As a parent of an autistic child, Holly Robinson Peete has been a staunch advocate for children living with the disease and their parents. Now, the actress, whose 11-year-old son developed autism after receiving vaccinations when he was just 2-and-a-half years old, serves as the first African-American to sit on the board of Autism Speaks, an organization dedicated to increasing awareness and prevention of the disease. The activist and mother of four shares her thoughts with ESSENCE.com about comments made by actress Amanda Peet, the spokesperson for vaccinateyourkid.org, who recently said that vaccinations don't cause autism.
I'm really disappointed to hear people like Amanda Peet—who have never been affected by autism—make public allegations like vaccinations don't cause autism. It makes me angry because it's so disingenuous to have this kind of public discussion, especially when World Autism Awareness Day is coming up on April 2. But I know exactly what she is trying to do and that's to instill fear: if your child doesn't get vaccinations, you're going to make every other child sick. Believe me, I understand both sides of the argument because I have four children. Although I have total respect for what any mother feels is best for her child, you can't tell me what is right, because it's not necessarily going to work for my kid. I know because I've experienced it with my eldest son.
When my son was 2-and-a-half, he was just recovering from an ear infection and had been on antibiotics, therefore his immune system was suppressed. He had already missed several appointments for his vaccination so his pediatrician wanted to catch him up on all of them in the same day. Although I asked if he'd consider waiting or breaking up the cocktail, which contains three viruses, he laughed me out of the office and belittled me. I firmly believe that it took my son to a place of no return and his body could not handle it. He had a violent reaction with convulsions and then he stopped talking and slipped into a silence. He no longer said, "Hi, Mommy," he no longer responded to his name and he no longer made eye contact. And to think that today there are more than 30 vaccines that children are required to receive is scary. I don't know why boys are five times more likely to become autistic, but they are.
I respect Amanda Peet for advocating for her children by trying to keep them safe with vaccines. If I could talk to Amanda Peet, I would say that, I'm glad your child was able to tolerate that level of toxicity, but don't expect me—after witnessing what vaccinations did to my son—to inoculate my other children under the same circumstances. So who's to blame? Is there some pre-genetic predisposition? Do genetic and environmental factors load the proverbial gun and the vaccines pull the trigger? Since you claim all the studies and conclusions have been drawn, how do you explain the thousands of families that have received millions of dollars from the Vaccine Injury Court? So clearly, the jury is not in and the independent studies on susceptibility and genetic predisposition have not been done.
Knowing all this do you think it's okay to make a judgment about me based on what I know about my son and the rest of my children physiologically? If your mission is to gain the public's trust, then you're not going to get parents to do it by fearmongering. Until you've experienced the physical, emotional and financial toll you simply can't make such public statements.
Despite what happened to my son, I'm not anti-vaccine. However, if the government wants to make me and other parents who have autistic children feel comfortable with vaccinations then there needs to be some independent studies done regarding these treatments. Not only would it make me feel comfortable, but it'd make me feel like I'm being listened to and heard.
Lastly, to Amanda Peet: I would never ever wish what we've gone through in our family on her and her family or anybody. I would just ask her to give the respect she has on her position to mine. It's not about reading so-called studies online; it's about living and learning. My study is my son.
The views expressed are those of Holly Robinson Peete and not ESSENCE.com or ESSENCE magazine.