Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Don't Be An Asshole

A little over a week ago I found myself leaving the local grocery store and stumbled into a heartbreaking situation. There was a developmentally disabled young adult being wrestled to the ground by store security. The gentleman was non-verbal (at least in this moment), and putting up one hell of a fight. I do not know the infraction that sparked this melee, but I do know two large gentleman were struggling to detain this man. There were several raw steaks strewn across the floor, perhaps he was stealing them. The struggle had knocked over some straws and plastic forks from the Panda Express counter. Perhaps it started there.

I never like to see anyone being detained forcefully. The disability advocate in me wanted to free this man. Spring him and fight the cops. Stand up against "The Man".

But I came in half way through the movie, and I don't know how it started. I also could see that, for whatever reason, this guy was fighting back. The security guys weren't being cruel or excessive. They weren't yelling at or mocking him. They were struggling.

They got the man down. They started to cuff him (I was surprised to see actual handcuffs on grocery store loss prevention officers, too).

The man fought on. Screaming and grunting. Unable to find any words that might ease his situation, tell his story, plead his case, or even say "I'm sorry".

I took a step to them. The situation was under control. I wasn't there to defend anyone's actions. But I am not frightened or uncomfortable speaking to the developmentally disabled. Perhaps I could help.

But something stopped me.


There was a group of five 13/14 year-old boys standing next to me. They had just received their Starbucks coffee. They were watching the melee. They were laughing. One was filming on his phone. There were no parents around, but these guys were old enough to be hanging out by themselves.

And they were laughing.

I said the only thing I could think to say.


Only laughter.


And the ringleader (at least the one filming) said to me:

"No, Bro. This retard keeps trying to fight back. It's hilarious"

And the curtain of sadness and hatred closed in front of my eyes.

"That man has dignity. That man has shame. That man is not here for your entertainment. Stop."

And I was ignored. I reached out to grab this phone. Somewhere in the back of my mind a voice told me to stop. These are children. You don't want to get bailed out because you fought children in a grocery store. Somewhere, very deep down, that old ABA therapy voice whispered "Jaye, model the proper behavior". It distracted me long enough for the kid to put the phone down.

The loss prevention officers were now escorting the man away, he had ceased resisting. The show was over.

"Next time, you offer to help, or you walk away. Your first instinct was to pull out your phone and film a person in their most embarrassing moment. No."

"Fuck you!" and the kids stumbled away.

"No, young man. Fuck you."


I paid for my groceries and went to my car. The kids were gone. Security had taken the man to some back office somewhere. A panicked woman in her fifties had just run by me and didn't grab a shopping cart. I bet it was his mother. She had the completely devastated look of someone who had just heard that her son, her baby, the one she might have given her life up for, had been arrested.


And I cried for a few minutes.

For all of us.


I'm sad where our world has come. We've become so unapologetically mean, and voyeuristic, and self-righteous, and distant from each other.

Please. Don't be an asshole.


I have been scanning youtube for the last week. The framing and set-up and details and sounds of this melee would certainly be released sooner or later.

I am certain that this kid will simply cut out the part of the video when that big Irish-brawler/kind a biker looking dude came over and lectured him.

But it is not there.

Perhaps modelling the proper behavior worked.

Perhaps there is hope.

Ca Ira.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

No, Jeff Sessions. No.

The ADA, IDEA part 2 (School-aged Children), and NCLB are arguably the three single-most important pieces of legislation ever passed for children with disabilities in schools.

All three were passed under a Republican President.


"I mean, look at all these short-bus kids. How much are we paying to keep them alive? They're never going to contribute anything to society."

"I don't condone violence, but, people don't realize how hard it is to raise a special needs child. I wouldn't have thrown mine off a bridge, but I understand."

“We have created a complex system of federal regulations and laws that have created lawsuit after lawsuit, special treatment for certain children, and that are a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America. I say that very sincerely.”

Arguably the three single-most offensive lines I have heard about children with disabilities.


The third quote is from Senator Jeff Sessions. It was said in 2000, arguing against the IDEA part 2. 

Today, Mr. Sessions is President-Elect Trump's appointee for US Attorney General. 


