Chili's Bar & Grill cancels autism fundraiser

Posted at: 04/07/2014 6:49 AM
Updated at: 04/07/2014 5:46 PM
By: Berkeley Brean

A fundraiser for autism research was abruptly canceled because of outcry against the benefiting charity.

Today, Chili’s Bar & Grill restaurants were supposed to donate 10-percent of sales to the National Autism Association as part of Autism Awareness Month. The cancelation notice was sent out Sunday night.

A well-known chain restaurant canceled a fundraiser with a group that believes there is a link between autism and vaccines. It all started after Chili's canceled its autism fundraiser Monday with the National Autism Association, the group that says there is a link between autism and vaccines. 

All of the serious, studied research says there is no link, but how do you argue with a parent that loves their child and thinks there's a connection?  

Jennifer Wolfley, mother of an autistic son, said, “This debate is probably one of the most challenging debates within the autism community.”

Jennifer Wolfley is the mother of a severely autistic seven-year-old boy named Sergei. Jennifer called News10NBC after Chili’s canceled its autism fundraiser over complaints about the ties to the vaccine issue. Jennifer says Chili's made the right decision. 

Wolfley said, “In my personal situation, I can only speak for myself, but we have chosen to immunize and vaccinate for a variety of reasons including public health.”

Jennifer’s son, Sergei, is in public school.  

So what do experts say?

Dr. Susan Hyman, UR Medicine, said, “None of the research today suggests that autism is associated with vaccines, period.”

Dr. Susan Hyman says she's sympathetic of parents desperately looking for a reason. 

Dr. Hyman said, “And there are reasons. The reasons are genetic programming. The reasons are in the environment, but it's not vaccines.”

Jennifer Wolfley poses this question. If they developed a vaccine that would cure autism, how many people against vaccines would be lining up to get that shot for their child?

To be clear, Chili's cancelled the fundraiser because of the stance of the National Autism Association. The company's statement says they cancelled because of “the feedback we heard from our guests.” That feedback was don't raise money for the group that believes there is a link to vaccines. Chili's says it's going to find another way to support families with autistic children. 

On its Facebook page, the National Autism Association said, "Thank you to all of our supporters, and thank you to Chili's for taking a chance on us. Though NAA has changed our mission and efforts in recent years to focus on autism safety, namely wandering prevention, controversial views about vaccines remained on our website. Because of guest feedback about these views, Chili's has opted to cancel tomorrow's event. We respect their decision and ask everyone to please speak words of love and kindness."