Snowy, Stormy Sunday
On Seneca Road

Vaccines, Airplanes, & the Past Decade

Charlie holding a snow shovel, Jim shoveling  The notion that vaccines are somehow a "cause" of autism and "anti-vaccine quackery" as the "worst pseudoscience of the decade?" So proposeth Orac over at Respectful Insolence at and I can't but concur. Charlie being born in 1997 and diagnosed with autism in 1999, the noughties/oughties or howsoever you wish to call the soon-to-be-ending decade have coincided with the years of his learning and growing. Talk about the whole "vaccine issue" has been a constant din, sometimes in the background, sometimes right in our ears and with me throwing my few cents into the ring, too.

Attention to the "vaccine thing" seems to be slowly slackening, though I don't expect this notion of autism causation ever to completely wither away. When Jim and I heard about it, we still, in despite of ourselves, thought back to what Charlie had been like before and after he had received his first vaccinations while a baby in St. Louis, Missouri. These memories were readily accompanied by our knowledge that so much about Charlie---from the way he looks out the corner of his eyes to his ability to focusfocusfocus on certain things and not at all on others to his curious motor development and delays---had always been the same with him. Charlie, we know in the way that parents know things, was born as he is, and the past ten years have made this more, never less, evident.

Much has happened in those ten years, moves around the country and around New Jersey, school changes for Charlie, job changes for Jim and me. One constant has been our Christmas trip to see my family in Oakland, California. Charlie has spent every Christmas there, except for 1998 (when he had such a bad ear infection that he couldn't travel) and for 2005 (when we stayed in New Jersey after going out to California in October for Ngin-Ngin's 100th birthday party). It looks like this year will be another year when we don't make it to California.

Charlie continues to do well at school. Home has been a bit more, oh, exciting, with a resurgence of head stuff. Most times, things have happened and then whatever feelings or thoughts Charlie was expressing by doing this have passed. But sometimes those feelings or thoughts have not gone away so quickly. While Charlie's been getting in some very invigorating walks in the cold, it's not the same as riding bikes for miles: He's had an excess of physical energy and when he's upset, all that energy can pour out of him.

Keeping all this in mind, Jim and I concluded that a window or middle seat in economy class on a transcontinental flight two days before Christmas would not be an optimal place for Charlie to be for a minimum of 7 hours. 

(Not to mention the lines to check-in and go through security.) When I flew back to California for Ngin-Ngin's funeral in October, my flight was delayed by 2 hours. I used the time to grade midterms all the while thinking, what if this happens when Jim and Charlie and I go to California in December? Charlie's benefited from the big autism center because he can walk around its frankly big space frequently. Now that he's so tall, I can't think he'd be any more, or rather less, comfortable than ye average-sized American traveler. 

I feel sad to miss seeing my family--one cousin's baby daughter will be just over a year old---but we're also relieved. Charlie did fine on the airplane last year, but was miserable during our whole stay in California and wanted only to return home. Jim spent most of the trip taking Charlie on several-hour hikes in the Oakland hills, with my dad and me occasionally joining him. Charlie has visited California and stayed in my parents' house since he was a baby, but last time, he just didn't want to be there.

We've managed on the past couple of California trips by flying very early or late and giving Charlie some Melatonin, so that he sleeps on most of the flight. But with his hearing so much more sensitive (even in his sleep), I can see him waking him up at a cough or a baby's cry and, again thinking about him being crampt in econo-class, we're worried about how he might respond at a couple thousand feet up. We're thinking worst case scenario here, but airplane travel with Charlie has always required a maximum of planning and hoping that things will just work out, and we've been lucky. Even last year, Charlie started moaning in the security line (tons of noises and tensions in any airport, as you may imagine) and the security guard who walked right over to us had clearly had none of the "first responder" sensitivity training that our local police officers and EMTs have had. 

So we'll be spending Christmas here in New Jersey. I suspect Charlie will be missing school enough as it is and am thinking that we'll drive by there everyday, so he can see it and see that it is closed. Jim and I have been thinking of some day trips (I for one would love to see the beach in winter) and are looking into finding another indoor pool (we cancelled our YMCA membership in part because it never seemed possible for Charlie to get in sufficient swim time, with all the swim team practices, classes, and so forth). Yesterday, after a year-plus hiatus, Charlie (under my coaxing) sat at the piano and played "Happy Song," one of the first songs he ever learned: Would love to get him started with even a little piano playing again.

