Vaccines, Airplanes, & the Past Decade
The notion that vaccines are somehow a "cause" of autism and "anti-vaccine quackery" as the "worst pseudoscience of the decade?" So proposeth Orac over at Respectful Insolence at and I can't but concur. Charlie being born in 1997 and diagnosed with autism in 1999, the noughties/oughties or howsoever you wish to call the soon-to-be-ending decade have coincided with the years of his learning and growing. Talk about the whole "vaccine issue" has been a constant din, sometimes in the background, sometimes right in our ears and with me throwing my few cents into the ring, too.
Attention to the "vaccine thing" seems to be slowly slackening, though I don't expect this notion of autism causation ever to completely wither away. When Jim and I heard about it, we still, in despite of ourselves, thought back to what Charlie had been like before and after he had received his first vaccinations while a baby in St. Louis, Missouri. These memories were readily accompanied by our knowledge that so much about Charlie—from the way he looks out the corner of his eyes to his ability to focusfocusfocus on certain things and not at all on others to his curious motor development and delays—had always been the same with him. Charlie, we know in the way that parents know things, was born as he is, and the past ten years have made this more, never less, evident.
Much has happened in those ten years, moves around the country and around New Jersey, school changes for Charlie, job changes for Jim and me. One constant has been our Christmas trip to see my family in Oakland, California. Charlie has spent every Christmas there, except for 1998 (when he had such a bad ear infection that he couldn't travel) and for 2005 (when we stayed in New Jersey after going out to California in October for Ngin-Ngin's 100th birthday party). It looks like this year will be another year when we don't make it to California.
Charlie continues to do well at school. Home has been a bit more, oh, exciting, with a resurgence of head stuff. Most times, things have happened and then whatever feelings or thoughts Charlie was expressing by doing this have passed. But sometimes those feelings or thoughts have not gone away so quickly. While Charlie's been getting in some very invigorating walks in the cold, it's not the same as riding bikes for miles: He's had an excess of physical energy and when he's upset, all that energy can pour out of him.
Keeping all this in mind, Jim and I concluded that a window or middle seat in economy class on a transcontinental flight two days before Christmas would not be an optimal place for Charlie to be for a minimum of 7 hours.
(Not to mention the lines to check-in and go through security.) When I flew back to California for Ngin-Ngin's funeral in October, my flight was delayed by 2 hours. I used the time to grade midterms all the while thinking, what if this happens when Jim and Charlie and I go to California in December? Charlie's benefited from the big autism center because he can walk around its frankly big space frequently. Now that he's so tall, I can't think he'd be any more, or rather less, comfortable than ye average-sized American traveler.
I feel sad to miss seeing my family–one cousin's baby daughter will be just over a year old—but we're also relieved. Charlie did fine on the airplane last year, but was miserable during our whole stay in California and wanted only to return home. Jim spent most of the trip taking Charlie on several-hour hikes in the Oakland hills, with my dad and me occasionally joining him. Charlie has visited California and stayed in my parents' house since he was a baby, but last time, he just didn't want to be there.
We've managed on the past couple of California trips by flying very early or late and giving Charlie some Melatonin, so that he sleeps on most of the flight. But with his hearing so much more sensitive (even in his sleep), I can see him waking him up at a cough or a baby's cry and, again thinking about him being crampt in econo-class, we're worried about how he might respond at a couple thousand feet up. We're thinking worst case scenario here, but airplane travel with Charlie has always required a maximum of planning and hoping that things will just work out, and we've been lucky. Even last year, Charlie started moaning in the security line (tons of noises and tensions in any airport, as you may imagine) and the security guard who walked right over to us had clearly had none of the "first responder" sensitivity training that our local police officers and EMTs have had.
So we'll be spending Christmas here in New Jersey. I suspect Charlie will be missing school enough as it is and am thinking that we'll drive by there everyday, so he can see it and see that it is closed. Jim and I have been thinking of some day trips (I for one would love to see the beach in winter) and are looking into finding another indoor pool (we cancelled our YMCA membership in part because it never seemed possible for Charlie to get in sufficient swim time, with all the swim team practices, classes, and so forth). Yesterday, after a year-plus hiatus, Charlie (under my coaxing) sat at the piano and played "Happy Song," one of the first songs he ever learned: Would love to get him started with even a little piano playing again.
(Yes, he still can read the notes in his piano book.)
And Jim's hoping maybe the ice will melt a little and they can take out the bikes, just for a short ride. It'll be Camp Charlie all again, winter session.
You can read about it here—and the story of these daily struggles and joys and tribulations and (hopefully) fun—Charlie's and ours and those of all the other individuals and families out there. These are the stories we'll be following in the next decade, when the "vaccine issue" has, like how many other theories of "what causes autism" and "what autism is," have been consigned to their places on a dusty shelf.