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On the Record: Bambara says autism researcher overstepped bounds

Linda Bambara, professor of special education, says autism researcher Dr. Andrew Wakefield overstepped his bounds by concluding a possible link between autism and vaccines based on his data.

The British publication Lancet, one of the world’s leading medical journals, has retracted a 1998 research study that touched off years of speculation that common childhood vaccines caused autism.

The study by Dr. Andrew Wakefield claimed that vaccines for mumps, measles and rubella caused autism, a neurodevelopmental disorder marked by impaired social interaction and communication.

Linda Bambara, a professor of special education and an autism researcher, has followed the media coverage and ensuing debate over Lancet’s retraction.
 
“The Andrew Wakefield study was a case study involving 12 individuals with autism,” says Bambara, who studies developmental disabilities and has a particular interest in children.

“There was no experimentation, or controls. He [Wakefield] overstepped his bounds by concluding a possible link between autism and vaccines based on his data. His conclusions rested mainly on parent report that symptoms of autism occurred at the time of vaccination, among other factors. His conclusion is speculative—not based on scientific rigor.

“The real tragedy here, beyond the fact that Wakefield overstepped his data, is that the lay population has no understanding of research. Thus once this study got in the hands of the media and parents who may have other interests beyond science (e.g., their children), the findings of this study takes on a life of its own. The controversy is fueled by beliefs or by the need to keep the controversy alive, more than on scientific evidence.”

Bambara and Chris Cole, professor and program coordinator of school psychology, recently received a two-year pilot research grant from Autism Speaks to lead a peer-mediated intervention designed to improve the social communication skills of high school students with autism and intellectual disabilities. They will be conducting this project with their colleague, Carolyn Hughes, from Vanderbilt University.

Story by Jordan Reese

Posted on Friday, January 07, 2011

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