The US Attorney General does not have the power alone to overturn Federal Legislation, but he/she can represent those that wish to. He/she can "lead the charge" to "represent the President or public of the US for legal matters".


My parents generation and my generation have fought for these rights. We are responsible for those "Lawsuit after Lawsuit" that have "accelerated the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America."

And we will continue to do so.


A bigger and more troubling concern than Jeff Sessions, if there can be one, is that I fear we are losing public perception. We live in a nation that both of our last Presidents openly mocked individuals with disabilities on their campaign trail (remember Obama's "Special Olympics" joke on Jay Leno). We are living in a Nation that celebrates Ann Coulter's use of the word retarded to describe those that disagree with her. A Nation where the phrase "libtard" is seen as a clever quip, protected under "freedom of speech" and not "hate speech" or "fighting words".

I worry for my son and daughter. 

I worry for your sons and daughters.

I worry even more for their children. 


Please, write your Senators and Representatives.

Please write our President and President-Elect.

I beg you. 

Our children need it.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Centerfold Revisited

I once knew a mom who had a son on the spectrum. It's a familiar story. Her son was developing at normal pace, hitting all the infant milestones, walking and talking, a bright and bubbly young child. Shortly after his second birthday, reportedly within days of receiving his latest round of vaccines, he started to "regress". He lost most of the language he had gained, became distant and isolated, and developed stims and/or tics.

He received his autism diagnosis soon thereafter.

David was a changed boy.

But mom was a warrior. She studied up on every known treatment. She studied up on every diet. She did what she could to lash out and lead the fight against vaccines. She was sad, yet she had the steadfast love it takes to move her child forward in what was presented to her as a devastating and helpless future.

She was determined it would not be David's future.

She even wrote a book or two on the therapies and diets that seemed to work for her son. She lead a "green our vaccines movement". She gave a shit.

And she pissed off a lot of people on the way.


Years later, Dave was a "normal" boy. One of her therapies or diets (or a magical concoction of all of them) had worked. She declared him "recovered" and "cured".

And she pissed off a lot of people on the way.


A few months after his "recovery", she continued to promote her diet and her therapies. She continued to lead her campaigns against the vaccine industry and their puppet master, Big Pharma.

But David was recovered. He was a normal pre-teen now, a bit quirky, but definitively Neurotypical. She had no reason to stay in the pool, yet she did.She kept fighting for others. Despite the anger and hostility toward her, she remained swimming.

And many would say, pissing in that same pool.


A few more months go by and she reveals in an interview with a major magazine that her son had been diagnosed with something called "Landau-Kleffner Disorder", a seizure disorder marked by the loss of many developmental skills around the age of 2 or 3. The interviewer asked "So, your son never had autism, did he?"

And she defended her son. She claimed he met all the benchmarks and criteria for a spectrum diagnosis. He had been seen by many, many doctors that confirmed it. She had done all the therapies recommended by the State and bloggers and DAN! Doctors and school administrators and OTs and dietitians and healers and nutritionists and speech therapists and medicine men and psychiatrists and sports coaches possible... and not a single one ever doubted David's autism.

Until a neurologist identified the seizures.

Landau-Kleffner Disorder was simply a co-morbidity of autism... a phrase we often use.

The thing about Landau-Kleffner disorder, however, is that sometimes it simply goes away... The seizures stop, the language returns, the tics and stims go away. And anti-coagulants and corticosteroids can help along the way.

She asked, if all of the symptoms of autism go away, if none of the benchmarks of a diagnosis apply anymore, if the social skills come back... was he not cured?

And she pissed off a lot more people on the way.


Including this blogger.



Years later, I was listening to her radio show and she was talking about her non-profit, Generation Rescue, dedicated to helping families with autism.

And I thought to myself... She's still fighting. She has absolutely no dog in this fight anymore, and she is still fighting.


And I apologize to her.

Perhaps misguided at times, but never lost passion for her son...

And all of us.

I am sorry, Ms. McCarthy. Thank you for staying in our pool.


ed. note - I wrote this piece tonight because we are on the eve of another World Autism Awareness Day and, if you read a lot of blogs, you're going to be inundated with anti Autism Speaks articles. I wanted to highlight other charities if you are looking for a new support system.

