Autism Shouldn’t be About Playing the Blame Game

Autism and SSRIs–When Research Doesn’t Tell the Whole Story

And Blaming Moms for their kids’ Autism is sad but nothing new

It’s time to play a game. It’s called the ‘blame game’ and it goes something like this:

  1. Some study is released
  2. News agencies say oooooh, let’s make that a better headline.
  3. You know what makes a better headline? A better lead?
  4. You know it–the most controversial results you can pull from that study (the ones that don’t really mean all that much).
  5. Yep.
  6. Don’t forget the tweets:

Autism and SSRI--connection or tripe?

So we talked on Twitter and My buddy above, ? the fine @OMom22, and a few other mommies and a daddy too (!) laughed about this newest game of Refrigerator Mom Syndrome – you know the one game guaranteed to blame the mom for anything and everything that could happen to her kid(s). We were sarcastic and raucus and maybe even a little vulgar, and we made light of yet one more thing that pointed to something *we* could have done to make our kids the way they are.

We even came up with our own hashtags:

SSRIs during pregnancy = Autism from our Wombs

No explanation needed. Right?

Autism, SSRIs, and Motherhood combined

Because, you know, we failed ... again

Here’s the thing, in dealing with our own insecurities and fear and anger and yes, even guilt, we were using that age-old technique called humor. But the real story is what we couldn’t contain to 140 characters.

Autism Studies: When the Numbers Don’t Tell the Whole Story

There’s a danger in reading a news story, which in effect is condensing a study that might have been dozens or even hundreds of pages long. That danger is in not recognizing that the study is part of a process. Research studies are usually to study a significant question–not to solve it, but to help explain it, unravel it. In this study, if you read the details you will realize it literally boils down to 20 kids in a study of more than 1800. Those twenty kids represent 6.7% of the kids in the study who were diagnosed with ASD.

Twenty kids.

That’s a small number of subjects (kids!) from a study that only oversaw 1800 kids. I’m not a doctor, but here is what Dr. Max Wiznitzer said when he was interviewed for an article appearing in Medscape Medical News (part of the WebMD family):

“They found that there was only twice or 3 times the risk. That means 97 or 98 out of 100 individuals taking SSRIs didn’t have this problem. In other words, the risk of ADS in the general population is 1%. So that means 3 times the risk is still just 3%,” he said.

“So the vast majority of women aren’t going to be at risk for this problem. And the risk at 3% is no higher than the risk of almost any developmental problem just in a regular pregnancy.”      –From Medscape Medical News article, July 6, 2011.

A small study, with a risk only 2% higher than that of the general population, but the headlines don’t say that, do they? The one from the article above–the very detailed article above, but still:

Mom’s Antidepressant Use Linked to Autism Risk in Children

See, what the headline doesn’t say, is that the link was the equivalent of statistical deviation in most studies.

But it’s enough to make those of us who took antidepressants (See my earlier article for my own Dirty Little Secret) question those decisions. As if we needed something else to add to the load we already carry.

The blame game is dangerous territory for parents to get into, even with the help of so-called scientific studies. We continually have to make peace with the decisions we made, are making, will make, and the effect those decisions have on our kids with autism. We have to step back and realize that these studies are part of the science world’s own process to understand what is happening with our kids. But this study, and the ones like it, are not the answer we’re all searching for. They are only part of the puzzle.

The danger

The real problem isn’t what this does to those of us who are now dealing with this study’s ramifications (look at the numbers above again folks … they tell the truth). No, the real danger lies in the next woman, pregnant, who is researching and struggling to make the best decisions for her own health, and that of her baby.

Clinical depression carries its own risks to both the mother and her baby. Significant risks. See my friend Deanne’s post here on this issue, and her analysis of those risks.

The sad truth is that there will be at least one mom-to-be who reads the study excerpts and thinks the greater risk is in taking the medication that is helping her with her depression. The real danger is the mom who won’t take care of her needs, along *with* those of her baby. Because there was this study. And it said that antidepressants were linked to autism.

At what point are study results like this more danger than they are worth? Weigh in! I want to know what you think of the study and the points I made? Do you agree? Disagree?

Katrina Moody

Katrina Moody

Graphic Designer, Wordpress Addict, Blogger at Kat's Media & More
I'm a special needs parent before just about everything else in life, but also a passionate advocate for my three boys and husband, who all have a bit of awesomeness about them. Awesomeness = Axenfeld-Rieger Syndrome, Autism, Epilepsy, Dyslexia, Cerebral Palsy, and more. It all adds up to some awesome kids and an amazing family.
Katrina Moody
Katrina Moody
Katrina Moody

Latest posts by Katrina Moody (see all)

  • http://30daysofautism.wordpress.com/ Leah Kelley

    Excellent post!! Thank you for putting words to the things that were leaving me almost speechless. I entirely agree with you!

