Tag Archives: media

Joe Scarborough’s Ignorance And What It Means To The American Public

I wanted to write about how Richard came home yesterday (Yay!) and how we took Emma to the Chelsea Market and how she insisted on wearing a pair of black patent leather shoes, turquoise tank top and pink terry cloth shorts with white hearts.  I wanted to post a couple of photos of her so you could see for yourself how great she looks, but when I sat down to write I knew I had to write about something else.

I don’t want to talk about Joe Scarborough any more.  Yet his unfortunate, ridiculous, careless and ignorant remarks, make it impossible not to mention him, because he has a huge following, because people imagine he knows something about Autism.  Joe Scarborough’s remarks are indicative of a larger issue – ignorance and misinformation, which leads to opinions and a general consensus about Autism that is incorrect.  One such commenter on an article about Joe Scarborough’s remarks, said he believed Joe Scarborough knew more about autism than he did because he has a son who is Autistic.  And that is exactly why this is about more than just some asshole with a radio show.  There are countless people spewing all kinds of venom on the radio and everywhere else.  Much of it is dismissed.  But when someone, whether it’s a pseudo celebrity or a talk show host with a large following says they have a child on the spectrum ears perk up.  Forget that AUTISTICS are talking about what it’s like to be autistic ALL THE TIME and their words are almost never in accordance with what that parent with an Autistic child is saying.

So just to reiterate:

Autism is NOT a “mental health” issue.  It is neurological, neither good nor bad, just DIFFERENT.

Joe Scarborough, (I know, there’s his name again) said in a statement he made yesterday, which was neither apologetic nor a retraction from his original inflammatory comments, “I look forward to continuing my work with wonderful organizations like Autism Speaks to provide badly needed support to millions of Americans who struggle with Autism every day.”

Autism Speaks does NOT provide badly needed support to Autistics.  In fact Autism Speaks is uniformly HATED by a massive number of Autistics who speak to that fact on a daily basis.  If you google “Autistics who hate Autism Speaks” you will see more than a dozen pages of links addressing why this is so.  (Really, I just googled it.)

While I’m at it, let’s dispel a couple more myths, something Autistics are doing ALL the time on their blogs.

Autistic people are not inherently violent.

Autistic people do not LACK empathy.

Autistic people are not all loners sitting in a corner banging their heads against the wall  (That would better describe me right about now)  until they can no longer take it and go on a murderous rampage.

Autistic people are not all depressed and friendless.

I’m depressed right now.  But this isn’t about me, or how I feel, or anything else that contains the word, me or I.  This is about prejudices and prejudices are always negative, reinforced by ignorance, ingested by those who believe they are being told the truth by someone who is more knowledgable than they are about something they know nothing about.  This is how it works.  This is how it has always worked throughout history, the demonization of a group of people whose voices are drowned out by the larger roar of ignorance and stupidity.

I refuse to end on this note, however.  So here.  Here are a couple of photos of Emma in the outfit she threw on to go to Chelsea Market yesterday evening.  Because Em is one more example of what Autism looks like.  Emma is inherently HAPPY.  Emma is inherently SOCIAL.  Emma is inherently KIND.  Emma is inherently EMPATHIC.  I’m trying really hard to follow her lead.

This is Autism.  This is Emma.

Loved that as I took this photo a woman wearing black patent leather pumps and turquoise dress walked toward her!

“I can’t reach!”

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Parenting and The Depiction of Autism in the Media

We are inundated with disturbing imagery regarding autism in the media.  Perhaps one of the most famous is a video Autism Speaks made.  It is a video montage with a number of parents speaking of their distress and the difficulties they face while raising an autistic child.  Their children are almost always present as the parents speak.  The camera cuts to these same children in full meltdown, stimming or sitting alone in a playground in stark contrast to their neurotypical peers who are running around shouting and laughing, while playing with one another.  At one point a parent discusses how, for a brief moment she allowed herself the fantasy of driving off the George Washington Bridge with her autistic child.

