Autism and Immunizations
Lauren Brown
Developmental Psychology 241-1901
September 23, 2018

This paper will discuss the controversary of children with autism in relation to receiving childhood vaccinations. Many parents elect not to have their children vaccinated in fear of them developing autism. This raises the question, do children become autistic as a result of being vaccinated?

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Immunizations & Autism Controversary
As many people know, there is a continuing controversy over autism being a result over childhood immunizations. Many parents of children diagnosed with autism correlate the diagnosis with the child having been recently immunized. Many believe their child was developing normally until the child was immunized with Tetanus, diphtheria, and acellular pertussis, (Tdap) vaccine. As previously stated, parents believe that because their child was developing in a manner in which they felt was normal such as being energetic, saying some words, and cuddling, but the child changed after being immunized. The truth of the matter is this controversy was put into the minds of people by the media during the 2008 Hannah Poling incident where her parents stated, “she received five vaccines Tdap, Hemophilus influenzae type b (Hib), measles–mumps–rubella (MMR), varicella, and inactivated polio. They said at the time, their daughter was active, playful, and communicative. A couple days later, she was lethargic and irritable. Ten days after her vaccinations, she developed a rash consistent with vaccine-induced varicella. Months later, she had delays in neurologic and psychological development, Hannah was diagnosed with encephalopathy caused by a mitochondrial enzyme deficit. Hannah’s signs included problems with language, communication, and behavior — all features of autism spectrum disorder,” (Offit, (2008)).
The diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex process; as is the assessment of the affected individual’s level of functioning throughout the lifespan, which is necessary to provide them with the appropriate support (Matthews, Pollard, Ober-Reynolds, Iirwan, Malligo, & Smith, 2015). These processes take into consideration the cognitive and adaptive functioning of the affected individual to prepare them for independent living in later years.
If vaccinations, are the cause of autism then why do some children develop autism characteristics, but the majority do not? Autism is characterized by “impairment in communication skills and social interaction, and by repetitive, stereotyped behavior,” (Rathus, (2016). Autism begins to be noticeable at the age of three and in severe cases even before the child is one. Autistic children have communication problems they usually can’t talk or express their emotions well. “Contrary to what some theorists say, or some of the public believe, scientific evidence shows that there is no connection between the development of autism and use of vaccines or deficiencies,” (Rathus, (2016).

Varying Points of View
Parents who have a child with autism may delay or decline immunizations for their younger children in fear of placing them at risk of becoming autistic as well; this places them at an increased risk of contracting a preventable infectious disease (Kuwaik, Roberts, Zwaigenbaum, Bryson, Smith, &…Brian, 2012).
There have numerous studies that have consistently shown that links between vaccines and serious diseases do not exist (Recame, 2012). Many parents still avoid recommended vaccinations every year that has led to an increase in recent outbreaks and deaths. This not only puts children at risk, but also puts communities in danger of outbreaks (Recame, 2012).
There has been one vaccine ingredient that was studied specifically and it is thimerosal, it is a mercury-based preservative used to prevent contamination of vaccination multidose vials. Research has shown that thimerosal does not cause autism spectrum disorder. Since 2003, there have been nine Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) funded studies that found no connection between thimerosal-containing. (Vaccine Safety, N.D.).
I believe biological factors played a role in ASD. For example, being exposed to harmful substances like lead, alcohol, tobacco, lack of prenatal care, and possibly chemotherapeutic agents may also play a role in ASD. Personally, I know a child that has autism. I met him a month before his first birthday and it was obvious then his behavior was not normal. He wasn’t saying any words, wasn’t walking, played by himself, did not interact with other children and he would become irritable when anyone tried to interact with him. Some family members recognized the symptoms and suspected ASD, but the mother and the grandparents thought that he was slow learning. They later began to believe that something was wrong but blamed it on his hearing. They made an appointment to have his hearing tested, this is where they heard from a healthcare professional that autism was suspected. As of the age of three he still was not talking, he will only make loud noises. His grandmother believes it is related to the immunizations. She does not want to consider the fact that the mother’s lifestyle while pregnant included alcohol, drug use, and no prenatal care could have contributed to the child’s conditions.
This is a delicate subject with parents who have a child with autism, special care should be given when educating them on the importance of vaccinations, not only for the safety and health of their own children, but for children in their community. A lot of diseases have been eradicated through immunizations and if people continue to refuse immunizations we could see a return in those deadly diseases.
This paper discussed the controversy of childhood immunizations being the cause of ASD. It discussed the characteristics of ASD the origination of the controversy and varying points of view, as well as biological factors that potentially play a role in the development in ASD.


Kuwaik, G.A., Roberts, W., Zwaigenbaum, L., Bryson, S., Smith, I.M., Szatmari, P., Modi, B.M., Tanel, N., & Brian, J. (2012). Immunization uptake in younger siblings of children with autism spectrum disorder. Autism, 18(2), 148-155.

Matthews, N., Pollard, E., Ober-Reynolds, S., Kirwan, J., Malligo, A., & Smith, C. (2015). Revisiting cognitive and adaptive functioning in children and adolescents with autism spectrum disorder. Journal of Autism & Developmental Disorders, 45(1), 138-156.

Offit, P. A. (2008, May 15). Vaccines and Autism Revisited – The Hannah Poling Case | NEJM. Retrieved September 19, 2018, from

Rathus, S. A. (2016). HDEV 5. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning.

Recame, M.A. (2012). The immunization-autism myth debunked. International Journal of Childbirth Education, 27(4), 76-78.

Vaccine Safety. (N.D.). Retrieved September 21, 2018, from