Generation Rescue Webpage

More about Landau-Kleffner Syndrome

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Hello, World. My Name is Jack and I have Autism

On April 26th, 2012, I started this page with this simple post:

I am a stay at home dad raising a child with high functioning autism. I am many other things, but that statement has come to define me.

It has long since been my goal to coax Jack into writing this with me. Almost 4 years later... That day has arrived. 

First, a little history and backstory. I told Jack about "Find My Eyes" about a year ago. He was quite uninterested. And even less interested in me sharing his story (our story) with the world... or at least the small corner of it that read the blog. He also "gave me his blessing" to continue to write, even read a post or two, and continued to be uninterested.

In our house, we recently had the autism talk... at least the one that stuck with Jack. If you didn't read that one, I urge you to take a moment to read it here. It will make a lot of Jack's post make more sense if you read where we are coming from in the explanation of how autism affects Jack.


Today is the last day of Winter Break for our school district and we were tasked over the holiday to simply "keep up reading and writing" as homework. This Winter Break has been groundbreaking for us. Jack is really latching on to the idea of Autism being a perspective processing disorder (an explanation I made up). He is taking the time to think about how he is being perceived when I prompt him with "Jack, perspective" or simply "Jack, OPP". 

So, this morning I asked him if he would write a blog for me (and all of you) for his daily writing assignment. He first refused, then after I gave him a few choices of other topics, since he had to write something... he relented and gave us this magnum opus.

I present to you a photo (to prove he wrote it himself) and I transcribed it to the blog. I was planning on putting in an editors note that I corrected any spelling errors, but there were none to correct. So, any syntax errors remain and will not have the usual (sic) demarcation.

I asked Jack to answer the following question: "How does Autism and perspective affect me?", and wrote it at the top of the page. I instructed him to answer that question in 5 or 6 sentences. 

This is what Jack wrote for us.

The way perspective affects me is that when I don't take meds I go out of control and when I take meds it helps me control myself. My perspective is that when I take my meds I feel like I could puke\vomit. My perspective is that in school I have trouble focusing. My perspective is that I like to be left alone. My perspective is that other people see me annoying. My own perspective is that i'm not smart. My friends perspective is that they find me a good friend. My teachers perspective is that she finds me a good student. My perspective is that I miss my friends.


And that was it.


That was the most insight I have ever received to Jack and his ability.

I want to say a few things about this before I I share how we discussed this first. Jack is referring to the action of "taking his meds" when he mentioned puking or vomiting, not the way they make him feel (he has "gagged" on the pill from time to time).

What Jack wrote demonstrates that the idea of "perspective" is still something he is learning about... and working on masterfully.


I told Jack how much I loved his essay and asked if I could share it with the blog. He told me it was terrible and nobody would want to read it. 

I told him that I can only guess (or take my own perspective) of the way he thinks and feels and everyone that reads about him would love his insight. "They want to hear about you from the horse's mouth"

Then I spent a few minutes explaining what "from the horse's mouth" meant... A conversation that he quickly concluded that if he was the horse's mouth, then I must be the opposite... the horse's butt. I explained that it's usually called the horse's ass, and that wasn't quite the conclusion of the idiom explanation I desired, but it was correct.

He said "okay" to share it.

Jack still wanted to know why this was so important? Why would people care so much? 

I told him the story of Pandora's box. I told him that once the "box" was opened, all of the information that had been repressed and hidden from the world was available again. All of the mysteries of life, the good and the bad, were "back on the table". I told him that by him telling me about himself, I could gain a better perspective of how he thinks, and feels, and dreams, and wants, and fears, and detests, and combats... and hopes.

"You see, son, Hope was let out of Pandora's box as well. Before she opened that box, the people had no hope in their world"

"Dad, hope is a good thing?"

And, I instantly scripted from The Shawshank Redemption...

"Maybe the best of things."

And I was given permission to open his voice to the world with a simple one word answer:


Yes. Cool indeed.

