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Saturday, July 5, 2014

UC Davis Autism Phenome Project (Wow!)

Direct Link Here:
Mainstream media often either neglects or mangles the newest scientific discoveries and experiments.  Here's one we thought might interest you.  As always, we encourage you to do four things:

(1)  Go straight to the source, read the whole study, and interpret the significance of the results for yourself. Headlines can be misleading. Even our headlines!
(2)  Consider what effects, if any, this new knowledge might have on your life and decisions.
(3)  Share this study with people you think might be interested through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and printed copies. 
(4)  Treat everyone with courtesy, even if you disagree with their opinions or decisions.

Science Evolves.
Informed Consent Matters.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Maternal Exposure to Farm Chemicals Linked to Autism by UC Davis

Here's the link:

Mainstream media often either neglects or mangles the newest science discoveries and experiments.  Here's one we thought might interest you.  As always, we encourage you to do four things:
(1)  Go straight to the source, read the whole study, and interpret the significance of the results for yourself.  Headlines can be misleading.  Even our headlines!
(2)  Consider what effects, if any, this new knowledge might have on your life and decisions.
(3)  Share this study with people you think might be interested through Twitter, Facebook, e-mail, and printed copies. 
(4)  Treat everyone with courtesy, even if you disagree with their opinions or decisions.

Science Evolves.
Informed Consent Matters.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Fact-Checking Mercury - Post #3

In Fact-Checking Mercury #2, we ended with a question:
"Do people vary in their ability to excrete heavy metals?"

The answer is: YES.

There is some interesting research being done around variations in the genes for MTHFR, MTRR, and MTR. It appears that there are specific genetic differences that impact many aspects of human biochemistry, including the ability to excrete heavy metals. Two people may be exposed to the exact same dose of mercury and have completely different responses. One may dump that mercury out of their system easily and quickly. The other may hold onto it for years. As the toxic load in our environment becomes higher and higher, this variation may become more and more significant in terms of individual health.

The research on this is new, ongoing, and very confusing. Science changes. Stay on top of the current research to learn more. Be forewarned: much of the information about this issue is either oversimplified hype or detailed genetic analysis from the Human Genome Project that is really difficult to read. Research with caution.

A nice summary of the issue can be found here:
Information from a more reliable source can be found here: 

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Fact-Checking Mercury - Post #2

Last post, we left you with the question, "What is Thimerosal anyway?"
Here's some information that will shed light on this question...

What is thimerosal?

Thimerosal is a preservative that is used in many medications, including vaccines. It's popular because it is one of the few preservatives that can be used in a medication without altering the effect of the medication. It is approximately 50% mercury by weight. The human body breaks it down into ethylmercury and thiosalicylate. 

The problem is that no one really seems to know what the biological effects of these two breakdown products are upon the human body, or if they're consistent between different human beings.

Until quite recently, there was very little research done on ethyl mercury. Most of the research has been focused on methyl mercury. All initial safety research on thimerosal was based on that methyl mercury, since it is so similar. All current research indicates that ethyl mercury is less toxic than methyl mercury and more easily excreted from the body. And then there's thiosalicylate. The chemical name for asprin is acetylsalicylic acid. It's been noted for some time that certain individuals are allergic to asprin. 

More recently, there's been research indicating that certain individuals are allergic or sensitive to all salicylates, including ones normally occurring in food. As far as I can tell, however, no one has done much research into whether the thiosalicylate created in the breakdown of thimerosal can be problematic for those sensitive to salicylates. 

Please remember that science changes and the information in this section is based on a very brief survey of easily located research. If you are interested in the metabolism of thimerosal, the excretion of the breakdown products, and the variability between individuals in these areas, I strongly keeping up to date on the current research. There's an extraordinary amount of work being done in this area right now.

Why do we need preservatives in vaccines?
In 1928, a diphtheria vaccine was being distributed from a multi-dose vial. (This means that there is a bottle filled with the serum and you withdraw multiple doses from the bottle...allowing for possible contamination when the needle is inserted into the bottle). The first 21 vaccinations were given without problems. At that point, the vaccine became contaminated with staph bacteria. Of the next 21 vaccinations from that vial, 11 children died from staph infections. Preservatives were added to multi-dose vials to prevent a repeat of that tragedy.

