To Journalists on the Eve of Autism Awareness Month
by Anne Dachel
Green Med Info, 29 March 2014
Dear Fellow Members of the Media: (That includes all of you at CBS, NBC, CNN, Forbes, New York Times, Chicago Trib, LA Times, et al.)
April is coming up and I wanted to say a few words about the month dedicated to autism awareness. Many of us in the autism community are tired of stories about lighting the world up in blue and celebrating autism as if parents should be happy about a diagnosis. We've endured years of feel-good coverage about awareness, fund-raising walks, and no explanation for the mystery of autism.
Most of all, we want you to do your jobs.
Do you know what reporters are really supposed to do?
Five years ago I found this youtube by Bob Woodward. (Remember Bob? He and Carl Bernstein were the famous reporters at the Washington Post in the 1970s, who exposed Watergate and helped bring down a corrupt president. They even made a movie about them.
Woodward said that a good journalist does three things when covering a story and I thought I'd pass them on to you with the hope that you would apply them to your reporting on autism.
First, you're supposed to CHECK SOURCES.
Woodward: "It means checking everything, talking to half a dozen or even a dozen people for a day story. If it's something longer, you want to totally surround and saturate the subject."
Second, you need DOCUMENTATION.
Woodward: "I have not really ever seen a story in a newspaper or on television or even on radio that couldn't be enhanced with some sort of documentation that would support or add more detail to what the story is about."
Third, you're supposed to CHECK INFORMATION FIRST HAND.
Woodward: "Get your ass out of your chair and get over there."
This is the kind of stuff we the public think reporters do when they cover a topic, so when you start giving us stories about Autism Awareness this April, we want you to do it like professional journalists.
Instead of stories with photos of happy kids on playground equipment or a 30 second video of a cute four year old interacting with a speech therapist on the news, show us the dark side of autism--the teenagers in diapers, the non-verbal children who spin and rock endlessly, and the really sick autistic kids with seizures and bowel disease. People deserve to know just how badly autism can affect a child.
Talk to real parents who have enormous fears about the future. They're the people whose teenage children who will be aging out of school in a couple of years and they have no idea what's out there for them. You might even describe this as A CRISIS. Members of the press never use that word when talking about autism, but trust me, a serious health problem with no known cause or cure that affects 2 percent of children really is a crisis.
Speaking of the rate, why is it that no matter how bad the numbers get, it's never a true increase, according to every media source quoting officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention?
When each stunning leap in the rate, one in 150, one in 110, one in 88, and the last update, one in 50, was reported, you allowed officials to claim that they had no proof that more kids actually had autism.
Just how bad do the numbers have to get? When does something become AN EPIDEMIC, in your opinion? Why are the numbers always based on studies of children?
You give health officials a free pass every time they lamely claim that autism has always been around like this, we just called it something else. If that were really true then they would be lots of middle aged and elderly people out there in group homes and nursing homes who've spent most of their lives being non-verbal, flapping their hands, wandering away, obsessing over certain activities. Lots of these adults would also have a medical history that includes a sudden and dramatic loss of learned skills and regression. YOU NEED TO FIND THESE PEOPLE. Or else you need to report the truth about autism--it is a new condition that overwhelmingly affects children. You have to stop telling us that bad genes are the reason a child ends up with autism.
How come none of you ever talk to special ed teachers who've been in the business 20 or 30 years? Ask these people if they think we've always had disabled kids like this. Do you ever ask yourself why you're covering autism training being given to police, fire fighters, EMTs, librarians, teachers, and yes, even doctors? Why would they have to learn about a disorder that's always been around?
Green Med Info
You may also wish to read:
The Austism Disaster & Here's What You Can Do About It