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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Carrey, Autism, and Tuberous Sclerosis

Buzzfeed reports that Jim Carrey is digging himself a deeper Twitter hole:
On Wednesday, Carrey continued this message with a series of tweets that included photos of children with autism. One, showing an unnamed boy crying with his arms behind his head, read: “TOXIN FREE VACCINES, A REASONABLE REQUEST.”

The boy is 14-year-old Alex Echols of Eugene, Oregon. And his family is pretty annoyed with Carrey’s tweet.
“Jim Carrey has a huge platform — a huge following — and is misrepresenting my son’s image by attaching it to his anti-vax rant,” Alex’s mother, Karen Echols, told BuzzFeed News by email.
Alex was born with a genetic syndrome called tuberous sclerosis, or TSC, which causes benign tumors to grow all over the body, including the brain. Many children with TSC have autism, including Alex.
Alex lives in a group home. Echols and her husband, Jeremy, are open about his condition, maintaining a website,, and a Facebook page to try toadvocate for the use of medical marijuana to calm his seizures, self-injurious behaviors, and anxiety.
At Forbes, Emily Willingham writes:
The condition gets its name from the potato (tuber)-like growths that develop in the brain, as visible on MRI, that eventually harden, or sclerose. It traces to two gene variants that result in the development of these benign growths in many tissues. ‘Benign’ references only the fact that they aren’t cancer—their effects are not benign, particularly in the central nervous system. While the effects can be mild, often the condition is associated with epilepsy, developmental delay, and … autism.
In fact, about a third to half of children who have tuberous sclerosis could also be diagnosed with autism. Each condition is associated with seizures, and there are hints that disrupted connections among brain regions might be responsible for both the seizures and the social communication deficits of autism.
It’s ironic that Jim Carrey, in his effort to argue a debunked link between vaccines and autism, accidentally drew attention to one of the few factors that have been strongly linked to autism. Some celebrities, however, such as Julianne Moore, were way ahead of the curve and have been working a little more deliberately to draw attention to tuberous sclerosis.