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A Leopard Cannot Change His Spots

Posted Aug 24 2008 10:45pm
I just read a mind-bendingly offensive post by pop-journalist David Kirby over at the Huffington Post. This guy has some serious gall to write such things as:

"It serves to remind us all that, no matter what "causes autism," no matter what, if anything might "cure" it, children affected by the disorder deserve all of the honor, love and patience that we, a nation consumed by our own attention deficits, can muster."

or

"They deserve more than our compassion, our love and our dollars. They deserve our respect."
What, you may ask yourself, is so wrong about these statements? Well, by their own right, nothing at all. The rub lies in the dissonance between the source and the content. In other words, David Kirby has utterly no business taking on the mantle of "let's respect autistic people" at this point. Has any single person done more to damage the likelihood of positive outcomes for autistic people in our society today? Let's review exactly what David Kirby has done for autistic people since Evidence of Harm was published in 2005:



*He has helped to turn the conversation away from "how do we help autistic folks at all ages to thrive?" and pointed it towards "where do we direct our anger that autistic people exist?".



*He has, through his sensationalist, wildly accusatory book created a pocket of conspiracy theorists in the autism community. A few certainly must have existed before he came along, but he (along with Andrew Wakefield) is the one that brought the anti-vax/toxic child brigade. An example of how bad it has gotten lately on the internet: One person - who is perhaps the most frequent commenter on virtually every site I visit that discusses autism - is not related in any way to the autism community. He is not autistic, is not a parent of autistic children, is not a researcher or physician who works in the field, is not a therapist, nothing (much like David Kirby, come to think of it). What he is, is an anti-vaxxer who was drawn to the autism community due to the controversy created, in part, by David Kirby. This illustrates that fact that Kirby's influence on the autism community has nothing to do with autism , and has everything to do with creating controversy.



*He has, through his promotion of the completely false notion that autism somehow resembles mercury poisoning (it doesn't), even created a whole new set of terminology with which people can refer to autistics. He even mentions one in this post, "...there is some talk about vaccines, environmental toxins and 'damaged kids.'" Yup, that's right - damaged kids . Pardon my French, but thanks a lot, a**hole. My kid is not damaged, despite your honeyed tongue convincing thousands of parents that their kids are.



*He has, by influencing a change in the national dialogue about autism, helped to create a situation where funding must be dedicated to grasping after theories long-since discredited. Not only with regards to Hg=autism, but also with MMR=autism. You see, we live in a world with limitations. Among these limitations are funding limitations. When a given community has a finite amount of dollars that can be used for research and direct support, then resources must be budgeted. Ideally, they will be budgeted towards areas that will be of most immediate and direct benefit to autistics through research, treatment, and occupational/educational/functional supports. Not so in the autism community, where we continue to throw good money after bad with call after call for more research into the mercury/vaccine causation theory.



*He has caused good parents to go after each other's throats by causing the focus in the autism community to rest on causation. A brief visit to the Autism Speaks message board will provide you all the evidence you need for this. I myself have dusted it up a bit over there, nothing I am proud of to be sure. Please note, while you visit there, that within the "Autism Science" category, 12 of the most recent 20 topics directly discuss either vaccines or mercury. For contrast, see in the sidebar of this blog - under "Autism SagePub Feed" - how many other areas of research can and must happen in the field of autism. In the "Autism in the News" category, also 12 of the most recent 20 posts focus on vaccines and/or mercury. For contrast, read the Autism Hub to see essay after essay, day after day, discussing all kinds of news items that have nothing to do with vaccines or mercury.



*He has spurred on the growth of the DAN! movement, with all of its unregulated AltMed practices and complete lack of ethical or professional oversight (read more about specific DAN! practitioners here) . I would argue that DAN! has done more harm than good, when one factors in a family's time and money as an "opportunity cost". In other words, even the treatments that do nothing are not copacetic.



So here we have a guy who has just one "inroad" to the autism community - that he wrote a widely discredited book about a failed causation theory about autism. And yet here he is, again, opportunistically using the debut of "Autism: The Musical" documentary on HBO to get his name back in the discussion. But now the Doppleganger tries to take on the mantle of peacemaker. He comes out with lines such as:

"Here, I hope, is a movie that everyone can watch and appreciate."

and

"This all-too-real movie lifts the heart up and then slams it right back down on the pavement -- and we love every minute of it."

But his true colors belie his ability to conceal them. Throughout his post, he peppers the reader with his real view of autism - something to be held at arm's length, something that may actually produce a good feeling amidst a sea of anguish and despair. And, stunningly, he now takes the tactic that if kids are not as he describes them, maybe - just maybe - they aren't autistic at all. Observe:

"Others might worry that the portraits of the two high functioning boys -- so bright and charismatic you want to hang out with them for hours (though their peers shun them into a lonely world of their own) -- will leave the mistaken impression that most children with autism are like this. If they were, then the epidemic might be slightly less painful to bear."
(emphasis mine)



or

"Please watch this film: You will be treated to an achingly accurate portrait of what autism is, isn't, and can be. "
(emphasis mine)



"Divide and conquer!" once spoke Julius Caesar. Apparently David Kirby was listening. Only JC was building empires, while DK was just selling a book.



One last breathtakingly offensive remark David makes that cannot escape notice;

"Sadly, however, most kids with autism are more than just a little "quirky." And as much as we truly adore all the children in this film, few, if any parents of "typical" kids could honestly say, 'I wish my child were like that.'"
So, for my autistic readers, in case you haven't been kicked in the proverbial teeth enough times by people like this , here's a final blow by this guy that tells you that we should all feel sad about you being more than just quirky, and that parents of typical kids sure are glad you don't belong to them.



If I could apologize for David Kirby, I would. In the meantime, consider me a proud member of the autism community and a proud father of a son who is not damaged and does not make me sad.
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