Saturday, March 29, 2008

Autism and the Media - CNN's Shameful Non-Coverage of Severely Autistic People

CNN is continuing its shameful treatment of persons with severe Autism Disorder. If your only knowledge of autism was garnered from viewing CNN broadcasts or blogs you might think that autism is not a disorder, that every autistic person finds a way to communicate and that all autistic persons live happily ever after. You would not know that many persons with severe Autism Disorder, not Aspergers, not PDD-NOS, but Autism Disorder with profound developmental delays, require constant care and supervision. Some live their lives in residential and institutional care facilities. Some are assaulted in their residential facilities and lack the communication ability to express themselves to others. You would not know these things because CNN does not cover the "feel bad" autism stories, only the "feel good" autism stories.

CNN is a news organization and one would think that between interviews with Amanda Baggs they would find time to MENTION the fact that there are many seriously autistic persons who live desperate lives. They might, for example, cover the story of the middle aged autistic woman in a New York residential care facility who was physically abused and assaulted by attendants but lacked any means of telling anyone because she could not speak, write or type to tell what was happening to her. The situation came to light only after another attendant brought it to light and it was confirmed by video cameras in the facility. CNN might also tell the stories of autistic people who hurt themselves seriously by biting and head banging or those who simply wander off sometimes found safe and sound .... sometimes not.

CNN could tell you these stories but it won't because they are not "feel good" stories. Such stories are not as good for the ratings as the feel good stories. CNN would prefer to tell you, several times in fact, the story of Amanada Baggs an autistic persons diagnosed as an adult who types as a means of communication. CNN does not mention that Ms Baggs, before her autism diagnosis, and by her own voluminous internet writings, spoke to others, used speech to communicate, had friends, and attended Simon's Rock College for gifted young people. CNN does not give that full picture because it wouldn't make such a great feel good story. It makes for a much better story line to go along with the pretense that this person is non-verbal and communicates via technology.

At least CNN has started to feature autism stories other than Amanda Baggs of late. But once again it goes for the ratings oriented feel good stories. In Autistic poet gives rare glimpse into mystery illness CNN tells the tale of Tito Mukhopadhyay a non verbal Texas man previously thought to be retarded who can type and even write poetry. It is a genuinely heart warming story and I am happy for Mr. Mukhopadhyay and his family. And I do acknowledge that CNN does pay lip service to other more severe autism realities in this story ... with one line:

Whatever autism is, its symptoms range from a mild form to rendering individuals dependent on others for life.

Now if only CNN will actually do a feature on the lives of those autistic persons who CAN NOT communicate by keyboard or otherwise and who live their lives dependent on others. Maybe some day CNN will have an Anderson Cooper Katrina moment, cease with the "great job, Brownie" coverage of autism and show the world the harsh realities of life for those with serious Autism Disorder. Mr. Cooper has been part of the Amanda Baggs autism feel good spin so it probably won't come from him this time but maybe some younger journalist, a real journalist at CNN, will feel it is time to stop misleading the world about autism and show the whole range of autism realities. Real autism acceptance means accepting the harsher autism realities faced by many persons with Autism Disorder and their families.


Anonymous said...

I completely agree. I really wonder how people on other blogs (who promote CNN for being "just so wonderful" for doing these stories) can be so gullible and not see exactly what are you pointing out. As the saying goes, there's a sucker born every minute.

John Best said...

Don't you think CNN's ratings would go up if they exposed Baggs for the fraud that she is?
They could expose the whole sham of Neurodiversity at the same time.

It's really been entertaining lately watching Dave Seidel run all over the internet to do damage control every time someone starts talking about Baggs' fraud.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately the "autism feel good spin", as you so accurately put it, is what so many uninformed parents fall for. THEY just want to feel good, forget their kids. I really feel for the children of these parents who seem to be so unbelievably clueless.

Maya M said...

"...all autistic persons live happily ever after..."
This is one of the reasons I dislike so much the broadcasting of Jenny McCarthy's story (besides the antivaxer and anti-science parts). Some children on the spectrum indeed do develop to communicate well and fit well into the society. So let's take such stories, because the public likes happy endings, and not talk about the others, who face serious challenges and need lifelong support and services.