Image - Jack at the Culver City Film Festival last month where he saw a friends' short film. I think this picture looks quite "authorial"

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Talk

How do you explain to your nine year-old son that they have autism? How do you convey what autism is, when even parents, and doctors, and scientists, and autistic adults themselves disagree? What do you (or did you) say?

I have planned this conversation dozens of times, and dozens of ways.

And, as fate would have it, I had to wing it.


This morning was a strangely hectic morning getting the kids ready for school. There had been a bomb threat that closed Los Angeles Unified School District for the day for about 650,000 students (yes, 650,000). Although our school is in a neighboring district and our district was NOT closed for the day, I was desperately trying to get information on the situation. So, I had the local news on.

I was scrambling to get the kids out the door when Jack broke the silence with a simple question:

"Dad? What's autism?"

"Where did you hear that, Jack?"

He pointed to a segment on TV that had the title Anti-Depressants and Autism printed on the bottom of the screen.

"Well, Jack, Autism is a different Neurology... A different way a person's brain works. Do you know anyone who has autism?"

"Jade! Jade has autism! Her brain works differently"

From the other room I hear "No! I have epilepsy! I take etho-suxi-mate (we're working on the kids learning the names of the meds they take right now). You have the autism!"

"No I don't. The TV said it affects babies. I'm not a baby."

"Well, Jack, it's true, but babies grow up, don't they?

Jade comes bounding in to the room.

"Jack, I have epilepsy and you have autism. We're both different."

A quick sassing of "my neuro-A-typicality can beat up your neuro-A-typicality" that only brothers and sisters can do ensued. Then Jade finished with a line I have heard her say before:

"It's okay, Jack. Different makes us beautiful."

I think she learned that at school (which is a lesson I am eternally grateful they spread, btw).

But, my friends, I cannot write words that would accurately reflect the way a parent feels when a 5 year-old gets it. When a 5 year-old both schools and shames an entire Western Culture regarding disability status because her whole life has been inclusion. In one sentence, she just said "who the fuck cares" to the entire world.

Then, holding true to her fiery red-haired nature...

"Well. It makes me beautiful. I guess it makes you handsome"


Well, that was a touching story, but I promised to tell y'all how "the talk" went. 

So, here it is. 

If anybody is reading this gathering ideas on how to have "the talk" with their child, one caveat: Take my story as just that... My Story. 

And my advice? Be specific. 

So I had a few seconds to gather my thoughts as Jack and Jade stumbled into the car and I knew I would have to explain a few things on the 10 minute drive to school. I had been fearing and planning and, frankly, anticipating this moment for the last 4 or 5 years. The anticipation came in that Jack is old enough and expressive enough to give me his perspective. I had been looking forward to that.

I had just a few moments to plan what I wanted to say... but I was/am well-versed in autism.

I knew that Jack would only be confused if I started giving him the DSM-V definition of autism. Not because it's beyond his comprehension, but because so many of the attributes no longer apply. Let's not fool ourselves here, the DSM-V definition of autism is broad. 

If any of you reading know Jack now, would you believe me if I told you that the reason we had Jack assessed in the first place was because he DIDN'T talk? If you know Jack now, would you believe that he NEVER made eye-contact? Would you believe that he was a wall-walker, a tippy-toe walker, and flapper? Would you believe that he would never try new foods? Would you believe that he would go for days at a time without pooping? Would you believe that he hated the sound of the hand-dryer in bathrooms? Would you believe that he couldn't read or write or even hold a pencil? Would you believe that he had a verbal tic? Would you believe that his initial school assessment placed him in special ed? Would you believe that my wife and had our only really good fight ever about that? In the parking lot at Vons (local grocery store) no less? Would you believe there was a time that we even asked ourselves if Jack belonged in a full-inclusion classroom? 

Would you believe?

If you read my blogs, I've often quoted advice I've received or professionals that have championed Jack. And I'm reminded today of his pre-school teacher when she said, at the follow-up to that initial IEP meeting, to a room of knowledgeable professionals, and two teary-eyed parents with differing views on placement:

"Jack belongs in general Ed. He belongs."

Thank you, Ms. A. 

Why did I tell you all of that? To give you some perspective of where Jack is now. Remember that word... perspective.


