Autism “Awareness”

Chili’s (a restaurant chain, for those who aren’t already familiar with their earworm baby back ribs song) came under fire this weekend for a promotion in which they would donate a percentage of money from purchases today (7 April 2014) to an autism charity called the National Autism Association.

Unfortunately for Chili’s awareness campaign, they apparently were not aware that the NAA promotes the unsupported hypothesis that vaccines are a possible cause of autism. From the NAA website:

The National Autism Association believes:

  • Vaccinations can trigger or exacerbate autism in some, if not many, children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.
  • Other environmental exposures may trigger, or exacerbate, autism in certain children, especially those who are genetically predisposed to immune, autoimmune or inflammatory conditions.

They also say:

Based on parent reports – including parents representing the National Autism Association – sharp regression occurred in their children directly following immunizations. … Though published mainstream science fails to acknowledge a causal link to any of these specific exposures, it’s important that parental accounts be carefully considered.

And though their statements above are middling at best to outright wrong at worst, this is the nail in the coffin:

If you are a parent seeking detailed information on vaccine safety, we recommend visiting the National Vaccine Information Center [link removed] website.

The NVIC is a known anti-vaccination organization. There is no scientific basis for the claims made by the NAA or NVIC. There is no evidence that vaccines can trigger autism in any child. Though subjective reporting can be helpful in situations where scientific data is limited as a starting point to investigate apparent issues, the autism/vaccine “link” is not one of those cases. There is an abundance of scientific research that fails to show a link between vaccines and autism.

This information was pointed out to Chili’s and today they announced that they were canceling their promotion in the following statement:

Chili’s is committed to giving back to the communities in which our guests live and work through local and national Give Back Events. While we remain committed to supporting the children and families affected by autism, we are canceling Monday’s Give Back Event based on the feedback we heard from our guests.

We believe autism awareness continues to be an important cause to our guests and team members, and we will find another way to support this worthy effort in the future with again our sole intention being to help families affected by autism. At Chili’s, we want to make every guest feel special and we thank all of our loyal guests for your thoughtful questions and comments.

Kudos to Chili’s for responding to public pressure that was, refreshingly, in the right for a change. Though some would say otherwise:

The medical mafia is alive and well in America today, where pro-vaccine thought police routinely engage in malicious campaigns to smear anyone who dares ask the question “Are vaccines linked to autism?”

When Chili’s recently announced they would make a one-day gesture to provide financial assistance to families devastated by autism, even that was too much for the medical mafia. Their operatives fanned out across the mainstream media to disparage Chili’s for even daring to help autistic children. The danger of people becoming merely “aware” of autism is so great, it seems, that even a goodwill effort to help support mothers of autistic children must be stifled and shut down as quickly as possible.

Fun game: Go on and guess who that was before following the link… Yeah, who else would say “medical mafia”?

We can continue along a path of folly and wasted time and effort, or we can move on and try to find the actual cause (or causes) and therefore potentially discover effective treatments for those whose autism comes with limitations to independence and quality of life. I hope Chili’s still donates some money for autism awareness month, but to a reputable organization that doesn’t also unnecessarily throw vaccines under the bus.

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  • Kim Hebert

    Kim Hébert is an occupational therapist. She is interested in the promotion of science and reason, particularly regarding therapeutic health interventions. She blogs occasionally about occupational therapy and other health topics at Science-Based Therapy. Her hobbies are art and astronomy. **All views expressed by Kim are her personal views alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of current or former employers, associations, or other affiliations. All information is provided for discussion purposes only, and should not be used as a replacement for consultation with a licensed and accredited health professional.