Tuesday, November 27, 2007

CNN's Invisible Faces of Autism

Despite significant media attention being paid to autism low functioning, truly low functioning, persons with autism remain invisible. The exception to this rule is the Vancouver Sun which provided the most comprehensive presentation of persons with autism from all points of the autism spectrum with its excellent Faces of Autism series. The Vancouver Sun, Pete McMartin, columnist, and Glenn Baglo, photographer, deserve full credit for daring to portray realities of life for persons from across the full spectrum of autism disorders and their families. I say they "dared" to portray these realities because of the hostility generated by image conscious ideologues who do not want the world to know that there are autistic persons with only a limited understanding of the world, of language and of everyday realities. The caring families of the Autism Every Day video know all to well what happens when the real challenges of autism are presented truthfully to the world.

The Faces of Autism series remains one of the few competent commercial media treatments of the realities of truly low functioning autistic persons - other than news responses to horrific stories such as the middle aged autistic woman with no communication skills who was physically assaulted, repeatedly, by staff at a Long Island residential care facility until one staffer, assisted by videotape footage of the assaults, reported them and criminal charges responded. Another incident which elicited media attention to the realities of lower functioning autism is that of the Toronto woman who was allowed to starve to death while in the care of her adoptive sister.

Generally though the lower functioning autistic persons are not featured on the major media networks, news magazines or newspapers. After all, news today is also entertainment and it is easier to sell feel good stories than address hard realities. Anderson Cooper distinguished himself during Katrina by speaking truth to power, by pointing out, when politicians were busy patting themselves on the back, that people were dieing all around them, on the streets and rooftops of New Orleans. But when it comes time to examine the lives of autistic persons Mr. Cooper and the good Dr. Gupta do not visit the invisible autistics, those who do not attend "autism conferences", write internet essays and make videos for world consumption.

In CNN world, in Oprah world, in the world of the mass media generally, much good is done by highlighting autism and raising autism awareness. Unfortunately, for the largest media organizations, the realities of life for truly low functioning autistic persons are ignored. Mr. Cooper and Dr. Gupta do not see or visit the truly low functioning autistic persons who hurt themselves, who lack understanding of language or everyday dangers of life. For CNN and the big media organizations the faces of truly low functioning autistic persons do not show up on their cameras and our television screens, they remain invisible to CNN - and to the world.

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