the culprit: “Too many ingredients.” “Too many shots.” “Too many given at the one time.” But these folks usually base their assumption on the fact that baby shots have increased in number as autism has increased in frequency. But so has cell phone use and wireless internet use. But let’s look at the issue more carefully. 

Five years ago, some said mercury in vaccines was the autism trigger. It was a fair hunch…but totally wrong.In 2002, over 95% of vaccine mercury was removed. Yet, instead of plummeting autism rates marched even higher! Others speculated that the MMR shot (measles, mumps, rubella) caused autism. (This was based on a British study that ended up being recalled as a total fraud!). In fact, a huge Danish study (hundreds of thousands of children) found that kids who skipped the MMR had the exact same risk of autism as their immunized playmates. A Japanese study also showed zero difference between MMR getters and skippers (and no benefit was seen when the MMR was split into separate shots). To date, dozens of studies—examining over 1 million children—have failed to find any credible association between shots and autism…none!

To help solve this mystery, our states must start keeping record of the number of children diagnosed with autism (so called autism registries). This will be very helpful in determining how much of the rise in autism is an actual increase in the disease…versus a “labeling shift.” A “labeling shift” means that children who, in the past, would have been labeled as having mental retardation are now labeled as having autism. (A recent study by the California Department of Health indicates that notwithstanding this label shifting, the incidence of autism is truly rising.)

Final Thoughts on the Vaccines and Autism Myth 

There has been no credible scientific study that links vaccines to autism, and in Part 2 of our series on the vaccines and autism myth, we will discuss the weird coincidence that caused people to incorrectly link vaccines to autism.

About Dr. Harvey Karp

Dr. Harvey Karp, one of America’s most trusted pediatricians, is the founder of Happiest Baby and the inventor of the groundbreaking SNOO Smart Sleeper. After years of treating patients in Los Angeles, Dr. Karp vaulted to global prominence with the release of the bestselling Happiest Baby on the Block and Happiest Toddler on the Block. His celebrated books and videos have since become standard pediatric practice, translated into more than 20 languages and have helped millions of parents. Dr. Karp’s landmark methods, including the 5 S’s for soothing babies, guide parents to understand and nurture their children and relieve stressful issues, like new-parent exhaustion, infant crying, and toddler tantrums.

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