I am a mom, nurse, and advocate for our children, but it wasn’t until I was in a better place with my youngest child that I was able to begin helping others in the autism community. My advocacy work began in a local support group, Katy Autism Support. Over the years, I learned how to step out of my comfort zone and speak up for our children, but it wasn’t always easy. I’m not a naturally gifted speaker or writer. In fact, if I never had to speak in front of a room full of people or write another blog or article, I would be perfectly content. Within the autism community, there are those that get “The Big Picture” and others that simply don’t. So what is “The Big Picture?” Well, it’s the understanding that this is not just about your child or children . . . it’s about every one of our children out there that has a diagnosis of autism, Asperger’s, ADD, ADHD, asthma, sensory integration disorder, oppositional defiance disorder, and the list goes on and on. Once you get it, there’s no turning back. You can either sit and watch, or you can fight like hell to help our children and our community. I chose to fight.
When I began advocating for our children, there were so many days I felt overwhelmed with my kids, my families, my life. I spent hours of my day talking to parents trying to help them sort out what treatments would work best for their kids. Yet, sadly, at the end of the day I knew that only a lucky few would make great strides relatively quickly. For the vast majority, progress would be slow with years of hard work ahead to get the best possible outcomes. I knew the numbers were increasing. With heavy heart I watched to the CDC stats increase from 1:200 to 1:68. I knew I needed to do something more, but just didn’t know what.
So a few years ago, I asked myself what I could do to help stop or slow down the autism epidemic. I know what you’re thinking . . . Really? Who does she think she is? Well, I’m a mom of affected children who doesn’t want anyone to go through what I have, what we all have. I wanted to make a bigger impact other than just educating one person at a time. While I don’t believe that vaccines are the trigger for all children on the spectrum, I do believe they are a contributing factor for many. So, what better way to prevent autism than informing parents about their legal right to vaccine exemption?In my home state of Texas, families have the right to be exempt from vaccines for philosophical, religious, or medical reasons. At my practice, I am always amazed at the number of parents that don’t know about these rights . . . and we are talking autism parents! Imagine the impact we could make if everyone knew about their legal rights to exemption. How many parents would choose an alternate schedule, delay their schedule, or opt out altogether. We have all been pressured by our pediatricians,school nurses, and families to vaccinate our children. If we had known about our rights to exempt, would we have chosen the same path?
I started my vaccine-exemption advocacy with a dear friend of mine, Leslie Phillips, by meeting with the head of health services in our school district. This progressed to an online emailing campaign reaching out to each and every one of the health care professionals in our school district. When that didn’t work we decided to crash a school board meeting. Our efforts did not go unnoticed; the district did put a link to the online Texas vaccine exemption form on their website and added it to their immunization paperwork going home with our kids. Sadly, it was just a footnote in the small print at the bottom or hidden on page two of the website, BUT it was there!
From there, I recruited a group of warrior moms to help me distribute flyers that said “No shots, No School, NOT TRUE!” We put them everywhere! Then signs mysteriously started showing up all over Katy. Texas Children’s Hospital, the hospital that has done nothing for our kids, the hospital I give a friendly wave to every time I drive by, wrote a blog showing one of these mystery signs. The title of the blog was Vaccines: PersonalChoice or Moral Responsibility? They even took a picture of one of these signs for their blog. Got to love it!
The signs got taken down and mysteriously reappeared over and over.
Then we took the message to the streets with a public protest in July 2014.
That’s where the “No shots, No school, NOT TRUE!” Billboard Project comes in. What better way to reach a broader audience than with a billboard? Houston is the fourth largest city in the nation, and some of these billboards have a viewing audience that exceeds 700,000 weekly. Thanks to Marcella at VaxTruth.org, I can take my advocacy to the next level. While I know that most of you don’t live in Texas, this is a great opportunity to spread awareness. In the world of social media, one sign can make a huge impact. Please help me to get this vital message out. I need your support with donations and sharing with your friends and family. I dream of the day that the CEO of Texas Children’s Hospital can look out his window and see this:
Click to obtain the form: Affidavit Request for Exemption from Immunizations for Reasons of Conscience in the state of Texas.
Click to view my “No Shots, No School, NOT TRUE!” Billboard Campaign.
~ Catherine Masha