Is thimerosal still in vaccines? What about other pharmaceuticals?
Preservatives are not required in single-dose vials of vaccines, since there is no opportunity for the vaccine to become contaminated. Single-dose vials of vaccines are slightly more expensive to manufacture, however. In 2000, after increasing concern about thimerosal, the US began eliminating multi-dose vials of vaccines (and the thimerosal) from vaccines. Most vaccines these days are distributed from single-dose vials, especially the ones intended for children. The injectable flu vaccines are offered in multi-dose or single-dose vials. The multi-dose vials are cheaper. The single-dose vials have no thimerosal in them, but are slightly more expensive.

If you're sensitive to (or concerned about) thimerosal, please remember to check other pharmaceutical products besides vaccines. This preservative is found in many brands of eye drops and nasal sprays.

So, if all children get basically the same vaccine, with the same ingredients, and their reactions vary...what might be causing this? Well, in such a scenario, the only variables appears to be either (1) the batch of the vaccine (yes, batches can be different, just like all pharmaceutical drugs - and recalls do happen on occasion) or (2) the children themselves. 

Next post, we will address variability in how humans excrete heavy metals.

Friday, May 30, 2014

Fact-Checking Mercury - Post #1

We've all heard a lot about mercury 
over the past few decades. From its 
accumulation in seafood to air pollution
to vaccines...mercury is an oft-talked about 
subject. But, what do we really know?

This is the 1st of 4 segments which we will
offer, once a week, in hopes of bringing 
you and those you care about, some useful intel
on the subject. And please, if you have something 
to add, offer a comment. Let us all learn together.

So...what is mercury, anyway?

Mercury is a naturally occurring metal element with interesting properties. In its pure form, it is a magical-looking liquid metal, also called quicksilver. It can also react with various other elements to form stable compounds. These compounds are grouped into 3 classifications: elemental mercury, inorganic mercury compounds (primarily mercuric chloride), and organic mercury compounds (primarily methyl mercury).
Source: Environmental Protection Agency

What are the symptoms of mercury poisoning?

All forms of mercury are quite toxic, and each form exhibits different health effects.

Acute (short-term) exposure to high levels of elemental mercury in humans results in central nervous system (CNS) effects such as tremors, mood changes, and slowed sensory and motor nerve function.  Chronic (long-term) exposure to elemental mercury in humans also affects the CNS, with effects such as erethism (increased excitability), irritability, excessive shyness, and tremors.  Human studies are inconclusive regarding elemental mercury and cancer.

Acute exposure to inorganic mercury by the oral route may result in effects such as nausea, vomiting, and severe abdominal pain.  The major effect from chronic exposure to inorganic mercury is kidney damage. Animal studies have reported effects such as alterations in testicular tissue, increased resorption rates, and abnormalities of development. Mercuric chloride (an inorganic mercury compound) exposure has been shown to result in forestomach, thyroid, and renal tumors in experimental animals.

Acute exposure of humans to very high levels of methyl mercury results in CNS effects such as blindness, deafness, and impaired level of consciousness. Chronic exposure to methyl mercury in humans also affects the CNS with symptoms such as paresthesia (a sensation of pricking on the skin), blurred vision, malaise, speech difficulties, and constriction of the visual field. 

Methyl mercury exposure, via the oral route, has led to significant developmental effects. Infants born to women who ingested high levels of methyl mercury exhibited mental retardation, ataxia, constriction of the visual field, blindness, and cerebral palsy. “
Source: Environmental Protection Agency that we have a small sense of what mercury is, or can be, 
and the kinds of damage it can inflict on living creatures...tune in 
next week for our post about common sources of mercury and an 
answer to the question: "What is Thimerosal?"

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Audience Brainstorm Questions after viewing The Greater Good!

On Sat. May 10th, we successfully brought the documentary film, The Greater Good, to the Vashon-Maury Island Community. There were some significant pitfalls along the way, but with considerable support from fellow islanders, we are pleased as punch to say, "We did it!"

So, why did we do this? Because our goal, as questioners, is to encourage people to know what they are doing and why they are doing it, when they are making a medical decision. To "know" something, we must first "ask a question."

What follows was presented to (and received from) a room of 60+ parents, grandparents, soon-to-be parents, and non-parents who care or are also curious about the issue of vaccine medicine.  Future posts will offer possible answers to these questions, but first, we simply wanted to present them as they were offered.