It is possible, even likely, that at our next triennial IEP assessment, Jack will lose his Autism diagnosis for school services. He just doesn't have the developmental delays/disabilities that make up 3/4 of the criteria anymore. 

So I can take a moment and say "How dare they misdiagnose him" or "thank god for early intervention".

But not scoring high enough (or low enough) on the school assessment has nothing to do with him having or not having autism. Jack still has the biggest deficit of autism there is, the deficit for which the disorder is named:

Autism (n) - From the Greek for autos (self) and -ism (state of being).


Jack is still unable to take another's perspective.


We climbed in to the car and I turned the radio off.

"Jack, do you know how autism affects you?"


"Well, Jack it's very difficult for you to take another's perspective. That means putting yourself in somebody else's head. Reacting to what they think, what they perceive. Do you understand that?"


"Let me give you and example..."

"I can take perspective!", Jade chimes in.

"Okay, let's try this. Jade if you bring a bug in to your class and show it to your friend Sally, what is she going to do?"

"She would probably scream. She doesn't like bugs"

"Right. Now Jack, what about you? If you bring in a bug and show it to your teacher, what would she do?"

"What kind of bug?"

"It doesn't matter. A rolly-polly"

"Why would I pick up a rolly-polly? I don't like bugs, so why would I have one to show my teacher?"

"That's not the point, Jack. How would the teacher react?"

"Where did I find this rolly-polly? Was it already in the classroom?"

"This is exactly what I'm talking about, Son. I want you to think about that. Try to think about how someone else is going to react to what you say. Remember that other people have their own view of you. Remember the difference between autonomous beings and sentient beings?"

"Sentient beings have feelings," said Jade. She needs to stop eaves-dropping.

"Yes, Jade. That perspective-taking is how autism affects you, Jack"

There was a palpable contemplative silence as I parked the car.

"Dad, does autism give me all the crazy ideas I have?"

"No. That's your creativity."

"Dad, does autism make it hard for me to keep friends?"

 A lump grew in my throat.

"Yes, son, it does."

And I wondered if I should have lied. I wondered if I should have never said anything. I wondered if I should have played the 'ask your mother' card.

"But, Jack, you know what? You're a pretty hard-worker and we can work on this."


Yes it is, Jack. Cool.


That was it. The Talk.

But, of course, there's more. Last night and today I decided to hold true to my word and help Jack with taking "Other People's Perspective" or, as we now call it in our house, OPP.

So, tonight, Jack's sister had fallen asleep already and he was hopping around playing an imaginary Survivor type game with his cars being eliminated from the island.

He was talking very loudly about how this car had been eliminated and I simply said:

"Jack, your sister is asleep. Talking loudly might wake her up and how do you think that will make her feel?"

Jack prattled loudly on.

"Jack, you down with OPP?"

"Yeah, you know me"

Enough time to think about it passes and finally Jack whispers "Dad, do you want to see who was eliminated"?

Son-of-a-bitch. It worked.


As I re-read this blog, I am embarrassed to admit that I just laid out all the times and skills that I feared Jack would never accomplish.

He has proven me wrong on all of them.

Perhaps I am the one that needs to take a new perspective.

But there is something so wonderful this time. I am certain we will work on this together. There is no limit to you, my son.

I could not be more proud of you.

I, too, am down with OPP.

Yeah, you know me.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Holy Crap, We're Curing Intellectual Disability (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the New 1 in 45 Autism Diagnosis Number)

In March of 2014 the CDC officially lowered the number of children affected by autism to 1 in 68. I wrote an article about that here.

This morning, a year and a half later, the CDC released their findings from a new survey study with the alarming finding that the number was now 1 in 45. Close to another 30% increase. In just 3 years!!!

Here is the new study. Go ahead. Read through it. Pretty dry stuff, right?

There are some interesting things in there. A lot of focus on the "questionnaire/survey" methodology. A lot of explanation of how reversing the order of two questions made all the difference to get a more "realistic" number.

But one thing is for certain, regardless of how we get there, the prevalence of autism in children ages 3-17 in this country is indeed closer to 1 in 45.

