If you search the VAERS database for reports filed in all of 1997 on MMR-attributed autism, you will find 16 reports of adverse events. If you do the same search in all of 2002, you will find 120 reports. That gives you an idea of the effect of MMR hype on what parents attribute autism to. Thankfully, the number of such reports appears to be declining in recent years, with only 40 in all of 2005.
Lingam et al. (2003) found that not only did the rate of attribution of regression to the MMR vaccine changed post-Wakefield, but some parents apparently changed their story as well.
Widespread public concern about the possible relation between autism and MMR began in August 1997, with the pre-publication release of information about the Wakefield study, which attracted considerable and ongoing media attention. The date at which onset of developmental regression was first recorded in the notes was obtained for the 106 cases. After excluding unvaccinated cases and those vaccinated when aged over 24 months (of whom all but one were children vaccinated in the 1988-89 catch-up campaign), we found MMR was reported as the trigger in 6/30 (20.0%) post-August 1997 compared to 2/46 (4.3%) before August 1997 (p = 0.052).
From August 1997 the reported presence or timing of regression changed in 13 cases. For six of these, regression was mentioned for the first time after August 1997, even though many health professionals had seen these children before this date. In seven cases the recorded timing of onset of regression changed in relation to MMR: six closer, one further away.
But there is some other data of interest in Lingam et al. (2003) which I wanted to go into. They survey parents about triggers thought to cause regression.
In 44 (42%) of the 106 children with detailed information on regression, a specific trigger was mentioned as a possible cause. The most common (13 children) was a household or social change such as the birth of a sibling, then vaccination (12 cases). Other triggers mentioned were: viral and bacterial infections (n = 7), seizures (n = 7), postsurgery (n = 2), and other causes (n = 3). The MMR vaccine was mentioned specifically in eight of the 12 cases where a vaccine was suspected. Although families would not have been directly asked about this possibility, this finding suggests that very few parents (less than 2% in this cohort) considered that MMR vaccine might have triggered their child's autism.
Interestingly, in this post-Wakefield survey, there is one trigger parents seem to attribute regression to more often than vaccination: Household stress, such as the birth of a sibling.
In case there are doubts about this, let's look at another survey on language regression, Shinnar et al. (2001) (full HTML text can be temporarily found here). The following is what they found.
Fifty-two families (29%) reported a trigger to the regression (Table 2). The most common triggers reported included family stresses (n=23), such as the birth of a sibling (n=10) or moving (n=7), seizures (n=13), or infectious/immunologic triggers (n=14).
More specifically, they found that only 8% of parents attributed regression to immunization, compared to 19% who blamed the birth of a sibling, and 44% who blamed family issues in general.
It is often said that autism researchers would do well to pay attention to parental experiences. There is some definite merit to this idea, of course, as there is merit to the notion that researchers should listen to autistics themselves. It follows that there must be a whole subfield of autism science dedicated to studying the link between family stress and autism/regression, right? Well, I'm unable to find much of anything about this link through Google Scholar. But surely, the potential link must have been mentioned as part of the Combating Autism Act, correct? No, apparently not. At least there must be mailing lists established to discuss this link or blogs where it has been mentioned, right? Not that I know of. I actually believe this is the first blog post where the link between stress and regression is the main topic of the post.
Why might this be? I suggest it's because there won't be class-action lawsuits that address the stress caused by the birth of siblings. There aren't specific big corporations that can be blamed for family issues. There is no role for the illuminati to play. And perhaps most importantly, it seems difficult to come up with grandiose promises of cure for stress-induced autistic regression.
-Whatever Happened To? (Joel)
-Is the TV Hypothesis more Plausible than the Thimerosal Hypothesis? (Joseph)