When Donald Trump was one of 17 candidates vying for the Republican nomination, he was asked about autism at a debate in September 2015.
Trump put the blame squarely on vaccines: "You take this little beautiful baby, and you pump -- I mean, it looks just like it's meant for a horse, not for a child, and we've had so many instances, people that work for me, just the other day ... a beautiful child went to have the vaccine, and came back, and a week later got a tremendous fever, got very, very sick, now is autistic."
While he said his children were vaccinated, he insisted that too many vaccines were given at once, a theory that sounds sensible but for which there is no medical evidence.
In the past, on several occasions, he tweeted about this, apparently influenced by the anti-vax movement popularized by Dr. Andrew Wakefield, the British doctor who published an article in the journal The Lancet in 1998 that said that vaccines caused autism.
That article, as virtually everyone but the Republican nominee for president seems to know by now, turned out to be have been based on falsified research. The Lancet editors "discovered that Wakefield had been funded by attorneys for parents who were pursuing lawsuits against vaccine companies and that a number of elements of the paper were misreported," as The Washington Post wrote. The Lancet retracted the article in 2010 and Wakefield lost his license.
I dredge up this history now because in the fall of 2015, it didn't seem to matter much that Trump was clinging to a discredited theory of autism. There was much about Trump that didn't seem to matter then: His pledge to build a wall to keep out the marauding Mexicans (and why would they even want to sneak into the U.S. in droves, if America were really the economic disaster zone that Trump said it was ... but that's another article), his warm embrace of journalist-killing, Crimea-annexing Russia; and so many other aspects of Trump that seemed bizarre and ridiculous but are now scary on so many levels.
It's pretty frightening to think that if Trump is elected, he will be able to appoint the head of the National Institutes of Health. And the Surgeon General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Who knows to whom President Trump would hand those jobs? Who can imagine the billions of dollars in research grants that would go to beating the dead horse of the vaccine-autism connection (about as plausible as saying that atheism causes cancer) rather than significant research, research that could potentially bring real change to the lives of people with autism?
I can't help thinking back to when Trump mocked Pulitzer-Prize winning New York Times reporter Serge Kovaleski, who happens to have a physical disability, at a rally last November. It was appalling then, but not worrisome -- no one thought then that Trump would get the nomination. It didn't really surprise me that Trump would act like a lowlife bully and it wasn't keeping me up at night.
It is now.
I have a 20-year-old son with autism, and the fact that we may be days away from electing a president who thinks vaccines cause the condition and that disabled people are losers to be laughed at is terrifying.
It didn't help that Trump supporters I know told me in no uncertain terms that my concerns were frivolous. I should be looking to make America great again, not worrying about getting much-needed help for my son, and the millions of others out there with autism. And if Trump tried to get a laugh by making fun a disabled person, that was just Trump being Trump. If it bothered me that Trump was acting like the kind of thug I've had to protect my son from his whole life, that just made me into some kind of humorless, politically correct idiot.
Well, Trump supporters, in a democracy, we are allowed to choose whatever issues we want to make our decision about which candidate we choose to vote for.
Latinos, African Americans, women, war heroes and their families, and so many others all have very good reasons not to vote for Trump. And so do we, the parents of children with autism.
Hillary Clinton is the one candidate to come out with a comprehensive proposal for autism treatment and research. She even has a plan for helping people with autism find employment and live more safely. She got input from scientists, doctors and high-functioning people with autism when she made the plan. The details are on her website. She has also said, very clearly, that she does not think vaccines have anything to do with autism.
If you love someone with autism, or any disability, the choice is clear. Don't give an ignorant bully the power to make decisions about our children and their futures.