Welcome to our Question Brainstorm
The best result of this movie can be this: 
Your brain is turned on and you have a thoughtful reaction.
One way, another way, another or another...doesn’t matter.
It’s the thinking that matters.
So...we have a website.
We will brainstorm questions that you now have, or came with, which you
would like to have an answer for...that you are driven to learn more about.
And we will post these questions, for further review, on our website.
From there...let the conversation continue.
Science Evolves.
So, let’s pay attention and learn together.
[Note: No answers or replies to questions are allowed during the brainstorm.]


So, my kids have vaccines and they are now deciding for their children...and I am wondering where I can learn more about vaccines so I can talk with my kids. HOW do I find out? 

I’d like to know when additives were put into vaccines? From the beginning or when? History.

Where can I learn what is in each vaccine? What are the resources for this information?

So, I’m unsure of what the doctors gave my kids in the early 80’s. Now what are they giving? What are the changes over the past 30 years?

I want to know how I can find the ingredients of the vaccines put into my body in the early 80's. 

In have vaccines changed? Formula changes over the decades?

What do March and Karen wish to bring to the conversation which was not included in the film? 

What are prominent theories about why we see adverse events in one person and not in another? Who is currently theorizing about this? Is anyone studying the issue? 

There are detoxification strategies for mercury and other contaminants. What is the data related to injuries and detox methods? As in, a way to prevent or resolve reactions to toxins, or treatments we can use concurrently? 

I'm curious about how we can use genetic screening in advance, to determine risk? Perhaps screening individuals based upon family history?

What issues to families face with regard to international travel and required vaccinations? How can we respond to real health risk factors when traveling internationally?

I'm curious about how the age demographic of disease has changed based upon the introduction and use of vaccine medicine.

I’d like to know more about the concept of herd immunity. How is it studied? What do we know is this discussion evolving? 

I’m curious if any groups advocating about information about vaccines have put together a repository of information for alternative treatments for disease? Where can we go? What research is already out there that offers an alternative set of options but perhaps isn’t easily available? Who has alternative information to share/offer? 

What are the personal and community health risks for not taking each of the recommended vaccines? 

What is the status of the development of the independent group that could serve as a firewall mentioned in the film? [This "firewall" refers to concerns about the "fox guarding the hen house" in our governing and regulatory bodies.]

Where can I find out how effective the vaccines actually are? How long do they last? How do we know? How do they test?

What is the status of research into the genetic connection to kids that develop an issue from the vaccine versus those that don’t? How can we screen? Who should or shouldn’t get a vaccine?

When you walk into an office, are you asked to sign a form to acknowledge that you have been informed of the potential risks? 

So, recent cases of measles in Seattle...I’d like to confirm if most of the cases were in fully vaccinated individuals or unvaccinated? Also...New York/Measles & Ohio/Mumps...same question.

Is there any research being done into finding less harmful ingredients that will work in vaccines?

What are the best ways to communicate with people who completely disagree with you on this topic (million dollar questions)?

What are all these vaccinations for? Why so many? 

Can you request from your doctor vaccines that don’t contain additives? What are the vaccine options out there? What about nasal spray versus intramuscular? 

What is the relationship between immunological reactions to vaccines and auto-immune disorders? Or, specifically...what about the articles that the mother in the movie found that shows a link?

Can you identify on our website the journal articles used in the movie? (A: March is in personal contact with the makers of the film, so probably yes).

Where can I find more information on the risks of the diseases? Credible source that I trust. Weighing risks of disease vs risk of vaccine? 

The movie suggests that if you slow down or space out or delay the would be safer or better in some way. Where can I learn more about this? 

In light of the fact that vaccines are often made from tissues of animals, how can the manufacturer be certain that they are controlling the viruses present in the vaccine. For example, the SV40 situation.

Vashon has a low rate of vaccination compared to other we have a corresponding rate of disease? And are our neurological issues tracked?

Are folks on our island, who are medical professionals, willing to engage or help us understand this issue better?

What do we do when, in reality, most people have neither the inclination, opportunity, nor ability to explore such a deeply complex and difficult subject? 

What can we learn from veterinary medicine?

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

A Community Conversation - Part 13

A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond

Part 12:  Brother, can you spare some time?

