I had to let my friend go because of her staunch anti-vaccine views. I didn’t let her go happily. Honestly, I was sad to sever the ties. We had been through a really tough time together, and our friendship survived things that many don’t.
Initially, her anti-vaccine views just made me roll my eyes. She was always one of those everything-natural, essential-oils, no-chemicals, kind of people. She made her own elderberry syrup. I’m not against all-natural things, but I’m just a lot more mainstream when it comes to medicine, cleaning products, and personal care. We joked about how she was my hippie friend, so it was “on-brand” for her to be against vaccines. I wasn’t surprised by it, but I was disappointed when I found out.
We discussed it briefly once, it didn’t go well, and that was it. We chose not to discuss it again. For a while, no matter how much I disagreed with her, I chose to just ignore her many anti-vaccine posts on social media because I loved her.
She has three kids who are all so funny and quirky and beautiful and smart. We had so much fun together with our kids and without. Her ideas about vaccines didn’t feel that relevant to me. My kids are vaccinated, and I don’t have to agree with my friends on every issue.
As a part of her anti-vaccine stance, she has been vocal about her belief that autism is a vaccine injury. I always adamantly disagreed with her in my mind, but I am ashamed to say, I never felt the need to speak up for people with autism because I didn’t know any.
How ugly is that statement? Phew. Thank goodness for personal growth.
Last winter, my son was diagnosed with autism, and the whole game changed.
My heart was heavy the day I ended our social media ties and decided that I wouldn’t contact her again. The last anti-vaccine post I saw on her social media was autism specific, and I just knew that for Walker’s sake, it was time. I wasn’t happy to lose her friendship, and it didn’t feel great to just quietly disappear, but ultimately, I thought that was the best way.
Her ideas about vaccines are too deeply rooted for me to make any difference, but more importantly, she’s a grown woman. She is can disagree with established science if that’s what she chooses. As dangerous as it is, I have no right to demand that she change her views to accommodate me.
That said, I also don’t have an obligation to respect (or even tolerate) her views and opinions. Vaccines save lives, and when you don’t vaccinate, you put fragile populations at risk. Newborns, the elderly, immune-compromised individuals and people with allergies to vaccine ingredients need the rest of us to keep vaccine-preventable disease at bay. The best way to do that is to limit who can contract it — and that is what vaccines do.
I didn’t choose to end our friendship because I was angry, and I didn’t go quietly because I felt she didn’t deserve an explanation. I wasn’t angry at all, and I’d be happy to explain if she asked what happened. She’s never asked. I haven’t heard from her. I’m sure she knows that it comes down to vaccines, and she knows as well as I do that we can’t find common ground when it comes to that.
And I can’t ignore the anti-vaccine rhetoric anymore. It’s not a difference of opinion about whether to trust in established medical science at this point.
It’s my son.
Walker is an amazing little boy, not despite autism, but because of it. It is part of who he is, and it is how he was made. Some people assume he is fighting against autism to succeed, but that couldn’t be less true. Every time Walker excels, it’s because he has learned exactly how to thrive with the brain he has. As his parents, we are just finding ways for him to be everything he can be- not looking for ways for him to act more neurotypical.
And to be honest, I’m tired of acting like anti-vaccine proponents aren’t just flat out wrong about the vaccine/autism link. Doctors and scientists agree that autism isn’t an injury or brain damage. It can be part of wider diagnosis, or a standalone diagnosis, but either way, it’s just the way some brains are wired. From the womb to the grave, my boy will have the atypical and amazing brain that he has.
The autism spectrum is vast, and every autistic person is completely unique. Some people, like my son, show some signs of autism from birth. Some people are diagnosed in childhood when their spectrum traits begin to show up more prominently. A few people even get all the way to adulthood before discovering that they are on the spectrum. We don’t yet know exactly how autism works, but science gets us closer every day.
What we do know is that there is absolutely no valid scientific link between vaccines and autism. That science is clear, and I won’t waste even a sentence trying to convince anyone of that.
When I saw her latest post about autism and vaccines, it all became so clear in my mind. I knew I could love her, but I couldn’t change her mind. It felt disloyal to my boy to continue to look the other way. When I ended our social media ties, I knew in my heart that it was the end in real life, too. I wish her well, but I will not contact her again.
I have no doubt that she would always treat my son with kindness in person. She isn’t a monster. She’s a kind person who believes some things that I know to be incorrect and dangerous.
This isn’t about protecting him from her, specifically.
It’s about protecting him from ideologies that would cause him pain and self-doubt. It’s also about protecting my own heart from the constant reminders that some people- even ones I count as friends- see my son as damaged goods. I think that even if it bruises my heart just a little bit, it’s okay for me to let go of anyone who doubts that Walker is absolutely, 100% the exact person he is meant to be.
If you want a seat at our table, you have to celebrate Walker for all that he is.
Autism does come with a host of specific challenges. But my other child without autism has a whole host of specific challenges, too. Don’t we all have hurdles to jump on the way to the life we imagine?
I don’t wish Walker was neurotypical. He doesn’t suffer with autism. He thrives with it. It’s my job as his mom to create a life for him that allows him to continue to blossom, so he will be capable of any future that he chooses.
I just can’t allow people who don’t see him as totally whole to have a place in my life or Walker’s.
He deserves better.