The video is disturbing on many, many levels.  I’m sure it was successful in raising a great deal of money.  However, as someone who once viewed images such as these through the lens of ignorance and as a result was paralyzed with the fear these images induced, I am aware of the underlying emotional manipulation that is so obviously being employed.   It is propaganda, whether intentional or not, biased, deeply prejudiced and intended to create fear.  And it is doing tremendous damage to Autists.  These types of imagery perpetuate the marginalization and unfortunate stereotyping of people on the spectrum.  In using the images of Autistic children it negates and ignores the effect these depictions have on those same children in ten or fifteen years from now, when they grow up to be autistic adults.  Sadly it is not just Autism Speaks who is engaged in this kind of negativity and bias.  News programs routinely air shows about “savants” who are seen as fascinating curiosities or programs about the tragedy and horrors of autism, citing statistics and the growing numbers, with shrinking resources etc.  How did we get here?  What happened to ethics in journalism?  What happened to the idea that journalists have a moral responsibility?

For those who do not have an autistic person in their life or have never met one, these images are the only things you have to base your perceptions on.  Just as when I was first told Emma was autistic, my mind grabbed onto the image of Dustin Hoffman rocking back and forth while muttering in his role as Raymond Babbitt in the movie Rainman.  Raymond Babbitt and Emma are as dissimilar to each other as I am to Raymond Babbitt.  But at the time of Emma’s diagnosis I knew of no other autistic person, so this was who I immediately thought of and then felt confused as to how my daughter could possibly be autistic.  Many years later, when I met Temple Grandin at a lecture she gave, I again found myself looking for similarities.  There were very few.

Over the years there have been countless news programs showing autistic children, teens and adults and while some of the people depicted share one or two behavioral similarities to Emma, I have yet to see any, where I think – Oh, that’s what Emma will certainly be like in 15 or 20 years.  Comparing Emma to adults on the spectrum is something I have been doing for years without realizing it. This is not something I do with my son Nic.  In fact it never occurs to me to compare him to adults.  I know and trust that Nic will continue to mature and grow up to be the responsible, kind, thoughtful, intelligent human being that he is already showing himself to be.  Why do I not do this with my daughter?   Clearly this is where my work lies.  It’s a double standard that I hold, one for my neurotypical son and another for my autistic daughter.  Here is where using the word neuromajority really is appropriate and more accurate.  Nic is in the neuromajority and therefore I understand and assume things about his future that I cannot know any more than I can predict my daughter’s.  But because he is in the neuromajority I am able to lull myself into a calm state of thinking that I know, or feel that the chances are at least better than good that he will grow to be the person I can see him becoming now.

With Emma, her future, in my mind, remains a giant question mark and so I can fall easily into fearful thinking.  The one thing, the single most important thing that is making an enormous difference in my thinking regarding my daughter, is communicating with Autistic adults.  There are a number of them that I particularly like and admire, that I reach out to and who are kind enough to take the time out of their busy lives to communicate with me.  I do not assume Emma will grow up to be just like any one of them, but in communicating with them I am given tremendous hope because unlike the media coverage of autism and autistic people, they do not live their lives from one dramatic sound bite to another.  They are complicated, interesting, intelligent people working, studying and living their lives.

As a result the frightening portrayals the media seems so enamored with are softened, I am able to be logical in my thinking when confronted with those images and now even choose to avoid those programs.  I do not need these depictions to compete with the very real autistic person in my life who struggles, yes, but who also progresses, who is funny and happy, smart and kind and loving, sensitive and unique, who will continue to grow and mature to become a young woman with all of those qualities and more.   If there is one thing I can cite, which has changed how I think more than anything else, it is in being in contact with these kind strangers who are autistic.  I’ve written about this before, and I will continue to write about this, because it is the thing that has changed everything that I believe and has opened my mind to the very real infinite possibilities that exist and has given me hope.  I fall easily into fearful thinking, but I was capable of that long before my autistic daughter came into my life.