This is a graph from the actual report that I know you all read through. I took a screen capture to save you the time. You're welcome.

Do you notice anything funny about it? Funny strange, not funny Ha-Ha.


Autism is without a doubt a "spectrum" disorder. No single autism presentation is the exact same as another.

Everybody knows that.

But what IS autism?

There are ZERO genetic markers for autism. There are several commonalities. Over 100 listed. To this day the most common genetic commonality of autism remains Fragile X syndrome. If you combined all known seizure disorders and epilepsy, that would be number one, but as it stands today... Fragile X Syndrome.

So, we should ask a geneticist. Their answer would be, we can only find commonalities.

No, autism is a separate neurology. So we should ask a neurologist. Their answer would be, we can only treat some of the commonalities of autism. We deal with seizures. We deal with neurological disorders. We can map those. EEG and brain imaging technology has come a long way. But that's more effect than cause when talking about autism. Autism doesn't look like anything on an EEG.

No, autism is a psychological disorder. We should ask a psychiatrist.  "Poor social skills" is essential to a diagnosis, and that's all theory of mind stuff, right? Their answer would be... we don't have anything to treat autism specifically. There are some great medications to treat some of the presentations or comorbidities (yes, that is really the word we use) like ADHD, OCD, or general anxiety, but we're not really sure what autism is with any uniformity. In fact, we keep changing the diagnostic manual we use to recognize it! With every update to the DSM, we include a little more.

No, autism is an entirely different state of mind... a transcendence if you will. So we ask a philosopher. And they would say autism is Greek for "self-ness", much like the philosophy of solipsism... a belief that you are the only being. You are unable to take the perspective of another, because there are no others. Not like the psychopath who chooses to disregard the perspective of others, nor the sociopath who lives by an entirely different set of rules of right and wrong, but a complete inability to recognize that others are autonomous and sentient beings in the first place.



Autism is just as much a mystery today as it was in the 40's when Kanner started diagnosing it, when Asperger started defending it, and Lovaas started treating it.

We have come a long way in recognition. A long way in treatment. A long way in awareness. A long way in acceptance. And a long way services available.

Sadly, we have gone the opposite direction in what might be the most important category - definition.


The reason I wrote this article tonight, while citing the newest CDC report that raises the prevalence rate of autism to 1 in 45 is two-fold.

A 30% increase is alarming. Is there an autism explosion is in this country?

No. Remember the graph I copied for you? Do you notice the last set of bars? The set that shows virtually no change (okay, a .01 variant change) in the number of cases that identified themselves (or their children) as "any of the conditions"?

So, at least from one study to the next, there is an explosion in diagnosis only.

I could have used the click-bait title of "Holy Crap, we're curing Intellectual Disability"...

And been, from an analytical point of view, 100% correct.

We are merely transferring diagnoses.


This article is not meant to anger or shock anyone. Quite the opposite, in fact. The explosion in diagnosis is a good thing. It brings more services and awareness and therapies and inclusion and compassion and research.

It should put minds at ease that there is no "autism explosion" in America... perhaps a re-grouping explosion, perhaps a definition explosion, perhaps an awareness explosion.

We shouldn't stop looking for environmental factors that contribute to these new numbers. We shouldn't thumb our noses at the Neurodiversity movement. We shouldn't ignore commonalities or comorbidities. In fact, quite the opposite, we should explore all of them even more. We should ask more questions.

What we can't afford to do for our country and our children is simply label our youngsters "autistic", throw our hands up in the air and say "that's that". Better start ABA therapy and cancel the geneticist, psychiatrist, neurologist, and physiatrist because autism is autism and there's a clear path.

We should never stop asking questions.

Nothing is more marginalizing than apathy.


If you made it this far, you might be scratching your head. You might be yelling at your screen. You might be yelling at me:

"Who the hell does this guy think he is!? He's no scientist, physician, or even analyst. I'm sticking to my guns on XYZ causing autism and that's that. If only someone like the CDC did a study confirming this 'transferring of diagnosis' I could get on board".

Oh, wait. They just did. You can read it again with this in mind here.

Or, you can read the 2010 study that lowered the number to 1 in 68 here


I end this the same way I ended my article from March of 2014.

