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CNN's Very High Functioning Autism Awareness Efforts Misrepresent Autism Disorders

Posted Apr 07 2013 5:54am

CNN's Portrayal of Autism In the Days Surrounding WAAD 2013 Middle - Jack and John Elder Robison - High Functioning Aspergers Bottom -Trevor Pacelli High Functioning PDD-NOS (Holli Dunn Photography)
To no big surprise successful, very high functioning Asperger's businsessman, author and family man John Elder Robison's new book Bringing Up Cubby has benefited from two high profile interview promotions on CNN. A promotional appearance  with his son on Dr. Sanjay Gupta's Sunday show was followed with a gushing interview on the CNN morning show Early Start. CNN, and its in house neurosurgeon Dr. Sanjay Gupta, have long delighted in interviewing very intelligent persons with autism.

Neither of these interviews enlightened the world about the realities faced by those less fortunate than the Aspergers family Robison, those with severe autistic disorder. There was discussion of not having a lot of friends but no discussion of intellectual disabilities, serious self injurious behaviors, children wandering, sometimes with dangerous consequences, far from family or schools, the challenges of severely autistic children in schools or in finding a place to live when their parents grow old and ultimately become deceased.

CNN's autism awareness effort wasn't restricted to promoting very high functioning businessman John Elder Robison's literary career. It also assisted in kick starting the career of yet another very high functioning person with autism. The CNN obsession with high functioning autism continued  with a special to CNN article by  Trevor Pac elli  self described as a high functioning individual with PDD-NOS. Below his Holli Dunn Photography picture it states that: "Trevor Pacelli, 20, maintains a 3.6 GPA at community college and has been accepted to five universities."

Several years ago CNN afforded several episodes to the Amanda Baggs story, portraying her as low functioning. Subsequent to the CNN-Baggs collaborations several former acquaintances of Baggs , who attended the same private school for gifted youths, as she had attended came forward on the internet to describe her as a highly verbal, creative individual with normal functioning abilities.

I am not suggesting that CNN or Dr. Sanjay Gupta intentionally misrepresent autism to enhance ratings and profits. I recognize that Dr. Gupta has a busy schedule and it would not be easy for him and his crew to visit a facility caring for children, youth or adults with severe autism disorders.   I am simply stating that, for whatever reasons, Dr. Sanjay Gupta and CNN present misrepresent autism to the world by repeatedly featuring high functioning persons with autism.

Obviously Dr. Gupta and CNN are not alone in portraying high functioning autism as representing the entire autism spectrum.  Autism Speaks engages in the same exercise with  very high functioning  John Elder Robison and high functioning Alex Plank and tends to downplay intellectual disability and other inconvenient severe realities facing many with autistic disorder.

Autism fund raising power houses and major mainstream media alike misrepresent autism to the world painting a picture of autism as gifted, shy individuals while ignoring the harsher realities facing those on the severe end of the autism spectrum.

This misrepresentation provides cover for governments in funding autism research and  in providing services for those with severe autism disorders: why waste dollars researching or providing services for a disorder that appears not to be a disorder after all? 
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