Jake and I are outside in the front yard. He catches a tiny pill bug, or “roly poly” as he likes to call it. Very gently, he lets the little creature crawl onto his hand, up his arm, all the time talking to it in a sweet, quiet voice. “There you go. It’s okay.” Then, he puts it safely in his bug catcher, along with a stick and several leaves, where he can watch it until he decides it’s time for it to go back home “to his family.”
As the sun begins to set over the next-door neighbor’s yard, I watch Jake walking slowly—on his toes—between our yards. For a second, I stop breathing. “What are you doing?” I ask him, remembering the toe walking from so long ago. To my relief, he says, “I’m walking on tippy toes so John doesn’t hear me.” I wonder how long something so small will have the power to instill panic—even just a little—in me. I immediately say a prayer, thanking God once again for helping us get Jake back.
Can vaccines cause autism? I never really thought about it until I watched my grandson regress into autism following a series of rabies vaccines when he was three and a half years old. Unlocking Jake tells the story—from the first moment my daughter Ann and I knew something was wrong, through an array of treatments and a roller-coaster ride of heartaches and joys.
Shortly after Jake received the rabies shots, he stopped speaking, feeding himself, and pottying. He stared into space, played with only a few toys, and had meltdowns over something as routine as taking a bath, getting ready to go somewhere, or having a friend or relative visit the house. He flapped his hands, walked on his toes, and was terrified of thunderstorms and train whistles.
Today Jake is eight. Most of the time, he talks nonstop (which is a blessing to me when I remember when he didn’t talk at all), often using words like “unavailable” and “deliberately.” He giggles at SpongeBob, plays with words, and teases Ann and me. At least once a day, he gives us hugs and kisses and says, “I love you.” He is a master at anything electronic and negotiating for a later bedtime. And he reads, writes, spells, adds and subtracts, and understands science (especially space) far above his grade level. Sure—there are several remaining issues. He can be impulsive and impatient, needs a little extra time to process and carry out directions, perseverates on the things he enjoys the most (like his Nintendo DS), and has some tics that come and go.
My grandson is recovering. Through our experience, Ann and I learned how to “unlock” him from the world he had withdrawn into—how to bring him back to us through a combination of knowledge, love, prayer, occupational and physical therapy, a home sensory diet, behavioral therapy, homeopathy, Auditory Integration Training, developmental optometry, and an unrelenting effort to keep him engaged through Floortime. Most of all, we learned how to stay positive during the most emotionally and physically exhausting days and never, ever give up.
I am not a medical professional. I am a grandmother who kept a journal about Jake, the therapies that helped him, and the coping techniques my daughter and I used to keep us sane—at least part of the time. Throughout the last few years, I’ve often thought, “If only I had known then what I know now.” One of the reasons I wanted to write a book was to offer hope to others. Autism is a strange thing. It changes your life in unimaginable ways and forces you to rethink everything you ever knew about raising and nurturing a child. At times life seems unbearable. You never know what to expect from one day to the next. Or sometimes, from one minute to the next.
Like most autism stories, Jake’s has been filled with ups and downs. For more than two years, he took two steps forward and three steps backward as he went through seemingly endless regressions. His diagnoses have been almost as numerous because the professionals he has seen haven’t always agreed and, as he’s recovering, his diagnosis has changed. We’ve floundered from moderate to high-functioning autism, to “If he was any higher functioning he wouldn’t be on the spectrum,” to Asperger’s, to “severe ADHD with residual autistic traits”—along with Sensory Processing Disorder, anxiety, OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder), depression, tics and stims, hypersensitive hearing, and visual problems.
Note: I never planned to write a book about vaccines and certainly not an anti-vaccine book. But what happened to my grandson led me to have serious concerns about the safety of childhood vaccines. As I’ve continued to read stories of children who regressed after receiving the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella), the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, and acellular pertussis), or another shot, my original purpose for writing this book has broadened to include this plea to parents: Learn everything you can about the dozens of shots your children are given. Be willing to question their necessity and, above all, their safety. As you read Jake’s story, ask yourself, “Could what happened to Jake after the rabies vaccine happen after a childhood vaccine?” I think the answer is obvious.