Tuesday, the American Journal of Public Health published a study showing children with autism are 40 times more likely to die from injury than their typically developing peers. The average life expectancy for those with autism is just 36 years, a shocking contrast to the typical life expectancy of 72 years for the general public .
These grim statistics are no surprise for millions of parents who struggle to keep their children with autism safe each day. Those not personally impacted by autism tend to entirely ignore the fact that autism is associated with risks. Parents of children with autism, especially those who stop vaccinating following regression, are often barraged with comments that dismiss the dangers their children face.
-I’d rather have a child with autism than a dead one!
-I’d rather my child have autism than the measles!
-You don’t have the right to put my child at risk by refusing to vaccinate yours!
These statements are usually paired with a haughty mention that unlike the autism parent, the commenter is actually pro-science. If we actually look at the science, we see that Tylenol has killed 500 times more people in the United States over the past decade than measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria and wild polio combined [2, 3]. We average one measles death per decade in the United States despite poor vaccination compliance among American adults. Greater than 100 million Americans aren’t up to date on their tetanus vaccine, yet only one in three million of them will be infected with tetanus this year . Fewer than two of the 100 million Americans not up to date on their diphtheria vaccine can expect to be infected in an average year.  Meanwhile, 3.5 million Americans are living with autism. Assuming their trajectory is similar to those in the American Journal of Public Health study, nearly one million of them will die prematurely due to injury.
Whether or not one believes vaccines cause autism (they do) , the miniscule risks associated with chicken pox and mumps don’t belong in a sentence trivializing the serious dangers children with autism encounter. Families deserve better than to have the statistically significant risks their children face downplayed by those comparing autism to minor childhood illnesses. A more accurate, pro-science version of the statement preferring autism to measles would be:
-I’d rather my child have a one in four chance of dying of injury associated with autism than a one in three billion chance of dying of measles this year.
Indeed we have an epidemic in this country that is putting our children in grave danger. The media, medical community, and pharmaceutical companies want you to believe it’s an outbreak of mumps at the local university. The science says it’s autism.