Dr. Wayne M. Danker,
San Diego, California

Before the
Committee on Government Reform

 April 6, 2000

Honored committee members, fellow panel participants and members of the audience, I feel privileged today to appear before this committee to share my perspectives on autism, foremost as a parent but also from the additional perspectives as a pediatric infectious diseases specialist and a scientist engaged in clinical research and evidence-based medicine.  My daughter Natalie, who is now nearly 13 years old, has autism and has taught my family and I a lot about ourselves and how the world around us deals with individuals who appear different from the “norm”.  She has been both a joy and a real challenge to live with and we continue to live through these experiences everyday.  We have weathered this storm by rejoicing in her triumphs and finding the humor in past events even when those events may have seemed unbearable at that time.  We have found that our daughter’s greatest needs have been in the area of education and for a highly structured environment to allow her some control over the events of her life.  It is in the area of education that we have experienced our greatest challenge and have been labeled by our local school district administrators as the most difficult parents they have had to deal with.  In the context of the meeting that this statement was made, both my wife and I took it as an insult but have been convinced by our friends and family that we should wear it as a badge of honor.  If anything, it highlights the advocacy we have championed for our daughter’s rights to an appropriate education that addresses her individual needs and the manner in which she learns best.  My greatest hope today is that members of this committee and the audience will gain a better understanding of the unique nature of autism; the challenges and demands placed upon families caring for autistic children and adults; the significant emotional, financial and community resources required to prepare and involve these individuals in everyday life; and to accept and respect these individuals for who they are. 

However, as previously mentioned, I also come to this committee as a trained infectious diseases specialist and clinical scientist and therefore feel compelled to comment on two other areas of importance to me.  In the area of medical and other treatments, intended to help autistic children function to the best of their ability, I would hope to see more funding to allow for appropriately controlled and conducted studies to rapidly determine the true effectiveness of these interventions so that families can make informed decisions regarding the best use of their limited resources.  Without these studies, I and the other parents of autistic children are forced to make decisions, which may at times prove disadvantageous to all involved, without the benefits of real data.

I would also wish to comment on the current concerns regarding the potential causes for the perceived increase in autism.  I implore the committee to be cautious in its statements and conclusions with regard to possible links to environmental factors and medical factors, especially immunizations.  Recognizing that there are other parents on this panel who may feel otherwise, as a pediatric infectious diseases specialist I have seen no sound scientific evidence linking autism to the MMR or any other vaccine, yet, there is considerable evidence proving that the MMR vaccine is safe and highly effective in protecting children from serious diseases. 

            In closure, no matter what conclusions are formed today or where the activities of these hearings may lead, I would like to share an axiom of medicine I have both learned, practice daily, and continue to teach to future doctors, above all do no harm.  Thank you.

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