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CNN, CBC and the Amanda Baggs Controversy Site

Posted Jul 15 2009 5:46pm
At least two major and very influential media institutions, CNN in the US, and CBC in Canada, have featured Amanda Baggs as a person with an autism spectrum disorder and presented her views on the nature of autism. Some of her views were also presented by Michelle Dawson, who stated that Ms Baggs was an "autistic", to a Canadian Senate committee that examined autism and autism service delivery in Canada. When media institutions, and advocates like Michelle Dawson, present the views of an individual, in this case Amanda Baggs, as representing an "autistic" perspective do they have a duty to confirm that the person does in fact have an autism spectrum disorder before they do so?

If information surfaces subsequent to their presentation that calls the diagnosis into question do these presenters have a duty to correct, confirm or qualify their presentation of the individual as being an "autistic"? If that individual's views on autism are likely to affect public perception of the nature of autism disorders and public policy on provision of autism services should there not be a follow up from those that have presented her views as representing an autistic perspective?

In the case of Amanda Baggs serious questions have been raised about whether she is autistic or not and about the veracity of information about her life that she has presented to the world. A detailed account of information contradicting Ms Baggs personal accounting of her life as an autistic person can now be found on line at a blog site called Amanda Baggs Controversy.

The author of the ABC blog is anonymous. The blog does provide links and references, including to on line discussion groups in which Ms Baggs has apparently participated over the years . If the entries were in fact made by her, they show that she has presented herself as suffering from many mental health disorders, other than autism spectrum disorders, over the course of her life. The disorders from which Ms Baggs has allegedly claimed to be suffering from over the years include Dissociative Identity Disorder (Multiple Personality Disorder), Schizophrenia, Schizoaffective Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Depression.

In her presentation to the Canadian Senate anti-ABA activist and autism researcher Michelle Dawson quoted Ms Baggs from one of the latter's videos:

"I am a non-speaking autistic woman. While I do not agree with functioning labels, I have been labelled low-functioning"

The Amanda Baggs Controversy site references a number of personal testimonials purporting to contradict those statements and indicate that Ms Baggs was in fact a very capable speaker. Internet writings purportedly authored by Ms Baggs are provided in which she talks about discussions she has had in the past, and an admission by her that it is her voice heard in one of the videos. There are several testimonials referring to earlier periods of her life and her very high functioning abilities demonstrated during those years.

Amanda Baggs, in her video productions posted to the Internet, on her blog site and in the quotes of her comments made by Michelle Dawson to the Canadian Senate committee, often uses the " Royal We" in describing autistics, purporting to speak about how "autistics" think, feel, exist in the world. I have been a long time critic of CNN and CBC for featuring her as representative of autistic persons who offers the insights of an autistic person. With the many people who suffer from Autisic Disorders in the world CNN felt it appropriate to present Ms Baggs and her views of autism on multiple occasions. Her rehearsed Internet videos do not resemble autistic behavior that I have seen as the father of a severely autistic 13 year old boy or as an autism advocate who has had interaction with a number of persons with Autism and Aspergers including some autistic persons living in institutional care but I acknowledge that I am not qualified to challenge her ASD diagnosis.

I do though think that it is incumbent upon organizations such as CNN and CBC, who have presented Ms Baggs as an autistic person whose views about the nature of the disorder should be considered by the public and by public policy makers, to follow up on their own journalistic representations given the existence of this public controversy. These organizations should interview her again, the persons who have provided information contradictory of her personal life claims and the professionals who have treated her over the years to confirm, refute or qualify what appear to be well documented claims such as those presented at the Amanda Baggs Controversy site.

CNN and CBC have told us that Amanda Baggs is autistic and we should listen to her views about autism, autism treatment and services and public understanding of autism. If their characterization of her as being a person with an autism disorder, or the facts of her personal narrative, are found to be incorrect ... or if they are confirmed ... those results should be presented to the public and public policy makers for consideration.


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