Jenny McCarthy was thrust into the national autism debate soon after her son,
Evan, was diagnosed with autism in 2005. Experiencing endless frustration
in attempting to find help and treatment for her son, Jenny became an autism
advocate for hundreds of thousands of families nationwide and around the
world. However, her aggressive campaigning style and claims of vaccine
dangers put her squarely in the line of fire of doctors, pharmaceutical
companies, and even others within the autism community. Websites and
Facebook groups have been set up to either discredit or disprove much of what
she has stood for ( e.g. StopJenny dot com) and even going so far as to blame
her for the deaths of unvaccinated individuals (e.g. JennyMcCarthyBodyCount dot com).
The demonization of Jenny McCarthy and attack on her reputation has been unprecedented for someone who has made significant strides in bringing the autism debate to a national level.
This article is not an endorsement of McCarthy and in fact, we don’t agree with some things she has claimed or stands for. However, it has been unsettling to see her called a quack, loon, and every other name imaginable for simply coming forward on an issue that greatly affected her and her family.
Despite what many think about her opinions on vaccines and autism, it is undeniable that Jenny McCarthy has had a huge impact on the autism community. She is a parent, who like many of us, experienced incredible frustration and pain while trying to find help for her son. And for her efforts, she has been discredited, doubted, and vilified by many.
Just recently, it was suggested that her son never had autism at all. In a Time Magazine article published in February, 2010, the writer stated:
"There are dark murmurings from scientists and doctors asking, Was her son ever really autistic? Evan’s symptoms — heavy seizures, followed by marked improvement once the seizures were brought under control — are similar to those of Landau-Kleffner syndrome, a rare childhood neurological disorder that can also result in speech impairment and possible long-term neurological damage."
The doubting of whether Jenny’s son had autism to begin with is not atypical and just one of the many forms or discrimination that parents of children with autism deal with on a regular basis.
Never mind that Evan received a formal autism diagnosis in 2005 from UCLA. Where are the critics of the doctors at UCLA Hospital for making this "wrong" diagnosis? It’s clear that by suggesting Evan was never autistic, it is an indirect way to invalidate Jenny herself. It’s amazing that science has advanced to such a point that doctors can now diagnose children by simply reading and watching stories in the media! Unfortunately, the Landau Kleffner theory has spread to the blogosphere and many McCarthy opponents are using this as fodder to further discredit her. It has even made it to her Wikipedia page, which cites the Time article.
Despite the notion that autism is a life-long condition, there are many documented cases where children have recovered from autism or had their symptoms significantly reduced through intensive therapy and/or biomedical treatment. One of the most notable and remarkable stories comes from Raun Kaufman, who is the CEO of the Son Rise program at the Autism Treatment Center of America. Raun was diagnosed with severe autism as a child and has since fully recovered. We interviewed Kaufman a few years ago and he too often comes across skeptics who doubt his original diagnosis.
Like her or not, Jenny McCarthy has helped many in their struggles with autism. Her involvement with TACA, Generation Rescue and the launch of Teach2Talk has had a positive impact on countless families. She also has amplified the debate on vaccine safety and continues to advocate on behalf of countless families without a voice who are dealing with the pains and trials associated with autism.