April 04, 2017
3 min read

Trump support for autism awareness overshadowed by recurrent misinformation

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On Sunday, April 2, by order of President Donald J. Trump, the White House was illuminated in blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. In an announcement on Friday, Trump called on all Americans to learn the signs of autism to order to improve early diagnosis and understand the challenges faced by those with autism spectrum disorders.

On World Autism Awareness Day, we highlight the importance of addressing the causes and improving the treatments for autism spectrum disorders (ASDs),” Trump said in a statement. “We must continue our research to improve early identification and intervention, strengthen our comprehension of the disorder, and open opportunities for every member of our society to live independently and live the American Dream. My Administration is committed to promoting greater knowledge of ASDs and encouraging innovation that will lead to new treatments and cures for autism.”

President Donald J. Trump
Donald J. Trump

While providing a rallying call for autism research, Trump himself has been the source of considerable misinformation regarding autism, a trend first noted on the campaign trail that has continued into his presidency.  

During the 2015 Republican presidential debate, Trump noted that “autism has become an epidemic,” and – citing the famously debunked 1998 research of Andrew Wakefield linking autism to measles-mumps-rubella vaccines – proposed “alternative” immunization schedules and the possible benefit of delaying vaccination. More so than other childhood conditions, the search for potential causes of ASD has been plagued by red herrings as parent groups attempt to link ASD to specific ‘controllable’ factors such as vaccination: theories that gain validation when shared by the president.

“There is no ‘alternative’ immunization schedule,” Karen Remley, MD, MBA, MPH, executive director and CEO of the AAP, said in a press release. “Delaying vaccines only leaves a child at risk of disease for a longer period of time; it does not make vaccinating safer. Vaccines work, plain and simple. Vaccines are one of the safest, most effective and most important medical innovations of our time. Pediatricians partner with parents to provide what is best for their child, and what is best is for children to be fully vaccinated.”

In January 2017, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., an environmental lawyer and widely known “vaccine skeptic,” reported that he was asked by then President-elect Trump to chair a commission about vaccine safety, which raised concerns among pediatricians that the incoming administration was embarking on a potentially hazardous position on immunization. While the Trump administration has since denied offering this position to Kennedy, the administration has demonstrated a clear intent to re-examine disproven theories about autism.

“The President-elect enjoyed his discussion with Robert Kennedy Jr. on a range of issues and appreciates his thoughts and ideas,” Trump spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, said in statement. “The President-elect is exploring the possibility of forming a commission on autism, which affects so many families; however, no decisions have been made at this time. The President-elect looks forward to continuing the discussion about all aspects of autism with many groups and individuals.”

Whether autism science will continue to be an active discussion in the Trump administration, the pediatrician, as always, remains the front-line person to address parental concerns and halt the spread of misinformation. To highlight the importance of scientifically vetted information during Autism Awareness Month, Infectious Diseases in Children presents the latest news coverage regarding autism research as well as ongoing legislation that may impact children with autism.

Narrowing the diagnostic gap: Autism over 30 years

While significant diagnostic progress has been made over the past 30 years, pediatricians still rely heavily on their own examinations in combination with family history and parental perspectives to make an ASD diagnosis. With increasing numbers of children with ASD being seen in the pediatric office, the focus on early diagnosis has never been more pressing. Read More

Care for patients with autism, disabilities faces uncertain future under Trump administration

Health care reform proposals supported by President Donald Trump could have negative consequences for patients with disabilities and autism, meaning the time has come for advocates of these patients to make their voices heard. Read More

Trump’s meeting with ‘vaccine cynic’ Robert F. Kennedy Jr. raises concerns

Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a proponent of scientifically disproven claims about the safety of vaccines, said he was asked by President-elect Donald J. Trump to chair a commission about vaccine safety, raising concerns among infectious disease experts that the incoming administration was taking a dangerous anti-science position on immunization. Read More

Law improves trends in service use, spending among children with autism

The Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act, a federal law requiring equal insurance benefits for health care, has modestly increased the use of services by children with autism spectrum disorder without raising out-of-pocket costs to their families. Read More

Dispelling vaccination 'myths' aroused by GOP debate

During the 2015 Republican presidential debate, the topic of vaccination once again was thrust into the spotlight, as candidates discussed the possible link between vaccines and autism, as well as “alternative” immunization schedule and the possible benefit of delaying vaccination. Read More