If you wade into the Breitbart pool, then you should do so in the full knowledge that this is not filled with pristine clear water that has been purged of lethal germs with just the right dose of editorial chlorine. Instead, it is a cesspit brimming with foul propaganda and disinformation that has been carefully crafted to manipulate.
I’m really not making that up. Permit me to simply quote the introduction for the Wikipedia page that describes it …
…much of its content has been called misogynistic, xenophobic, and racist by liberals and traditional conservatives alike. The site has published a number of conspiracy theories and intentionally misleading stories.
Today we have a very tragic story. The insights here come via PhD student Sam Hoadley-Brill.
What is the essence of the Story in Breitbart?
They report on March 11, 2022, that a Fairfax County, Virginia, mom gave a heartbreaking speech to a school board regarding why her son committed suicide. Her stance is that “My son Robert took his life because he thought that all of the oppression was his fault,”.
The story revolves around a claim that his death was partially caused by the teaching of Critical Race Theory and also COVID isolation.
This is Breitbart, so we can’t take their word on this, we really can’t.
The fact that two major right-wing myths, CRT and Mask Mandates, are being attacked would strongly suggest that things are not as claimed.
Let’s dig into it all.
Did she really claim all this to a school board?
Yes, she did…
The mother, Cindy Walsh, is claiming that her son killed himself due to several school policies …
- Her son supposedly believed that all the racial oppression was his fault. She explained that she is not opposed to teaching black history, but to do so in a way that does not make his life worth less.
- Her son was suffering under the onslaught of COVID restrictions. To be specific, mask mandates and vaccine requirements.
Did Her Son really Commit Suicide?
Yes, sadly he did. His obituary can be found here. He took his own life on June 29, 2021.
But wait, there is a bit of a reveal here. He graduated in 2020.
When he was attending school there were no mask mandates and no vaccine requirements. Rather obviously he was also not being taught CRT. Even if he had still been in school, they don’t teach CRT.
His death happened long after he left school.
What happened, what motivated his death?
The Fairfax County Times has an insight from an article they published on Jan 28, 2022. There we discover this …
Cindy Lang Walsh, parent and author of “Breaking the Autism Code”, is helping other parents cope with shutdowns in FCPS, “I’m informally helping other parents with coping with the shutdown and trying to fix a broken system that doesn’t prepare special needs kids.” said Walsh.
She also is advocating for help after graduation in the school system after the loss of her son, “My son killed himself in June. He had therapists in the school system and suddenly had nothing as a graduate.”
In other words, what sadly happened is that while in school as part of special needs due to his Autism he had the full support of the dedicated therapists, but once he graduated that all suddenly stopped and he was left alone and isolated.
This is not a story about CRT, nor is it about mask mandates, or even vaccine requirements.
Wait, it gets worse, far far worse
Her book, “Breaking the Autism Code”, is chock full of nonsense. It takes a strong anti-vaccine stance and promotes the robustly debunked claim that vaccines cause autism.
Do Vaccines Cause Autism?
Let’s be completely clear about this – vaccines do not cause autism.
Just in case you skipped that last sentence, here it is again. It has been very extensively studied, so we know and the CDC has confirmed that it really is not vaccines. Study after study after study verifies it, again and again, there IS NO LINK. (Yea, caps lock, but due to an abundance of stupidity related to this, I needed to shout that last bit).
Where does this “Vaccines Cause Autism” myth come from?
In 1998 he published a paper that asserted a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. After publication, other researchers attempted to duplicate his results and were unable to do it.
It then later came to light that his entire paper was fraudulent and had no scientific basis at all. His motivation for discrediting the MMR vaccine turned out to be financial, he had an alternative vaccine he wanted to promote. The UK’s General Medical Council charged Wakefield with serious professional misconduct, including dishonesty. This led to a 217-day investigation that looked into the accusations. The evidence was clear, it was a blatantly fraudulent paper. They ruled against him. He has been struck off and barred from practicing medicine in the UK, so he now tours the anti-vaccine circuit in the US.
As for his 1998 paper, The Lancet fully retracted it.
Why does this debunked idea still thrive?
Often people believe things, not because it is the prevailing consensus, nor because there is some compelling evidence, but rather because they have fallen in love with the idea at an emotional level. It explains something they truly do not understand and gives them an easy answer.
If you engage and debate with those that believe any of this, then you will discover that an immunity to facts prevails.
No amount of evidence will persuade Cindy Walsh that her son’s autism was not caused by a vaccine, she is too deeply invested. Via this belief, she has a book and a community of people who look to her for guidance. It gives her life meaning and a mission, she has no way of letting go of that.
Within the anti-Vaxx community, there exists a belief that it can be “cured” with the right treatment. Her son would have probably become very isolated because of her beliefs and the “cures” she inflicted on him.
What is also true is that being autistic can lead to greatly increased levels of stress and this can result in mental challenges. With access to the right experts, this can and should be managed.
Sadly, Cindy bought into ideas that were fundementally wrong. Could things have turned out differently if she had facilitated her son getting access to the appropriate experts via zoom?
We can speculate, but we really don’t know.
Blaming CRT and/or Mask mandates is wholly inappropriate. Neither of these were the root cause for this tragic story.
It is tragic that she lost her son.
Is is horiffic that she is leveraging her loss to score political points.
It is totally unsurprising that Breitbart then picked it up and ran uncritically with it because it pandered to their right-wing political narrative.
Where can I find more help and Guidance for handling Autism?
- American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Children with Disabilities: https://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/145/1/e20193447external icon
- Autism Society: https://www.autism-society.org/living-with-autism/treatment-options/external icon
- Autism Speaks: https://www.autismspeaks.org/treatments-autismexternal icon
- Interagency Autism Coordinating Committee: https://iacc.hhs.gov/publications/publications-analysis/2012/treatments.shtmlexternal icon
- National Institute on Child Health and Human Development: https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/autism/conditioninfo/treatmentsexternal icon
I have suicidal feelings … Help!
- US – Please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
- UK – Please call the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90
Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for people between the ages of 15 and 24.
Below is a link to a guidebook on Psychology.org that will enable you to better understand suicide and depression, how to recognise the warning signs within yourself or your peers, and what you can do to intervene.