We live in a time-stressed culture. “Faster and better” are spoken so frequently as a pair that we've come to view them as synonyms. Faster might be nice for internet connections, but it causes problems when applied to human beings. Fast food is not better food. Quick naps are not better sleep. Ten minute medical appointments are not better health care. Sound bites are not better conversation.

This cultural value of speed over quality has devastated our ability to communicate about complex subjects. Whether you're talking about a newspaper article, a Facebook post, a tweet, a radio interview, or a spot on TV, there's rarely enough time to delve below the thinnest layer of a complex issue. Caving to time pressure, ideas which cannot be adequately addressed quickly are simply dropped from the conversation. 

As communication fails, there is a strong tendency to replace careful consideration of complex issues with simpler, fast messages indicative of polarization and dogma. Messages which, in a complex world, are almost never an accurate reflection of reality. Is murder wrong? Yes, most people would agree with that statement. But where do we draw the lines between murder, self-defense, assisted suicide, acts of war, failure to prevent suicide, negligence, and accidents? If you’ve ever served jury duty, you know that details matter. 

Unfortunately, in America and abroad, the sentiment of “we're right & they're wrong” tends to be quite popular. 

Such polarization quite effectively shuts down both communication AND scientific advancement. Science, you see, thrives on differing perspectives. Take that away, and all you have left is dogma. Once you join a group with a strong set of “required beliefs,” your own freedom to think is quickly eroded. You better not listen to the other side, because they're obviously wrong. And heaven forbid you talk about the weak points of your chosen side! Polarization generally devolves into agreeable nodding or hurled insults.

At that point, everyone loses. Because here is the truth about polarization: if an issue is polarized, both “sides” have something vital to offer to the conversation.

Stop. Think about that for a minute. Humans aren't polarized on the subject of eating broken glass. Humans aren't polarized on the benefits of breathing water. When there is truly no doubt, there is no polarization. Polarization only occurs when we face a complex issue, form vitally important questions and discover that there are no perfect answers. Uncertainty frightens us, especially when the stakes are high. So we make ourselves feel more confident in our choices by ignoring doubt and complexity, convincing ourselves that there is a “best & simple” answer; all of which also makes communication faster...but not better.

To make things even more interesting, there are forces that deliberately encourage polarization in order to distract from unfavorable aspects of complexity. It's an effective strategy used for thousands of years by those who wish to manipulate large groups of people. Divide & conquer, baby! Polarized people can't join together to advocate for their common interests, because they don't believe they have any. Add in a dash of fear and you’re in the driver’s seat. Kind of convenient if you're a large corporation trying to avoid awkward questions about your product, government regulations and/or a lack of them.

So, Sister! Can you spare some time? Regardless of the cause, polarization interferes with communication and helps no one. Perhaps it's time to take back our communication and break down polarization? Here are a few suggestions that have helped us.

First, acknowledge that no one perspective owns the whole truth. Like all true scientists, we hold dear our curiosity. Explore other perspectives as much as you explore your current perspective.

Second, prepare for push back and don’t take it personally. Polarization is often driven by fear, so have some compassion for those being tossed about by the waves of fear-mongering. Don’t demand a conversation from someone who isn’t ready or interested.

Third, seek out someone you love and respect and ask them to talk to you about their perspective. Then listen. Just listen. Avoid any urge to rebut, focusing honestly on understanding. If you can ask truly exploratory questions, do so. If not, skip questions and look for points of agreement instead. End the conversation with a “thank you.” These conversations take courage.

Fourth, try to find someone non-polarized on the issue and share these new viewpoints with them, in person if possible. When an issue becomes polarized, it can feel very lonely to be the one who refuses to “pick a side.” Seek others in the middle.

Finally, when it is safe to do so, speak out for complexity when you encounter polarized attitudes. You won't always be able to do so, and that's okay. But when you can say something, say it.

There is no formula or magic wording that will make a polarized person suddenly open up to a new perspective or even a conversation. If you feel like you’re banging your head against a probably are. The trick lies in being ready when an opportune moment arrives...and in remembering suggestion #1. It’s not just the other people who can learn something new.

This isn't easy. The allure of polarization is most intense when the pressure to conform is blended with fear and the deeply desirable reward of inclusivity or societal acceptance. Doing what everyone else is doing is just plain easier. Until it isn’t. 

These strategies can work when discussing abortion, marriage rights, politics, parenting...and vaccines.

