During Friday’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer announced that the White House would participate in World Autism Day on Sunday by shining a blue light on the building.
This tribute, however, is a stark reminder that President Trump is the source of considerable misinformation about autism.
Trump has said that vaccines cause autism, a conspiracy theory that was only ever propped up by one since-discredited study. Trump has promoted this dangerous myth for several years without any evidence to support it. More recently, he tapped Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. — one of the most prominent proponents of the myth — to advise him on vaccines and autism and to chair a committee on “vaccine safety and scientific integrity.” Trump has also claimed that autism rates are increasing, even though that’s not the case.
Spicer also noted that the idea to observe World Autism Day came from Bob Wright, a “long-time friend of the president.” Wright, and his late wife Suzanne, founded the organization Autism Speaks, which has become one of the largest advocacy organizations for autism. Unfortunately, Autism Speaks has also contributed to the myth that vaccines are a cause of autism.
In 2009, Autism Speaks’ executive vice president of communications and awareness, Alison Singer, resigned in protest of the organization’s openness to the belief that vaccines could cause autism and that “more studies should be done.” She went on to found the Autism Science Foundation, which prominently proclaims the safety and importance of vaccines.
Wright himself continues to prop up this myth. He wrote in his 2016 book that he tried to convince the Bush and Obama administrations to invest more in vaccine safety. In an interview with Today after the book came out, Wright said that “there is no definitive answer” to whether vaccines cause autism. “We have not been able to determine that autism is caused by vaccines,” he said. “However, there are lots of issues having to do with the vaccine safety program that I got into very deeply, with no agenda, early on in autism.”
It’s unclear if Wright is the source of Trump’s belief in the myth.
There is some evidence that Trump has helped reinvigorate the anti-vaxxer movement. On Friday, those who reject the science behind vaccines held a “revolution for truth” in Washington, D.C., a march and rally that includes Kennedy, Trump’s anti-vaxxer in residence, as a speaker.