The Surprising Twist in the MMR Vaccines and Autism Controversy: Did Jenny McCarthy’s Son Have Autism?

MMR Vaccines and Autism - Jenny McCarthy

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Few moms are as polarizing as Jenny McCarthy. Even if you don’t tune in to all the latest happenings in the autism community, you’ve almost certainly heard about the controversy over MMR vaccines and autism. Yes, every week brings yet another scandal, but some controversies simply refuse to die. The possible link between MMR vaccines and autism is one of them. Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, there’s no denying that Jenny McCarthy is one super-dedicated mommy. Her mission is to bring hope to parents of autistic children.

Jenny McCarthy’s Story

Jenny McCarthy began her career as a model, but later channeled her energy into an acting career. Despite her long list of credits, she is arguably even more well-known for her autism advocacy. McCarthy’s son, Evan, was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) in 2005. In 2007, she announced the diagnosis. Initially, McCarthy claimed that Evan was an “Indigo child,” but she later changed her position to state that her son’s autism was caused by vaccinations.

When Evan McCarthy was 2 years old, he began to have seizures. A doctor noticed that Evan meticulously lined up objects instead of playing with them, and that he also flapped his arms – a self-stimulatory behavior (stim). Jenny McCarthy subsequently did a great deal of research with the help of Google and tried various treatments for Evan, including dietary modifications and behavioral therapy. Evan also began working with a speech-language pathologist (SLP). Although autism has no cure, Evan is now classified as “neurotypical.”

McCarthy also reached out to Generation Rescue, an organization dedicated to treating ASD. Generation Rescue firmly supports the idea that vaccines cause autism. McCarthy subsequently became the president of the organization, and has been a vocal autism advocate.

Why Are MMR Vaccines Thought to Cause Autism?

The measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine was thought to cause autism largely because of a 1998 study published in The Lancet by Andrew Wakefield. The study linked MMR vaccines and autism based on evaluations of 12 children. The study was later retracted by the journal and debunked after it became known that Wakefield used unethical and fraudulent methods to reach his conclusions. Wakefield had ordered invasive, unnecessary tests for the children (such as colonoscopies). He also had multiple financial interests in the outcome of the study. Amongst medical professionals, Wakefield’s research is now widely accepted to be false.

Other theories have been proposed for the suggested link between MMR vaccines and autism. Anti-vaccine groups in the U.S. have noted that some vaccines contained thimerosal, a preservative made with mercury. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), thimerosal has been mostly eliminated from vaccines since 2001, and a scientific study rejects any possible link between the preservative and autism.

Landau-Kleffner Syndrome

Despite the growing mountain of scientific evidence that refutes the link between MMR vaccines and autism, Jenny McCarthy still appears to strongly believe that vaccines cause ASD. But the surprising twist in her story is that her son may not have had autism after all. Instead, it has been suggested that Evan may have had Landau-Kleffner syndrome (LKS), a neurological disorder that can mimic the effects of autism. Children with LKS tend to develop in a typical manner initially, but then they regress in terms of language skills. LKS can result in issues such as articulation problems, which require speech therapy to build articulation skills. The children may also have seizures. Many children with LKS reacquire language skills gradually.

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