Monday, March 31, 2008

Will World Autism Awareness Day Raise Autism Awareness or Create Autism Confusion?

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.


Nestor L. Lopez-Duran PhD said...

I also noted this over the weekend. I watched about 10 stories and only 1 was with a child with Autism (not PDD, not AS). I think you are very right that this presents an inaccurate view of Autism. Yes, some will argue that this is not an inaccurate view of ASD, since it is possible that within ASD, most people are diagnosed with PDD or AS. But the CNN coverage clearly is not a reflection of the clinical presentation of people with Autism, specially severe Autism. Nestor.

Tim Dionne said...

Dear Mr. Doherty,

I am an Occupational Therapy student who is starting a project that has to do with blogging, and promotion of my field of study. I started it based on what I have been reading and have seen on CNN relating to Austism. I'm wondering if you can give me some pointers on improve my blog, both visually and content wise.

On another note. I feel that the spin of CNN on Autism spectrum disorders don't seem to be in depth enough for a viewer/reader's full understanding of the facts pertaining to ASD.
Tim Dionne

Unknown said...


I think CNN could learn much about objective journalistic coverage of autism by reviewing Peter McMartin's excellent six part series Faces of Autism in the Vancouver Sun April 2007.

Unknown said...


Good luck with your blog. I have never really approached blogging as a "blogger" per se so I don't know if I have much to share in that regard.

I started with a particular idea in mind, to promote a more reality based, less ideological approach to autism blogging. My comments about CNN misrepresentation of the realities of autism reflect that central theme around which my comments are framed. That is also the reason for my blogging handle AutismRealityNB.

For pictures I just try to get good pictures of my son, who is my reason for involvement in autism issues, in his environments. I try to provide both the good and the bad. While I have many pictures of the positive and the joyful I try to also provide when possible the negative - self inflicted bite marks on my son's hands and broken windows, broken with those same hands.


Maya M said...

I don't know whether the CNN will interview Ms. Baggs again but I've just read on another blog that they will interview Ms. McCarthy again.

Anonymous said...

Watching Amanda Baggs makes me wonder why anyone would believe that is what autism looks like. Are people really that uniformed?

John Best said...

I don't recall Gupta mentioning Baggs' drug use or the fact that she used to talk the first time CNN aired that piece. They must be feeling the pressure to admit the truth about her.