Dear news media, this is how you fail the autism community so badly

The autism community’s biggest enemy, by far, is the news media. How so? Well, first of all they report the “terror” of autism, the “suffering” of autism. Secondly, they take any report that says “We put X and Y in a room together and found a Z% correlation” and create sensationally outrageous headlines such as “Z is caused by X!!!! Your children are doomed!!”

If you are not a part of the autism community, I can understand how this must appear to be an over exaggeration. If you are in the autism community, thank you for recognizing that it is, in fact, not an over exaggeration.

To give you two prime examples of how the news media agencies fail us, we only need look at what is happening this week.

“Significant” Link

Study: ‘Significant’ statistical link between mass murder and autism, brain injury” – http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/21/study-finds-significant-portion-of-mass-murderers-and-serial-killers-had-neurological-disorders-including-autism/

This article names all sorts of serial killers that you either hate or will hate after reading about them, names like Adam Lanza, Seung Hui Cho, Jared Loughner and Jeffrey Dahmer. Having just come off the headline of “significant statistical link between mass murder and autism”… can’t you just feel that emotion taking over? 

Oh wait, we skipped this one minor paragraph tucked away in the middle somewhere that has little importance… it’s this one:

The researchers stressed the study is “clearly limited” by the “anecdotal and speculative” nature of some of the published accounts. Lead researcher Clare Allely, of the University of Glasgow, emphasized the study did not suggest those with autism or Asperger’s are more likely to commit murder. “We’re not saying people with autism will be serial killers,” Allely said, adding “it’s way too early to make any statement like that.”

Hey wait, that does seem important, doesn’t it?

To me, a more appropriate headline would have been “Anecdotal and speculative information researched on autism and mass murder finds it’s way too early to say people with autism will be serial killers”.

Well, maybe not, it’s a little long and granted, it doesn’t pull in the readership that “significant link!!!” will.

Now, in my own research, I discovered that the number of homicides in the US between 2000 – 2010 was 165,068. 

This week, one person with autism plans a murder and suddenly we’re having studies about there being a potential link? Where are the studies that say “hey, 165,000 murders were by people that had no disorder. Could be a significant link!”?

Bullying Autistics Leads to Murder

This second bit of news also bothers me on another level.

Santa Barbara Shooting Suspect Calls Loneliness ‘Darkest Hell’” – http://abcnews.go.com/US/santa-barbara-shooting-suspect-calls-loneliness-darkest-hell/story?id=23855994

In this article, they write

“Schifman said Rodger was diagnosed as being a high-functioning patient with Asperger syndrome and had faced bullying through much of his life as he had trouble making friends.”

Now, I talk to autistic children every single day and at least 2-5 of them each week that feel like committing suicide due to the amount of bullying they are subjected to.

There are literally hundreds of autistic children dying each year due to bullying.

Why?!!? Why are there 100’s of children committing suicide due to bullying each year and no one cares?

But 1 child plans to commit murder due to bullying and suddenly this is national coverage? And autism is a big part of the story?

This is heartless and devastating to those of us with autism, those of us in the autism community and to your audience in general.

Stop Hurting Us

Stop Hurting Us

You Are Hurting Us

Listen, I understand that you need to get enough ratings, you need enough of an audience to “rate” against your competition. But please stop!!

I am begging you, I’m am pleading with you and I am insisting that you stop making autism out to the bad guy.

We are not mass murderers any more than non-autistics. We are not suffering any more than anyone else with depression or bullying. We are not this evil force that you paint us out to be.

We are children, adults, parents, friends, neighbors… we are your brothers and sisters.

You need to understand, you are hurting us. You are causing the suffering that you report about by reporting the way you do. You have become the bullies and you are bullying us.

Stop the sensationalist headlines. Stop burying important facts. Stop singling us out of a crowd of thousands and saying we all must be like that one in the crowd. Stop making us that thing to be feared.

Stop hurting us. Please just stop hurting us.

If you can’t find it in your hearts to start helping us, at least, please, stop hurting us.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of http://www.stuartduncan.name. My oldest son (Cameron) has Autism while my younger son (Tyler) does not. I am a work from home web developer with a background in radio. I do my very best to stay educated and do what ever is necessary to ensure my children have the tools they need to thrive. I share my stories and experiences in an effort to further grow and strengthen the online Autism community and to promote Autism Understanding and Acceptance.

, , , , , ,

17 Responses to Dear news media, this is how you fail the autism community so badly

  1. Katrina Moody May 24, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    This … there aren’t enough words for how well you wrote this, Stuart. Every word. Why can’t journalists find their integrity and professionalism and at least ensure their headlines are accurate (there were so many problems with that “study” that it is LAUGHABLE to call it a scientific study) instead of misleading. That they aren’t putting emphasis on points they shouldn’t be. That they aren’t demonizing an entire population of people for extra clicks and ratings or whatever it is they are going for.

