Will World Autism Awareness Day Raise Autism Awareness or Create Autism Confusion?
Posted Aug 24 2008 10:36pm
April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. Hopefully the UN declaration will have the effect of creating real awareness of Autism Disorder and the related Pervasive Developmental Disorders. The prospects of that happening are slim though. It is much more likely that more confusion about autism will be created by the large media organizations such as CNN that dominate world protrayal of autism.
The biggest obstacle to generating real autism awareness will be big business, the big business of maintaining ratings for a large news organization like CNN. To generate media attention CNN will provide feel good stories. CNN will, yet again, interview Amanda Baggs, a "voice of autism" largely created by past CNN promotion. Ms Baggs is a very intellligent and articulate person in her late 20's diagnosed with a pervasive developmental disorder as an adult. She was able to speak throughout her youth and adolescence, had friends and even attended Simon's Rock College for gifted young people. Ms Baggs was previously diagnosed with a variety of other disorders and, prior to meeting an autistic person, and subsequently obtaining her own autism diagnosis, she wrote elequently on topics like schizophrenia, TLE, elves and fairies.
Now, CNN hangs on her every typewritten word, as a true "voice of autism". Ms Baggs story bears no resemblance to that of my son who has very little oral communication ability or to the many autistic people I have met in 10 years of autism advocacy. I am not saying Ms Baggs is not autistic, she has a medical diagnosis, but her autism is the only one I have ever heard of where a person who can communicate orally thoughout her life becomes unable to communicate orally as an adult.
CNN will show other remarkable stories of autistic persons who, thought to be "retarded" ,have become able to communciate through typewriters, technology and Facilitated Communication. What they will probably not do is visit the autistic persons living in residential care facilities because they can not live on their own or visit those autistic people who can not, and, unlike Ms Baggs, never could communicate orally or by any other means. The middle aged lady in the New York residential care facility who could not tell the world that she was being abused by staff because she could not communicate at all, the children and adults who hurt themselves seriously.
CNN will probably not tell the world that the Facilitated Communication they help promote with their feel good stories has been discredited by serious responsibile agencies which have reviewed FC and found that the "communication" is often a reflection of the facilitator's thoughts not the autistic person. (When an autistic person uses technology without a facilitator it is properly described as Augmented Communication not Facilitated Communication). Nor will CNN be likely to mention the recent case in Michigan that saw false sex abuse charges dropped after a family had been ripped asunder and suffered as a result of communications, purportedly from their autistic daughter, which appeared to have been influenced by the "Facilitator."
Will CNN help bust autism myths and raise real autism awareness or will it simply continue to create new myths and create more confusion? We should have a better idea on April 3, 2008.