Not long after Barbara Walters, creator of the The View — one of the longest running talk shows on daytime television — announced that actress and model Jenny McCarthy was joining the cast, it sparked an uproar in the public health community.
McCarthy has used her celebrity to promote the anti-vaccine movement. She believes childhood vaccinations resulted in her son autism, and has called on parents to delay or even forgo immunizations altogether.
"There is absolutely no proof that vaccines cause autism."
Anna Dragsbaek is president and CEO of The Immunization Partnership, an organization whose mission is to eradicate vaccine preventable diseases.
"Many, many studies have been done to try to replicate a study back from 1998, that purported to show a connection between vaccines and autism, and in fact, there have been numerous studies that have come out, demonstrating that there is no correlation, or connection, between the measles vaccine and autism."
Given the complexity of the disease and the fact that symptoms and severity vary, autism has no single, known cause. In fact, experts think there are probably many causes: from genetics, pesticides, pharmaceuticals to brain development.
It's estimated that 1 in every 110 children born in the United States will be diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders.
The Westview School, is a private, nonprofit school in West Houston that provides a stimulating learning environment for children with autism.
Donna Marshall is the Head of School.
"In a public school, typically these kiddos will be put in a regular class because they are bright. But they struggle with their attention; they struggle with being able to listen to group instruction; they struggle with getting along with the other children; they have meltdowns, and they just have trouble doing school."
In addition to getting the right education, Marshall says parents constantly look for ways to help their autistic children.
"Some people try special diets; some people do special supplements to varying degrees of success. But we think all of our kids are great. We're not trying to change our children at all, they have great things to offer. Our goal is for all of our children to leave our school, and go out and be in a regular school program somewhere. We're trying to get them ready for that."
The full academic program at Westview addresses the social and language challenges which often make mainstreaming into regular classes difficult.