Never stop asking questions.

Definition ---> Cause ---> Prevention ---> Cure

You can't work backwards in a logic chain.

Thank you.

Monday, July 6, 2015

SB277 - Mandatory Vaccines And The Loophole That Makes Everyone Happy

Last year (2014) there was a measles outbreak that traced "patient zero" to The Happiest Place on Earth, Disneyland, in Southern California. California scrambled to find an answer to the question of how a mostly eradicated disease could possibly be so virulent to infect hundreds of patients in a mostly vaccinated society. This lead to weeks of debate about the pro and cons of vaccines, the possible autism link, the "dangerous" ingredients and subsequent "cover-ups" done by both the government and Big Pharma, the real risk of measles, and even our ability to govern our own health and bodies... "It's those damned Anti-vaxxers" vs. "You're poisoning the children! (Insert hand-wringing) The Children!"

Whatever the cause, or the fault, it was determined that California had fallen below the "herd immunity" threshold. Herd Immunity is a theoretical percentage of vaccinated population that is high enough that an outbreak will no longer spread... or at least become pandemic. I've read 90%, I've read 80%, it doesn't matter which is true as that number is theoretical anyway. Herd immunity thresholds, in statistics terms, could only be a lagging indicator, because you won't know where it needed to be until there's an outbreak.

We (I am a Californian) needed to do something and since vaccines had long been the responsibilities of the schools (and daycares) SB277 was introduced to the State Legislature.

SB277 in its entirety  passed and was signed into law last week.

What's new about SB277? There's really only one important thing to know... it no longer allows exemptions based on "personal beliefs". From this point forward, only "medical exemptions" will be allowed. California would be joining West Virginia and Mississippi with the strictest vaccination requirements in the Nation.

On a side note, some States have, or have had, "religious belief exemptions"... California did not, however, they fell under personal belief exemptions.

So, what is/are/were those personal belief exemptions that were "ruining" our State? Good question. I am enrolling my daughter for Kindergarten next year and had to go through the rigmarole of paperwork it requires. My daughter is fully vaccinated (she's been in pre-school) but I still need to prove it with a doctor's report. So this year I examine the form... the blue one in California, and make an appointment with her doctor to fill it out. $15 for any form filled out through our insurance. No problem. Have to have the original signed (no photocopies), so I have to drop it off, or mail it. No problem. It takes up to three days to get it back, but that's okay, too. I have time.


It's right there on the back. A little box that says "personal belief exemption". I could just check that off... not even initialize it and avoid all this back and forth (and $15).

So, to claim a personal belief exemption, I just have to check a box? Don't I have to plead my case? Don't I have to bring in pages and pages of documents proving the harm of vaccines? Don't I have to recite a Holy Prayer to prove it's against my religion? Don't I need to bring in paperwork to disclose my daughter's immunodeficiency?

Nah. Just check that box.

I can't be the first parent to think of this.


I get asked a lot about vaccines. My son has autism and I am a writer, so friends and family and neighbors and strangers often ask me what I think about the safety of vaccines. I am not, however, a physician or research scientist. The information I can give you comes from those professionals.

I can, unequivocally, tell you vaccines did not cause OUR autism. I can also, unequivocally, tell you that OUR autism is nowhere near miserable, hopeless, or worse "than the slight risk of potentially catching what might someday come back as an historically viciously deadly disease".

Others disagree with those two issues.

I first heard of SB277 from a friend asking me what I thought about vaccines. It was being introduced (maybe February) and the friend that told me about it  pitched the bill as follows... "They're introducing a bill in California that only allows medical exemptions."

I thought, cool. Putting public health concerns in the hands of health professionals. I dig that.

And I didn't think about it again.


So, who are the exemptions in my State? Certainly the children with allergies or compromised immune systems that could suffer serious harm from receiving a live vaccine. Certainly the anti-vaxxers. They've got proof that their science is better than yours. Maybe the parent like myself in the above scenario... but that would be a vaccinated child posing as an exemption purely because I'm lazy.

Do those groups really account for the 10-20% of exemptions in this State?


That leads us to who is this bill really for.