(Yes, he still can read the notes in his piano book.)

And Jim's hoping maybe the ice will melt a little and they can take out the bikes, just for a short ride. It'll be Camp Charlie all again, winter session. 

You can read about it here---and the story of these daily struggles and joys and tribulations and (hopefully) fun---Charlie's and ours and those of all the other individuals and families out there. These are the stories we'll be following in the next decade, when the "vaccine issue" has, like how many other theories of "what causes autism" and "what autism is," have been consigned to their places on a dusty shelf.


Hai Dang

I am sorry to hear that you three cannot go to see your family in California. Do you ever think about investing in a good webcam to use video conference with your family in California? I know it cannot compare to being there. But it is a good tool for you, Tim and Charlie to see your side of the family. The good part about it is you can save money for airline tickets and your sanity for being on the airline for 7 hours.


I'm sorry that you can't get to California this year, but it sounds like you made the right decision. I hope that this leads to a quieter holiday season for you!


Winter camp Charlie :) - it's a shame you are not going to see your parents, but sensible to put on hold. Airports are difficult - for everyone - at the best of times! Christmas can be busy + super stressful. Charlie playing piano again, that's so great, maybe a few christmas songs together over the hols?

Well, 10years, whew, where did they go?


I don't believe vaccine's were what caused our autism. But my eldest did react negatively to both MMR shots - excessive pain and fever. We were brushed off - give him tylenol.

I suspect there are many Hannah Polings out there and the vaccine industry doesn't wish to find out just how many their are. When you can double dose a child with H1N1 - our news - and brush it off with a "give them tylenol" instead of worrying about side effects, long term health issues... something is VERY wrong with vaccine monitoring.

So, no, IMO the questions about vaccine safety shouldn't be brushed aside.


I'm so sorry you had to change your plans, but I can relate. The thought of Casey being on an airplane at this point in his life sounds like a nightmare, much as you described with Charlie so we have not even considered such a trip, yet! I hope Camp Charlie Charlie-Christmas session is wonderful! I think you made a good choice for him, and for your own psyche!


Sorry that you're going to miss your family at Christmas- I agree with a previous poster, have you thought of trying Skype or a related technology? Our little guy has come really far since he was a baby in terms of dealing with my very LOUD family gatherings, partially him learning how to cope, partially us learning what he needs (quiet space, down time, familiar foods, etc). We're taking advantage of a vacant cottage to visit home this year, rather than staying with grandparents. Hopefully this gives us the peace and quiet retreat that we all need to really enjoy the visit with our families. All the best to you and yours...


I'm foreseeing the day when Kayla will not be such a willing traveller so I'm trying to get in as many visits to family as I can! Of course, we're only going from NY to OH and by car, but I never get to see my sister in Seattle unless she comes to us.

Kristina Chew

I have been trying to talk my dad into getting a Mac for my mom for years so we can use the Mac's virtual chat component---know there are other options, will look into Skype! My mom and dad will probably be visiting in February as it is. If we do ever fly again, I'd try to pick a much less hectic time of the year. And driving cross-country--well, we do have a fairly new car.

I guess I'd say that vaccine safety is a whole other topic, but that the notion that vaccines can be linked to autism hasn't been very productive.

looking for some simple Christmas songs and I don't know where the past 10 years went, had to do a double-take when people talked about "the end of the decade."


I think you made the right decision, especially since your parents will be visiting soon. The younger relatives will also have other opportunities to see you where you live...

Kristina Chew

Am now entering a "what was I thinking" phase---airline travel has become so unfriendly for everyone these days, alas.

Liz Ditz

Good call, Kristina. I've been thinking about Charlie on the airplane for the last few days and really .... wondering if it would work out well, the plane trip and being in California.

I wonder if Charlie would like an indoor exercise bike...the plane ticket money could go toward that...


I'm so happy to see that school is still a safe place, even though Charlie is going through so much turmoil (a few of my families are going through terrible school situations lately... so am in need of hearing about positive placements). Sorry to hear you had to cancel your trip. I have hope that Charlie will be able to tolerate air travel again in the future. Have worked with a few boys on the spectrum who had tumultuous teen years only to become calmer and more comfortable in their own skin young adults. (hell I went through an extremely tumultuous few teen years myself :)

Club 166

Happy Holidays!

We, too, cancelled plans to travel this season (though only 5 hours by car). Everything's been so hectic, we all need a little peace.

