The October sun swaggered defiantly through the smeared church hall window making the mothers and toddlers squint and sweat.
I drank my coffee and ate my biscuit ration quickly. It was that kind of a toddler group.
“See you later,” I wiped my small son’s nose and hoisted him onto my hip. “I’m taking him to get his MMR.”
There was a gasp – or maybe I imagined it – and the room, hectic with children, stilled.
“Are you sure?” Someone said.
“Erm, yes.” They were all watching me now. “Why not?”
“I wouldn’t,” said one.
“You’ve heard about the autism,” I felt accused.
“Of course,” I lied and fled the hall.
That was 19 years ago and, unbeknown to me then, the child I got vaccinated was on the autism spectrum.
I asked at the clinic and they brushed my fears aside. But I couldn’t sleep that night, what if I’d done something awful to my baby?
Even then PM Tony Blair wouldn’t say if his baby Leo got the jab or not.
Two and a half years later, my son was on his way to a diagnosis of Asperger’s and his younger brother needed vaccinated.
His Asperger’s (or difference, as she put it) was spotted by a very experience nursery teacher, the kind who has seen it all. Then it took she and I both quite a significant effort to get him referred for assessment. He’s just quiet, he’s tidy, he likes to line cars up all kids do. Hmmm.
I’d done the reading, asked as many members of the medical profession as I could find what they’d do, and arrived at a decision.
The MMR wasn’t dangerous, even then the evidence linking it to autism was dodgy to say the least, and millions of children across the world had had this injection. No state would risk a class damages action, I reasoned.
So while the practice nurse busied herself preparing to give my second son his MMR, I brought her up to date about my eldest boy and the extra help he was getting in a specialist speech and language unit.
Then she stopped, looked at me, syringe in hand and said: “Because they think he’s on the spectrum, are you sure you want to give this one the MMR?” She pointed at my sons with the needle.
“Yes thanks, I would rather he was protected against measles, mumps and rubella.”
To me, it’s obvious, there are more autistic diagnoses because more people are aware of it and know what it looks like and because we can actually do things to help. Just look at how attitudes have changed since autism entered my vocabulary more than a decade ago.
Once I saw what was going on, as the mother of an Aspie, I became incensed by the notion that a child dying of measles was somehow preferable to a live one with autism.