    You are doing wonderful work!

    • Katrina

      Aw – thanks Leah! I really appreciate your response. My problem with these kinds of studies is that they are released and the public isn't given an easy way to see how much they actually affect their lives. I mean, the headline just wouldn't have been the same if it read more accurately, but you also have to dig for the actual facts. And that is what bothers me, because what happens when someone decides that they don't want to do that?

  • http://www.stuartduncan.name Stuart Duncan

    Sad but true… these "may increase the risk of" studies are just annoying more than anything else.

    For every one of them, there are hundreds of people on Twitter (and wherever) saying "But I never took anti-depressants" or "But I never lived close to a highway" or "But my child never had jaundice" or "But my child wasn't born by c-section!" and on and on.. you get the idea.

    Sooner or later, one of these "brilliant" people will realize that every single study they do… will find something where the risk of autism is increased.

    And each and every time they do, they put fear and panic into parents.

    • Katrina

      The problem with these studies is the promote that 'blame game' that we, as parents of awesome kids, don't need any help playing. We do fine on our own. The problem with statistics at all is that you can almost always bend them to represent what you want. I'm not saying they do it consciously, but it happens. And the danger is to us parents, in the end, because weare the ones left trying to puzzle it all together.
      Thanks so much for stopping by Stuart!

  • http://www.solodialogue.wordpress.com Karen V.

    I appreciate your viewpoint. It's just asinine to exacerbate a study so wildly. I've already stated the reasons why I think this happens as a distancing measure for those who don't want to see us moms of our very special children and acknowledge that could very well be anyone.

    What purpose does guilt play in this situation? It should play no role at all. It is very clear that as mamas we tend to feel guilty – guilt often holds hands with depression which exacerbates the whole issue.

    Sadly, we cannot suppress free speech – even if it is sensational and false. I hope women considering this issue with their own pregnancies are able to Google their way to you and Deanne to read more of how exaggerated a lot of talk is out there before making such an important decision. Great post!

    • Katrina

      Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply Karen!
      That's the problem for me in a nutshell. Not for me, but for the others who will be searching for more information out there – - will they look further than the headline and lead of a news article before stepping away from the computer in terror?
      I think, also, that is *is* easy to turn to the mom and distance things, from studies to articles, from the very 'moms' they are writing about. And while we, as moms who have been around the block a time or two know, guilt is that little incessant monster, one that's hard to shake. Of course we can't suppress free speech – I just wish for more balanced reporting of the actual results of a given study instead of sensationalizing them.
      Thanks again Karen .. I have appreciated chatting with you over Twitter as well and am tickled you stopped by!

  • Pingback: Dear researchers: please stop

  • http://asugarandspicelife.blogspot.com/ Christine Zorn

    I thought there was an increased risk of autism in families with a history of depression, mental illness, etc. It might not have anything to do with the use of antidepressants, but a family history of depression.

    • Katrina

      Thanks for your comment Christine — I know there were studies that showed that correlation. My thought is the same as yours – that it might be related. My problem is that because of the way it was released, some women might be at risk. Not to mention it just helps to continue the mentality that moms can be 'blamed' for their kids' diagnoses.

  • http://www.lostandtired.com Rob Gorski

    When you stare long enough at something, you tend to see things that aren't really there. All these studies do is muddy the water. Everyone is trying to make a name for themselves but benefit does this have on the Autism community? None. It feels like everyday there is a new study linking or blaming something else as the cause for Autism.

    The truth is that aside from Fragile X, we simply don't know what causes Autism. Nice post Kat :-)

    • Katrina

      Great point Rob! Fragile X is one of the only directly linked causes of autism. The problem with statistics is that they are subjective to a degree because someone always has to reinterpret the results. I've been watching your posts with interest as well – gonna have another update for us tomorrow?

  • http://www.adjuvancy.com/wordpress Roy A. Ackerman, PhD

    Not sure your numbers are correct. But, there is more to the story. You can check my blog tomorrow (8 July) which discusses several issues re: autism.

    • Katrina

      Roy I will look forward to reading your piece. I got my numbers direct from the link in my post. The Medscape article. If there was an error please point it out so I can correct it! Would you send me a DM with the link on Twitter so I don't forget to check out your post? :-) I love research!

  • http://www.smallbutkindamighty.wordpress.com Deanne (OMum22)

    Thanks for linking to my blog Kat! You already know how I feel about the coverage of this study ;)

    • Katrina

      But of course! Your post rocked! Different points of view are the seasoning that allows someone to build their own masterpiece of a decision. :-)