Autism in the Media: Stop with the Awful Stories!

BlogHer Original Post

I found myself in the uncomfortable position of having to pull a Jenny McCarthy -- having to publicly tell an MD that I knew more about specific autism research than he did. (For the record, Ms. McCarthy used pseudoscience to tell off legitimate scientists; I was doing the reverse.) How did that doctor get on the radio show in the first place? Because the staff didn't know any better -- to them, his MD, affiliation with a prestigious local research hospital, and autism specialization made him look legit, even though he wasn't.

Finding legitimate autism sources is not really that difficult. A five minute social media or other search should unearth defeatist or negative attitudes, pseudoscience, questionable affiliations, etc. (If you're not sure what pseudoscience is, use the Thinking Guide to Autism's pseudoscience guidelines.) And once you're found good autism resources, you can hopefully create good (or at least better) autism stories.

So, please, reporters, writers, journalists, producers, bloggers, and of course parents (this being a parenting column) -- I beg you: Please stop using such unreliable and unhelpful autism sources. Please stop writing such awful stories about autistic people and autism families.

Fear, pity, and negative stereotypes are just as harmful to autistic people like my son as bullying or discrimination -- they are often what make others think it's acceptable to bully, pity, or discriminate against Autistics in the real world. Those awful or patronizing stories, those stereotypes, the fear and lack of understanding they foster are a big part of why I worry about neighbors calling CPS when my wonderfully exuberant autistic son is so very, very loud. People just don't get autism. You can change that.

If you are in a position of power to shape what the world thinks of people like my son and families like ours, I want you to think, hard, about whether you are serving the story, or your fellow humans. Do you want to inform people? Do you want to help people? Or are you using autism headlines to burn your name into the public's eyeballs?

If it's the latter, consider reading Dante. If it's the former, thank you for listening.

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Autism Media Resources

This list of names is where anyone looking for a reliable autism resource should start (it is not meant to be comprehensive). For heaven's sake, do not cite Dr. Oz, Jenny McCarthy's pediatrician Jay Gordon, or Lifetime Achievement in Quackery award winner Andrew Wakefield.

Autistic Parents of Autistic Children

Adult Autistics

Neurotypical Autism Parents

Autism Professionals

Autism Science, Research, and Pseudoscience Debunking

Journalists

Autism Communities

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Shannon Des Roches Rosa writes about autism parenting and advocacy at www.ThinkingAutismGuide.com, BlogHer.com, and Squidalicious.com.

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