On Saturday, May 10th at 5:30pm we will be hosting a screening of “The Greater Good,” a documentary that raises important questions about the impact of current vaccine policies. Fundamentally, “The Greater Good” asks whether we can do better. However, as a documentary film, “The Greater Good” has a perspective, it has bias, and it does not cover all aspects of the issue. 84 minutes is clearly insufficient to such a herculean task. It does, however, create many opportunities for our brains to generate the greatest of treasures: questions.

Our goal is to create a safe and respectful experience. We hope that a wide variety of people will come, with a wide variety of perspectives. It's not just a movie screening. It is also a first step toward regaining our ability to discuss vaccine medicine, informed consent, and diversity in health care on Vashon Island. 

Stepping out of polarization takes time, effort, and a bit of courage. Please join us.

“A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond” is an ongoing series written by two close friends with a passion for improving community cohesion and building respectful relationships in a diverse world.  This article was co-created by Karen Crisalli Winter and March Twisdale.   BLOG:   Email:

Environmental Factors Matter

Before conception, our lives are impacted by environmental factors which effect our mother’s eggs and our father’s sperm. After conception, society recognizes the vulnerability of the fetus and actively discourages everything from cigarettes to alcohol to tuna fish. When we are born, the impact of environmental factors continues in six ways:

1.  What we breath
2.  What we drink
3.  What we eat
4.  What we absorb through our skin
5.  What radiation we are exposed to
6.  What we inject into our bodies

These environmental factors arrive in many forms, including but not limited to: chemicals, viruses, bacteria, heavy metals, food additives, hormones, prions, genetically manipulated lifeforms and various forms of radiation.

As our increasingly polluted water, air, food, and body care products increase our exposure to environmental we change the atmosphere, lay under tanning booths, and fly more frequently...and as our use of vaccine medicine on developing human children increases dramatically...we see a corresponding increase in chronic illness, auto-immune disease, cancer, MS, allergies, diabetes, ADHD, and myriad neurological conditions.

This increase is not an illusion. It is real. It is alarming. It is a problem. 

You are not only “what you eat.” You are also, “what you breath, drink, rub onto your skin, expose yourself to (radiation), and what you inject directly into your body.” 

So...let’s pay attention and keep asking questions.

Increase in prevalence of MS:

Increase in prevalence of asthma:

Presence of Flame Retardants in Breast Milk 4x Level Acceptable for Children/Adults:

According to the CDC: About 1 in 12 people (about 25 million) have asthma, and the numbers are increasing every year.
The percentage of children with an ADHD diagnosis continues to increase, from 7.8% in 2003 to 9.5% in 2007 and to 11.0% in 2011.

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Big Day Is Finally Here!

Saturday, May 10th 2014
The Land Trust Bldg., Downtown Vashon
5:30pm (Potluck Dinner), 6:15pm (Film Starts)

Welcome to the conversation.
~March & Karen

Friday, May 2, 2014

A Community Conversation - Part 12

A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond

Part 12:  Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Question?

For humans, the drive to learn is as powerful as the drive to eat. There's a good reason for this. Eating and learning are both equally vital for our survival. Humans generally don’t survive based upon instinct. We are learners, and as such, information has long been treasured, preserved, gifted, sometimes hoarded, and quite often controlled. Thus the frequently heard phrase, “Knowledge is Power.”

Unfortunately, the vital survival skill we call knowledge can not only be shared, but it can also be readily lost. The secret to preventing scurvy has been found and lost many times in human history. How could such vital, life-saving information get lost? And, why did people take so long to act on the information once it was rediscovered? As our history shows, humans are prone to both losing old information and resisting new matter how important it is.

Fortunately, there is a simple, time-tested method that helps us retain the old information and acquire the new: questions. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it is great for humans. It is not an accident that young children ask “why?” about thirty-four times a day. As we get older, we might get less pesky, but our drive to ask questions doesn’t go away. Consider the news stories that everyone talks about. They're all based around questions. Who will our next president be? How could a plane just vanish? Should we label GMOs? 

Questions are more than just a survival strategy. They can often be enjoyable, which naturally encourages us to ask more questions. Many of our games are based around questions of various types. Where will she move next? What is the best way to find the treasure? Is he bluffing? We see the same fascination with questions in detective stories which have been popular for centuries and continue to be seen in our books and films. Clearly, people are attracted to exploring the “unknown” and driven to seek answers.