How many children in this State have never been to a doctor (outside of an ER or Urgentcare) at Kinder enrollment? How many parents missed an appointment? How many thought it was too much money? How many simply had no idea we vaccinate? How many single parents couldn't afford to take a day off work for this? Much less three? Up to 10 if you want to space out those vaccinations.

And how many of those parents picked up their enrollment packets, saw the blue form, said "what does this mean?", realize they have to wait 3 years to catch up on a proper vaccine schedule to enroll their child...

Or they could just check that box.

But the anti-vaxxers and the sickly are the guys to blame. We can't possibly point the finger at the poor, uneducated or lazy. Not in California!

Maybe we need a better public outreach program. Maybe we need a way to reach ALL of our State. Maybe we need an advertising campaign about the importance of vaccines. Maybe this really is a public health issue and not a school issue after-all. Maybe, just maybe, you should counsel a physician on vaccines instead of bloggers.

How can we get these parents (and kids) to those health care professionals?

It's called SB277.


Here is a copy of the letter Governor Jerry Brown wrote to the State Senate.

What Governor Brown wants from this bill and from our schools and from our State and from our parents and from our Health Professionals is awareness. In his own words, medical exceptions exist "when a physician believes that circumstances - in the judgement and sound discretion of the physician - so warrant"

There is no list of what qualifies as a "medical exemption". Your Doctor doesn't believe in vaccinations? Bam, medical exemption. Your Doctor believes in delayed schedules? Bam, medical exemption. Your doctor thinks it's risky to your child's immune system, even though your child does not have recognized immunodeficiency? Bam. Medical exemption.

It was and is (in Brown's own words) - left purposefully vague.

What I like about this bill, personally, is that it is putting the responsibility of a public health issue back in the hands of health officials. Quite simply, you can still opt out of vaccines, but you need to prove you spoke with a physician about it.

Even better news! The ACA requires all Americans to have health insurance so you can no longer say I couldn't afford to go. But wait, there's more, California also quietly passed a mandatory Paid Sick Leave Act for ALL employees (it went into effect July 1st), so you can no longer say I couldn't afford to miss work to take my kid to get their vaccines.

Putting a public health issue back in the hands of health professionals...

I like the sound of that, Jerry.


There is something deeply disturbing about this bill, too. The punishment for not vaccinating your child is mandatory homeschooling. Can you imagine if this was carried to execution of said threat. One of the greatest undeniable civil liberties of this entire country (California included) is the right to FAPE (Free Appropriate Public Education) for EVERY child.

Autonomy of your own Health Care and body is debatable as a civil liberty in this country (at least regarding who is going to pay for it).

Free Appropriate Public Education is an undeniable civil liberty. Even mandatory in most states. We are one of only a handful of countries that educate EVERY child, including the very poor, the disabled, and immigrant populations.

We are the only country in the world, that does that for free.

And I am pretty damn proud of that.

Imagine a child denied that right because of what may, or may not, be a public health issue? Imagine a punishment that does not fit the crime of a parent(s)?

If homeschooling were a serious threat, every school district had better be prepared to pay for said homeschooling program, oh, and for the salary of the parent that stays home to administer it.

I will not allow undeniable civil liberties to be taken away from any child in the name of agendas.

But I doubt that will happen. As said before, I think the intent of this bill, now a law, is to get more kids to the doctor.

I don't really see many "real" expulsions from the State via the school district.

And the ACLU agrees with me.

I look at this law like the jury duty law. You can go to jail for ignoring a jury summons. It says so right on the pamphlet (even cites the law). But in the searchable arrest records database, Los Angeles County (the largest County in California)... there are 0 arrests for ditching Jury Duty.

The punishment (of the child) does not fit the "crime" (of the adult) here.


In the end, it doesn't matter what I think. I'm just a dad thinking out loud here. I can listen to the shouting of either side about the harms of vaccines versus the benefits. I can choose to believe whomever I want.

I have that right.

But I probably shouldn't make that decision without the input of my child's pediatrician.

And Jerry Brown wants to make sure I had that conversation.

Putting a public health issue back in the hands of health professionals...

I still like the sound of that.