The Joy and Peace of the Season to you (that's as close as we're getting to holiday cards this year).



I hate air travel these days, and I think I'm "mostly normal." The photo-ID, or internal passport requirement back in 1997 or so was actually the last straw for me. I have not flown since then, and for a long time even refused to set foot in an airport. I am old enough to remember when the airlines treated us like valued customers and human beings, when there were no security goons or baggage searches, when you just walked out onto the ramp and up the stairs into the plane,the flight deck door stood open for the whole flight and little kids were invited to come forward and see the controls and instruments, when airports smelled like gasoline instead of kerosene, and it was understood that one wore a coat and tie to fly. Oh, and you could sling your rifle and carry it aboard, and the stewardess would stow it for you. I miss the mostly-free country I knew as a kid.


Who would fly unless you had to? When I was 20 - an, a necessary and eye-rolling ordeal to be gotten through in order to get to the other end.

We may give the train a shot this can get up and walk around, and there's sleepers and a dining car. That it takes longer is something else to balance, but I any event we'll see.

Happy holidays to you, Charlie and Jim.


Well, Regina, the train ain't _quite_ as bad as the plane in some ways.

In some ways, it's worse. The airlines are still notionally private businesses, but Amtrak is wholly owned by the Feds. They have done the internal passport thing too, since 9/11, with no rational justification. I'm sorry, nobody needs to know who I am if I want to buy a train ride.

At least Amtrak will now let you check your piece in your luggage, thanks to a paragraph in one of those huge grocery-list bills the Congress just passed; you know, one that will impose swingeing tax debts on our offspring even unto the seventh generation. God, I passionately hate the O-hole, his criminal party, and all of their works except for hiring Ari Ne'ehman.


"Democracy is a process by which the people are free to choose the man who will get the blame."
Laurence J. Peter (1919-1990); best known as author of the "Peter Principle".

Anywho - we'll try the train. It's only a 2-hour trip to the next major metro area...which is the same as driving. See how it goes. If well, who knows? [smile].

We just finished up making a pudding en famille in prep for the 25th - see how that goes, as well - smells good, so maybe it's a go- [another smile].

Happy holidays.

Kristina Chew

@beauty obscure, thank you! these teen years have been really tumultuous, that is the word---hoping things can even out!

@justhisguy, we still prefer the train. at least we're on _land_!

@Regina, but I think for a transcontinental trip, would far prefer the car to anything else. I'm feeling plenty relieved that we didn't go. Charlie has only a half-day today but it was good to do "the usual."

pudding en famille, you're making me think I should do some baking since we're her-e--

@Club166, "only" 5 hours, um, that sounds like a long enough trip!

@lizditz, we'd already planned a very short trip and I was planning accommodations of all sorts, after a tough time last year. I guess it got to the point that not going was the better (saner) option. But am thinking we can take a bit of a breather now. Alas, we couldn't get a refund on the tickets but we have credit if we want to attempt another trip in the next couple of months.....


I've been lurking for awhile. My son has Asperger's and my wife is a classicist, so your blog is interesting on a number of fronts. ;-) Our little guy has quite a few problems with loud noises too. We have been pondering trying ear plugs with him when we know we'll be in a noisy situation that he would otherwise enjoy (airshow, museum, etc.). My brother is a musician and has special ear plugs that are hardly visible and look a little like small hearing aids-mostly clear plastic. I don't know if Charlie would tolerate something in his ear, but if he would (or you just want to give it a go) I can ask my brother for the info. Just let me know. Thanks for blogging!


Frau Doktor Professorin: (or something like that)

You can't trust that Peter fellow on politics. He is, after all, a Canadian, and we all know that Canada is not a real country. Canadians do politics very badly, and don't understand what is actually happening in that area of human endeavor. I mean, they let the Gringo Frogs in Quebec get away with an amazing amount of insubordination!

No, H. L. Mencken had it right about democracy:

"Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard."

On the train thing: Yup, you're right, you're on the ground. If the thing is going slowly enough and you just can't stand it in there any longer, you can always take your chances and just jump.

Also, trains, even these days, have much better dining facilities than airliners. I fondly, and just barely, remember eating in the dining car on the way from Atlanta, GA to Jackson, MS when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. I think I remember an immaculate white tablecloth and a smiling, friendly waiter.

Ain't nuthin' like that aboard an airliner, 'specially these days!

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)