Amish Autism


A recent blog post on Amish and autism I stumbled across takes on the controversial view that childhood vaccines and autism are linked.

Many have pointed to the Amish, who often forgo vaccination, and according to some have low-to-nonexistent rates of autism, as evidence of the link.

Seems like much of the attention has focused on Lancaster County, with those in the know saying the Amish just don’t exhibit the condition.

“I have not seen autism with the Amish,” said Dr. Frank Noonan, a family practitioner in Lancaster County, Pa., who has treated thousands of Amish for a quarter-century.

“You’ll find all the other stuff, but we don’t find the autism. We’re right in the heart of Amish country and seeing none, and that’s just the way it is.”

Others in this story (no longer online) point to the complete absence of autism among large numbers of never-vaccinated urban Chicago kids.

An interesting yet unresolved issue.  You can hardly object to the great good that has resulted thanks to vaccination programs.

But it also raises the question of whether trying to protect against everything can actually harm us.

Some Amish see vaccination as on the same level as formal insurance programs, which they abstain from.  The idea being:  God is in charge, and we will try not to pre-empt or refuse what he has in store for us–though that doesn’t mean Amish won’t seek professional medical care.  They readily do.

(Source: see Chapter 9, ‘Health Care’ by Gertrude Enders Huntington in The Amish and the State for more on the Amish and immunization)

Bonus:  more on the Amish and unusual illnesses

photo:  www.gurahumorului.org

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    1. Very interesting evidence. While they may have an absence of autism, there may be other genetic illnesses that are more common in this population. I know there is a fair incidence of Cystic Fibrosis among the OOM here.

      1. Sam

        Autism is not genetic

    2. Whooping cough has gone through the Amish and Mennonite communities here. I was sure praying that my immunization was good. I knew a lady who broke some of her ribs coughing.

    3. Roni

      I am wondering who the author is of this blog. You certainly seem to know a lot of Amish personally. I think that is great. I wish I had that opportunity. How do you have so much interaction with them? Are you an X-Amish? I have read extensively, books about the Amish over the past few years. I have also attended some of Donald Kraybill’s seminars and am attending the Amish in America Conference at E-town College in June. Living in Lebanon County, PA, I freqently see Amish, but I never really knew much about them, other than their mode of transportation and dress style. Now after years of informal research,I know so much about them and appreciate their beliefs and customs. I am looking forward to the new website.

    4. Geauga County Amish genetic conditions

      Ruth–there are a number of genetic conditions that show up among the Amish. There are special clinics for them in Lancaster and Ohio.

      Apparently in the Geauga County Ohio community there is a particular condition which is so rare that only around 100 people have it worldwide. And supposedly at least one or two dozen of those are Amish in Geauga.

      Genevieve–I had a similar experience this past summer. had my fingers crossed. Guess I ‘survived’ exposure as I didn’t seem to come down with anything.

      Roni–nice of you to ask and thanks for reading. I am not ex-amish but have had the good fortune to have had a lot of contact with Amish through my work selling Bible-related books in communities in Indiana, Ohio, Illinois and Iowa. I feel blessed to have had that opportunity, have really enjoyed my job and have generally gotten a nice, welcoming response from the many Amish I’ve met, have had many good conversations, laughs, meals and have helped chase a loose cow or two back into their pen. It’s been an enriching and educational experience. It’s also really opened my eyes to the diversity within the Amish world, being able to visit a good number of communities as I have.

      This summer I will be returning to visit some Amish families in Ohio and possibly Indiana and Illinois, selling books the in Lancaster County Amish community, as well as living with an Amish family for a month or two. Am very much looking forward to it.

      That is great, sounds like you have studied about the Amish a lot as well. I like Kraybill’s works alot, hopefully I will be able to attend the seminar at E-town but not 100% sure at this point. Sounds like it is going to be the most extensive conference ever held on the Amish.


    5. Matt

      With apologies for reopening an old discussion–

      The idea that there is no autism amongst the Amish appears to be a myth. Researcher from Vanderbilt gave preliminary results at the International Meeting for Autism Research (IMFAR) this year. They found a prevalence of 1 in 271 (if I recall correctly), and that number may go higher as they adjust their methods for the cultural differences between the Amish and those whom the methods were originally designed for.

      The Chicago group that claims no autism amongst their unvaccinated children is, well, a group that I take with a big grain of salt. This is the Homefirst clinic in Chicago, run by Mayer Eisenstein. Dr. Eisenstein…well…I take him with a lot of salt.

    6. Adam

      I'm on the autism spectrum

      The “Autism-Vaccine” link has been roundly debunked, and is very offensive to autistic people (not to mention, Dr. Wakefield directly profited off of convincing people that such a link exists). Since, all ACTUAL evidence I’ve seen points to a genetic cause, it would actually make since that there are lower rated of autism in Amish societies, if they don’t carry the genes to begin with. By the way, when you say (and I know you are just reporting, Erik *salutes*), what it sounds like to autistic people is “a dead child is better than an autistic child”.

      1. Kai Ishaya

        Still Unknown Genetic Factors

        Recent research into genetic links to ASD have actually shown how little is truly known about it.
        The latest info seems to indicate that it is NOT ‘inherited’, but is more likely due to DNA mutations. But, even this remains to be proven.

        1. It's both & some researcher's know it.

          After hearing this to me it makes perfect sense.
          What do autistic kids have in common, a genetic defect on a chromosome that does not allow the process of your body to process and excrete thimerosal at the normal rate in others without the defect. So the mercury compound that is reported to be 1000 times more toxic than elemental mercury just keeps building up in your kids bodies with a very small percentage excreted through body waste (urine/fecal/sweat) So if they were not getting thimerosal as a preservative in injectable drugs & or contact lense solution & they dont have the genetic defect they would not be autistic. When will this stop, probably when the entire pharmaceutical industry gets a pass from congress & senate. So maybe in another 75 years. Dont belive me, research it for YOUR kids.