#SaidNoMother: Combining dehumanization of autistic people with antivaccine pseudoscience in time for Autism Awareness Month

Longtime readers of this blog (I mean really long time readers, as in a decade or more) might remember my complaints that frequently began around this time of year. Those of you who have only been reading a few years or less might not immediately realize what I’m talking about, mainly because it hasn’t been much of an issue more recently. Think about it, though. It’s near the end of March. What’s coming up. (No, I don’t mean April Fools Day.)

I am, however, referring to April, because it’s Autism Awareness Month.

There was a time when I used to dread April, because every April I could count on a veritable tsunami of antivaccine stupid to descend upon the nation, thanks to the antivaccine movement. Whether it was J. B. Handley and Generation Rescue announcing websites like 14 Studies, which claimed to refute the “fourteen studies” that failed to find a link between vaccines and autism (never mind that there are more than 14 studies), the then-resident antivaccine reporter at CBS News Sharyl Attkisson credulously parroting the latest antivaccine “study,” or stories about businesses like Chili’s being burned by an antivaccine group disguised as an “autism advocacy group,” antivaccine groups have traditionally tried to hijack April for their own nefarious purpose of spreading antivaccine misinformation. OK, I realize that just last year during Autism Awareness Month I had one of the strangest experiences ever online when I found myself being attacked by William Shatner after having taken him to task for one of his Tweets about autism awareness, but, really, I swear I’ve seen a lot less autism pseudoscience in the media in April than in years past. It could be confirmation bias, but I don’t think so.

This year, I’m getting that ugly feeling of déjà vu for the bad old days. The reason is a hashtag that I’ve become aware of, the #SaidNoMother hashtag. Given that it’s an antivaccine hashtag, not surprisingly the Facebook page of that bit of antivaccine propaganda so blatant that it would make Reni Liefenstahl cringe disguised as a “documentary” VAXXED is featuring it:

Yes, in case you actually believed Jenny McCarthy’s recent efforts to rehabilitate her image and portray herself as not being antivaccine, get a load of this. First of all, this is way more dramatic than I recall her previous claims about how her son Evan reacted to the MMR vaccines ever having seen. Indeed, the inconsistencies in her story about how her son Evan reacted to vaccines have been described in detail multiple times before.

Joshua Coleman, an antivaxer associated with VAXXED started this hashtag, and antivaxers are going wild with it, encouraged by the pseudoscience-lovers at Age of Autism:

Joshua Coleman has started a hashtag on Facebook called “#SaidNoMother in which Mothers and Fathers are creating memes with their child’s vaccine injury story expressed in deliberately crushing fashion. If anyone can read them and not feel at least a twinge of sympathy surely he or she is not human. Vaccine injury is so often the butt of late night comedian “jokes” and outright scorn in the media, as if injury can not exist. It exists. From this we know. Check out the campaign all over Facebook.

Ah, I do so love argument by assertion. Antivaxers say that autism is “vaccine injury”; so it must be. Q.E.D.

You can see a whole lot of the same on Facebook.

For example:

Of course, the MMR vaccine does not cause autism. This has been demonstrated over and over and over again.

Then there are these:

One can only wonder what quackery Mary Kay Deal is subjecting her poor child with Down’s syndrome to in order to try to “heal” her and “detox” her. (Remember, virtually all alternative medicine “detox” is nothing but rank quackery.) As for Ginger Taylor, I’ve discussed her antivaccine views and massive arrogance of ignorance on several occasions over the years. Leave it to her to bring in the anti-pharma conspiracy mongering. It’s what she does.

Then there are these:

And:

I’ve discussed more times than I can remember how the HPV vaccine has never been shown to cause serious health conditions, no matter how often antivaxers try to claim that the HPV vaccine causes premature ovarian failure or even that it kills. It doesn’t do either.

Even adults are getting in on the action:

I’m very sorry for her health problems, but no evidence is presented that they were caused by vaccines, and

This being 2018 and social media being social media, there’s a whole boatload of these memes produced by antivaxers. Here’s one collection:

Not surprisingly, Erin at HealthNutNews, the same woman behind the conspiracy theory claiming that alternative medicine practitioners are being killed by big pharma (or the government, or whomever, it’s never quite clear) is happy to publicize this movement:

Some of the memes take a very morbid turn, blaming vaccines for the deaths of their children:

And:

And:

And perhaps the most disturbing of all:

I realize that the above image is disturbing, and I apologize if anyone had a difficult time viewing it. I am not sorry, however, for having posted it because I believe it is important to show you just how far down the rabbit hole antivaxers are going with this campaign, so far that they will show a photo of a dead baby in his coffin and blame it on vaccines, while equating the parents marching in one of the occasional antivaccine marches I’ve chronicled dating back to Jenny McCarthy’s antivaccine march in 2008 to ones that occurred last year to the March for Science. Never mind that marching on the CDC to protest “vaccine injury” or in Washington to “green our vaccines” is the very opposite of marching for science. It’s marching for pseudoscience.