However, questions aren't always allowed or easy to ask. Young children quickly learn that asking some questions will get them shushed or worse. How old are you? How much do you weigh? How did the baby get in your belly? These types of questions are frequently discouraged. As we age, learning to respect personal boundaries is probably a good thing. 

But can we go too far in discouraging questions? One benefit of living in a democratic society with free speech is that you will be exposed to many different perspectives. Some perspectives will feel comfortable, others will not, and still others will leave you curiously wanting to know more. From a scientific perspective, this is a very good thing because science is all about questions. It's about asking questions and testing questions and encouraging other people to question your results. Science without questions isn't science, just as democracy without free speech isn’t a free society.

Science works. It has taken us to the moon and allowed us to eliminate the scourge of smallpox. But science without questions truly is not science.  

We all need to feel safe and comfortable asking questions and questions and more questions. Yes, questions may temporarily grant some lousy science an unwarranted degree of attention. But the delightful thing about science is that it withstands questioning. An onslaught of questions will discredit flawed science, but that same onslaught of questions will strengthen quality science. 

So, on the subject of vaccines, who's afraid of the big, bad, question? We're not. Because we love science, we love discovery, and we achieve both by asking questions.  And quite frankly, we love this subject. Because, when you delve deeply into questions about vaccines, a whole host of additional fascinating questions come to light. It’s like the mystery that never ends.

In the spirit of regaining our ability to enjoy discovery and revel in exploration, we invite you to join us for a screening of The Greater Good. In a society imbued with free speech and a strong scientific foundation, there is nothing to fear from a documentary film. So, pack up your curiosity and skepticism, bring your questioning mind, and remember that all successful sleuths are first and foremost open to new ideas and possibilities.

“A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond” is an ongoing series written by two close friends with a passion for improving community cohesion and building respectful relationships in a diverse world.  This article was co-created by Karen Crisalli Winter and March Twisdale.   BLOG:   Email:

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Screening of "The Greater Good" on Vashon, May 10th

FREE Documentary Film 
The Greater Good
Sat. May 10th @ The Land Trust on Vashon Island

If you have ever felt uncomfortable talking about vaccine medicine in your community, amongst family, or with your are not alone. Much like birth choices, education and parenting, vaccine decisions are anything but simple and endlessly changing as science keeps evolving. For those who want to know more, trading and exchanging information with others is vitally important...even more so when we can talk with those who appear to be sitting across the aisle. Much like politics, while the media focuses almost exclusively on the 2% who express extreme views, most of us are smack dab in the bulging middle of that lovely bell curve...and most of us have questions that we'd like to have answered.

Join us for a respectful, moderated, and welcoming we take a step toward regaining a Vashon-Maury Island where people can speak openly and honestly about vaccine medicine.

"Easy Potluck" means you are invited to bring a contribution, but if you cannot, please feel free to eat anyway. We have attempted to "stock the potluck," so all can break bread together.

5:30pm - Easy Community Potluck
6:00pm - Starting Conversation
6:15pm - Film Starts
7:55pm - Film Ends
8:00pm - Sharing Questions (guided group activity)
-----this is the official end of the event-----
8:15pm - Circle Up or Break Out Session (facilitated discussion)
-----this is for those who may wish to stay a bit longer-----
9:00pm - Event Closes & Clean-Up Commences

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Community Conversation - Part 11

A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond

Part 11:  The Strengths of Autism

When the media discusses autism spectrum disorder (ASD), it is usually in terms of disabled children. But children have this odd habit of growing up into adults. The population of adults with ASD is quite large and growing larger every year. So, what does it mean to be an adult with ASD? And what are the likely impacts upon our overall society?

First, let's dispel a few myths. Most people with ASD are not like Dustin Hoffman's character in “Rain Man.” Yes, some people with ASD have absolutely astounding skills in some areas. Some people without ASD also have astounding skills in some areas. But most people with ASD, like most non-ASD people, are pretty regular folks with pretty regular skills. So please don't assume an ASD diagnosis instills a near-magical ability to instantly count hundreds of toothpicks. It doesn't. Adults with ASD also tend not to require a lifetime of institutions and caregivers. Yes, those cases exist. But most adults with ASD grow up to be members of society who get jobs, have relationships, have children, go on vacation, and generally do all the things that everyone else does.

