The media are currently commenting on a report from the National Audit Office that has highlighted several problems. The ITN website concentrates on the need for better training for doctors to enable them to “spot the signs of autism”, while the Telegraph focus on the lack of proper support. Apparently: while “80 per cent [of GPs] thought they needed additional guidance and training to identify and manage those with autism more effectively”, “Most NHS organisations do not even know how many adult patients there are in their areas with autism and so cannot ensure services are adequate”. Professor Baron-Cohen was quoted as saying that “this is a sector of the population who are currently very poorly served”. This being the case, I think that it is important that this issue be discussed in high-profile publications.
I think it is good that the mainstream media have covered this NAO report. It certainly makes a welcome change from their scaremongering about the MMR vaccine causing autism. Speaking of which…
Last night on Question Time, Fiona Phillips repeated an anecdote a friend had told her about their child receiving the MMR vaccine and (I paraphrase) ‘becoming a different child’ (seemingly an almost overnight transformation). She asserted that “these parents cannot be denied”, which I took this to mean that we could not (and should not) deny the claims of parents that their anecdote of MMR causing autism was true. I don’t think anyone is denying that these children received the MMR vaccine. I don’t think anyone is denying that these children have been diagnosed as having autism. I do think, however, that people have rightly denied that the MMR vaccine was the cause of the diagnosis of autism. Fortunately, the other panellists were rather more sensible than Ms Phillips and the responses of Paddy Ashdown, Liam Fox and Jan Royall almost made up for her idiotic comments. Ms Phillips clearly does not understand coincidence, correlation, and causation. Perhaps celebs who opine on things they obviously have no understanding of should be encouraged to enter into education and better inform themselves. Some have suggested that perhaps they should be forced to do so.
I have an alternative*. I see her anecdote and I raise it. There are plenty of parents whose children received the MMR vaccine and did not subsequently receive a diagnosis of autism [anecdata]. There is also a telling anecdote that Paul Offit wrote about in his book Vaccines: What You Should Know (co-authored with Louis M. Bell). A child was about to be vaccinated when they had a fit before the vaccine could be administered – imagine if the fit had occurred a few minutes later. It would have seemed to be clearly linked to the vaccination. Now that’s something to remember next time you read about an adverse event occurring following administration of a vaccine.
*I don’t claim it’s better than education would be – but I predict that Ms Phillips would be more likely to listen to an anecdote than to listen to calls for her to educate herself.