Of course, the idea that sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is caused by vaccines is a common one promoted by the antivaccine movement. I’ve explained more times than I can remember that there is no evidence that vaccines cause SIDS, to the point that some studies suggest a protective effect against SIDS due to vaccines. Nevertheless, antivaxers, ranging from a Nobel Laureate who’s gone off the deep end with Nobel Disease to right wing trolls to just about every major antivaccine group, believe incorrectly that vaccines kill babies through SIDS. They do not.

Let’s consider the message of this movement, which basically dehumanizes autistic children. The idea is that “no mother ever” would want what happened to her child to happen, but it goes deeper than that. I can understand that no mother ever would want her child to die or to be so seriously disabled as to require continuous care. I can understand thinking these things. (I have no idea how I would have reacted, for instance, if my wife and I had had a special needs child with a lot of needs.) What I don’t understand is saying these things out loud in a way that publicly casts one’s child as something that “no mother ever” would want. This campaign and hashtag make no distinctions, either. Death, autism, serious illness, it’s all the same to antivaxer, including children with autism who are quite capable of understanding the message, including its implicit rejection of them as they are and wish that they were something other than they are. That’s leaving aside even the usual antivaccine tactic of casting blame on something that didn’t cause their child to be what they are and representing them as somehow “injured” irreparably by some outside bogeyman (vaccines).

Not surprisingly, social media being social media, there has been pushback. Some of it has been humorous, for instance this one portraying dogs using a common antivaccine trope, but this time for a truly deadly disease, rabies:

Another chose a more direct approach, such as:

And:

Doc Bastard is correct on all three counts.

Others called out the nastiness that is behind the #SaidNoMother campaign that might not be obvious if you don’t know the sorts of things antivaxers say about autistic children and the sort of quackery to which they subject their children in order to “recover” their “real” child. One was very explicit about this:

Another wants Twitter users to call out the hatred:

And:

Still another dreads April:

And, perhaps most pointedly of all:

There’s a whole lot more here.

Overall, “better off dead than autistic” is a common strand in antivaccine rhetoric, much like Jenny McCarthy’s famous, “better measles than autism” rant. One of the most harmful developments for autistic people over the last quarter century is the manner in which antivaccine activists have tried to hijack autism advocacy with their antivaccine advocacy. Sometimes this hijacking even reaches the point of antivaccine groups trying to represent themselves as legitimate autism charities. The #SaidNoMother campaign is yet another example of this sort of rebranding, particularly given the timing of its taking shape the week before Autism Awareness Month begins. In years past, I recall seeing this sort of ramping up of the antivaccine propaganda machine in the last week in March. I haven’t seen it so much in recent years, but apparently this year antivaxers are trying to get it going again. Indeed, the antivaxers behind #SaidNoMother are very explicit in that they’ve created another hashtag, #AprilBeyondAutism (a play on ABA, or applied behavioral analysis, a treatment modality often used for autism):

This is what antivaxers do. This is how they hijack autism advocacy to promote their to promote the long ago debunked idea that vaccines cause autism, frighten parents into thinking that vaccines kill, and to convince parents of autistic children that their quackery can “recover” their child. Remember, this quackery can include chelation therapy (which can kill), chemical castration, and even bleach enemas.

Of course, because, above all, antivaxers view themselves as victims, they are very unhappy about some of the pushback they’re receiving. For example:

Notice how Welsh (a.k.a. Tanner’s Dad) paints himself as the victim, portraying the pushback against the #SaidNoMother and #SaidNoFather campaign as “vicious” and “ignorant” attacks on their lives. No, the responses are not attacks on Welsh’s life and the lives of other antivaxers with autistic children. It’s criticism of what they do and say. It’s criticism of their promotion of antivaccine pseudoscience and quackery to “recover” autistic children. It’s criticism of their dehumanization of their children. It is not, as poor, poor, Barbara Loe Fisher and other antivaxers have tried to portray it, “hate,” “meanness,” or “bullying.” Trying to portray criticism as vicious, unjustified “attacks” on the saintly mothers of autistic children, who have educated themselves about the science and are just trying to help their autistic children is a tactic that I first saw wielded by Robert F.Kennedy, Jr. eleven years ago.

It looks like it’s going to be a long April, thanks once again to the antivaccine movement, its contempt for autistic people, and its love of pseudoscience and quackery.