People with ASD are people. They start small and grow up. They start with little self control and gain more as they mature. They start with few social skills and learn them over time. That 3 year old who never makes eye contact, can't speak, goes into hysterics if someone puts a dining chair in the living room, and would rather go naked than deal with tags in clothing?  He may grow up to be a computer programmer who is a little shy, pretty well organized, and is happiest wearing well-worn jeans and t-shirts.

Yes, we should do research to try and find out why the rates of ASD are going up so quickly. This is important information to know. And yes, we also need to offer more support to parents raising children with ASD, since those kids tend to need a different kind of parenting than “normal” children. But really, how many of us are raising “normal” children? Maybe we need to look beyond parenting and start discussing “normal.”

The truth is, most of us don't really qualify as "normal.” Many of us struggle in silence, convinced that we are alone in our unique thoughts or behavior patterns.  Perhaps it's time to stop seeking "normal" as a goal. Let us remember that "normal" thinking, "normal" attitudes, "normal" perspectives, and "normal" skills have gotten our society into a whole lot of "normal" trouble. As our society stands on the shoulders of giants in the subjects of science, math, literature, and art, it would behoove us to remember that many of these inventors and discoverers were, well...definitely not normal.  

So what can adults with ASD offer? This varies with the individual, obviously, but as a group, adults with ASD offer an amazing array of benefits to society. Let us share a few examples.

  • Meticulous attention to detail. People "on the spectrum" are often better at noticing details which can lead to superior project outcomes. 
  • Thinking in terms of images or functions, without reference to words. The ability to see beyond words, or think outside of the landscape of words, is especially beneficial when exploring new ideas or experiences. "Normal" people often need to create words before they can think about something in any useful way. People with ASD can ponder the problem first, and figure out the language later.
  • People with ASD often have a unique understanding of time and space. This can be expressed as the ability to "see" the center of gravity on objects, a sense of the perspective of a grazing animal that has 300 degrees of vision (humans only have about 180 degrees of vision), dramatically enhanced abilities to perceive motion, and more. These perceptual differences allow a kind of creativity that is neurologically impossible for "normal" people. 

Combing through historical records and retroactively diagnosing various famous people may not always be accurate, but it is usually instructive. Einstein described thinking in pictures and, although he adored his children, couldn't stand to be touched by them. Thomas Jefferson couldn't make eye contact, loved math, and kept meticulous notes about practically everything. Mozart flapped his hands and exhibited a legendary lack of social graces. Sir Isaac Newton would always give a lecture as scheduled, even if there was no audience. Charles Darwin avoided people and spent 8 years in intensive study of barnacles. Were these folks all on the spectrum? Maybe, maybe not. But they all exhibited traits currently linked to autism and which “normal” society would consider, well, weird.

We are stronger as a whole when we make room for all of our parts. Even the weird ones. So let's keep Vashon weird. Let's keep the world weird. Let's overthrow the cult of normal and be more than forgiving of each other's differences.  Let us cherish them! Only then will everyone be able and invited to contribute their strengths.

“A Community Conversation About Health and Responsibility: Vaccines and Beyond” is an ongoing series written by two close friends with a passion for improving community cohesion and building respectful relationships in a diverse world.  This article was co-created by Karen Crisalli Winter and March Twisdale.   BLOG:   Email:

Monday, February 3, 2014

FDA Study Explains The Trouble With Pertussis Vaccine (Loop Op-Ed)

Caveat:  This article is slightly different from the one published in The Loop on January 30th - it has been revised to apply to our entire region, rather than specifically Vashon Island.  Enjoy & Share!


Good people are people who do their best. There are a lot of good people in our region, and we are a diverse group. That’s why “respect for diversity” matters. Sometimes another person’s choice will boggle our mind. When it does, hopefully we’ll realize we are boggling someone else’s mind, too! And aim for tolerance. A not-so-easy goal.  

Sadly, over the past few years, our respect for medical diversity has faltered. What you do in the doctor’s office has become public fodder for evaluation, debate, and ultimately, judgement.   

This message mostly centers around pertussis (whooping cough) and the commonly held belief that by vaccinating, you can protect yourself AND those around you. This is known as Herd Immunity. Or, if you don’t want to feel like a cow, Community Immunity.

It’s a great idea, and for some disease/vaccine combos it works. But, according to a new, highly-credible FDA/NIH study, attaining herd immunity for Whooping Cough with the current acellular pertussis vaccine is almost certainly a pipe dream.

