Jennifer and Tommy Venuto, of Voorhees, New Jersey say their 11-year-old son Gabriel has come a long way. Jennifer said he had a severe reaction to the Hepatitis B vaccine, which was given to him when he was just one day old - and weighed less than 6 pounds.
Jennifer says, "I'm really against that vaccine actually, I don't think it's necessary for infants- they're not drug users or having sex- people who are vaccinated for Hepatitis B - that's usually how it's contracted."
Jennifer said Gabriel was later diagnosed with autism. He didn't speak until he was five. She partly blames genetics, and partly blames vaccines.
Tracy Farrauto, of Berlin, New Jersey, also thinks vaccines played a role in causing her son Nick's autism. She said he was speaking, about 25 words, up until he hit 18 months, and got his Measles, Mumps, Rubella vaccination.
Tracy remembers, "The next morning he woke up in his crib, I went into get him, he wouldn't look at me, he had no speech."
But in his new book, "Autism's False Prophets," Dr. Paul Offit of the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia refutes the idea that vaccines, or preservatives previously used in vaccines, have anything to do with causing autism. He points to numerous studies showing there's no link.
"I think the frustrating part is why is it despite that, it doesn't make people feel more comfortable," said Dr. Offit.
Jennifer said she doesn't trust some studies, or doctors, especially if they have ties to the pharmaceutical industry.
Dr. Offit discloses he helped develop and patent a vaccine for rotavirus. CHOP did receive royalties for that vaccine, and a share of them were given to Dr. Offit. Still he says there is no conflict of interest.
"I love children. I have a deep and abiding care for their health- that's why I make the choices I make," said Dr. Offit.
In his book, Dr. Offit also says so-called alternative therapies for autism don't work and can be dangerous. In his book he describes an incident where a young autistic boy was killed during chelation, a treatment that rids the body of metals such as lead and mercury.
But Dr. Allan Magaziner of the Magaziner Center for Wellness in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, said from what he has heard of that incident, there was an error on the part of the staff. "From my limited knowledge, there was one death in all these years, and there's been thousands and thousands of treatments given,"
Tracey said Nick does both traditional and non-traditional therapies. Both Tracey and Jennifer say they see the best results when they started added things like supplements, anti-fungal and other medications, and chelation.
Tracy said, "He's (Nick) probably 800-percent better. He speaks in full sentences, he colors, he's academically at his age level now and it's the most fulfilling feeling."
Dr. Offit said doctors who offer these therapies are cashing in on false hope. One session in Dr. Magaziner's hyperbaric oxygen chamber costs $135.
Dr. Magaziner said not all therapies will work for all kids, but there are hundreds of studies that show the effectiveness of bio-chemical treatments. "This isn't alternative medicine- this is good thorough, comprehensive medicine," he said.
Dr. Magaziner said he thinks vaccines may be one of many environmental triggers that can cause autism in genetically pre-disposed kids. As for studies citing the safety of vaccines, he said, "When pharmaceutical companies test, they only test one vaccine at a time, but what happens when were putting five, six, seven vaccines in a child at one time." He said those studies are lacking. He won't call vaccines harmful but says they could be for some kids. He believes children should be treated more individually instead of all sticking to the same schedule.
The Venutos don't tell other parents what to do, but have decided not to vaccinate their younger son Julian - at least not now.
Dr. Offit fears that with fewer children vaccinated, we'll see a spike in a preventable diseases, such as we have for measles.
But while the controversy continues, all parties agree on one thing: all want what's best for kids.Children's Hospital of Philadelphia Magaziner Center for Wellness