Vaccines in America are produced by private companies, government is tasked with approval and oversight, and public health departments are expected to inform the public. The trouble is, vaccine science is complicated, sound bites under-inform, and fear is a powerful force.

The most popular pertussis vaccine myths in our region are: (1) if you vaccinate, then you won’t catch pertussis or transmit it to others, and (2) if more people vaccinated, we could achieve herd immunity!”     

So, this is the question of the hour: “Why is there a resurgence of pertussis in the U.S. when American vaccination rates are higher than ever?” Answer: “Because the vaccine doesn’t do what we thought it did.”

This new and highly regarded study shows that baboons vaccinated with aP (acellular pertussis vaccine) were protected from severe pertussis-associated symptoms but not from colonization, they did not clear the infection faster than non-vaccinated individuals, and they readily transmitted B. pertussis to unvaccinated contacts.  Individuals vaccinated with wP (the older whole cell pertussis vaccine) cleared the infection faster but still transmitted to contacts.  Meanwhile, previously infected baboons were not colonized nor capable of transmitting pertussis to contacts.  

According to Tod J. Merkel, lead author of the study, “When you’re newly vaccinated you are an asymptomatic carrier, which is good for you, but not for the population.” Fellow scientist, Jason Warfel went on to state: "Although pertussis resurgence is not completely understood, we hypothesize that current acellular pertussis vaccines fail to prevent colonization and transmission."   

Surprised? You shouldn’t be. As Emily Willingham states, in Forbes magazine, “Although this work was in baboons and baboons aren’t people, it provides compelling evidence for what many experts suspected: Acellular pertussis vaccine just isn’t very good at preventing pertussis transmission.”

So, what’s the media to do? The past few years have been filled with stories such as The Stranger’s article by Goldy titled:  Stupid Fucking Anti-Vaccine Hippies, and the Seattle PI’s article, “What It’s Like To Have Whooping Cough At 31,” which quotes Julia Ioffe’s blog post, “I’ve Got Whooping Cough. Thanks a Lot, Jenny McCarthy.”  Lead editor of The New Republic, Julia ends her story with, “So thanks a lot, anti-vaccine parents. You took an ethical stand against big pharma....killed some babies and gave me...the whooping cough in the year 2013. I understand your wanting to raise your own children as you see fit, science be damned, but you're selfishly jeopardizing more than your own children. Carry your baby around in a sling, feed her organic banana mash while you drink your ethical coffee, fine, but what gives you denialists the right to put my health at risk...?”  

Thankfully, Julia Ioffe can now rest easy knowing that she probably caught pertussis from a cute, vaccinated, schoolgirl whose Mommy was completely unaware that her daughter was a walking, talking, bright-eyed little pertussis carrier. Or, her elderly neighbor who had an awful cough that just wouldn’t go away. Or her co-worker who coughed so hard she cracked a rib just before catching a flight to Atlanta for a business meeting. Or, her other co-worker who feels perfectly fine, just got the TdaP, and is visiting his newborn niece after work today? None of whom ever considered that they could have pertussis...because they were vaccinated.        

Does this mean you shouldn’t vaccinate for pertussis?  Of course not!  Tetanus only offers benefits to the recipient, so why not use the pertussis vaccine? If you wish to manage your health with vaccines. Of course, not everyone does. Some prefer to allow their children to experience pertussis naturally, watching for symptoms, working with their doctor, and staying home until they are no longer contagious. Remember, if both the vaccinated and the unvaccinated can be colonized by the bacterium and transmit it to others, then the obvious symptoms of the unvaccinated will at least raise a red flag. But, what if you or your child has a suppressed immune system, or asthma, or you’re just plain scared of the disease? By all means, take advantage of the personal protection the acellular vaccine offers you. Just don’t think you’re getting more than you’re getting.  

For now, no one knows 100% what’s happening and there is no viable vaccine option for creating herd immunity to pertussis. Until we know more, parents of newborns (and other vulnerable individuals) should continue to be cautious! This means, if you thought a person’s vaccination status automatically made them safe...think again.   

On the public front, let’s hope our doctors, public health nurses, public & private school administrators, media and activists will revamp their message to acknowledge the results of this game-changing study.   

~March Twisdale (an advocate for medical choice and informed consent who also is a parent with partially vaccinated children)