    So yes, this … there really aren’t enough words for how much I respect what you’ve written here.

  2. Suzanne Arent May 24, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    Thank you. Hope everyone takes this to heart- from the momma of a high functioning autistic boy.

  3. Stan May 24, 2014 at 10:35 pm #

    Several points:

    1) The journalist who wrote the reasonable, appropriately caveated article on the mostly non-existent link between autism and violence probably did NOT write the inflammatory headline. Headlines are typically written by editors.

    2) While suicides are sadly common, mass-murdering shooters are very, very rare — so the latter are much more “newsworthy”.

    It just so happens that this shooter and another recent shooter (Sandy Hook) happened to be upper middle class & diagnosed with autism. Because that is a fact, a matter of record.

    Reporting that this kid had an autism diagnosis AND went in a murderous shooting rampage is very, very different than reporting that autism turned him into mass murderer.

    Apples and oranges.

    3) There’s no evidence (yet) that the shooter was bullied. His rants were about super-pretty, blond and uber-popular sorority girls not wanting to date him. It’s reasonable to assume super-pretty girls turn down many more dates than they accept. Not dating the “prettiest” girl on campus does not, in and of itself, constitute bullying.

    4) Nobody is entitled to friends or to be liked. This kid, like everyone else, was entitled to be treated politely and kindly (civility is what keeps the world from descending into anarchy; it’s the bare-bones minimum required by the social contract), period.

    Anything beyond that? Is gravy.

    5) Every single article that I’ve read clearly states that there is NO link between autism and violence. None. Even the New Yorker interview with Peter Lanza (shooter Adam Lanza’s father) clearly stated there was no link between autism and violence.

    I’ve no earthly idea what else you want the mainstream media to do — they’re already pointing out that autism doesn’t cause violence, as backed up by copious peer-reviewed scientific research.

    6) You’re absolutely right — very, very few people are violent. A teeny-tiny minority of NTs commit horrific crimes, just like a teeny tiny minority of folks on the spectrum are violent. As are a teeny-tiny minority of blondes, overweight people, professional athletes, etc.

  4. Carl May 24, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    I think that I must be reading different articles than Stan and some others, because most of the articles and stories I’ve seen do a very poor job of pointing out that there is no link between autism and violence (assuming that they do so at all which several, not many but several, do not). As for the Washington Post article, it is NOT reasonable or “appropriately caveated” in my honest opinion for the simple reason that the so called study they based their article on is so poorly done that it should never have seen the light of day and I’m very disappointed in the British journal that accepted it for publication.

  5. Tara May 25, 2014 at 4:10 am #

    Thank you for this.

  6. Andrea @ Maybe It's Just Me May 25, 2014 at 8:39 pm #

    This is simply fantastic writing that strikes with such a powerful and important message.

  7. Kristi Campbell - findingninee May 25, 2014 at 11:37 pm #

    Thank you.

  8. Laura May 26, 2014 at 2:16 am #

    Hi: my daughter is 17 with asperger and OCD she is very smart beautiful girl and yesterday she was very des appointment with news

  9. DAChecker May 26, 2014 at 2:27 am #

    4) Nobody is entitled to friends or to be liked. This kid, like everyone else, was entitled to be treated politely and kindly (civility is what keeps the world from descending into anarchy; it’s the bare-bones minimum required by the social contract), period.

    I appears to be that you have no idea what anarchy means.

    1) The journalist who wrote the reasonable, appropriately caveated article on the mostly non-existent link between autism and violence probably did NOT write the inflammatory headline. Headlines are typically written by editors.

    That’s no excuse, because that’s the first thing the reader is going to read which leads him off track.

    It just so happens that this shooter and another recent shooter (Sandy Hook) happened to be upper middle class & diagnosed with autism. Because that is a fact, a matter of record.

    Reporting that this kid had an autism diagnosis AND went in a murderous shooting rampage is very, very different than reporting that autism turned him into mass murderer.

    The headline leads the reader through the article and if something is unrelated it is as unimportant as his taste in music.

    • Stan May 26, 2014 at 1:52 pm #

      I’m fully aware of the dictionary definition of anarchy (“a state of disorder due to absence or nonrecognition of authority”) and used it appropriately. People teach their kids to be civil so that every petty little thing doesn’t turn into a fight or a war of words. It is (well, ought to be) the default setting for kids, well, and grownups too.

      As a 27 year old, nobody expects me to automatically befriend every 27 year old I meet. As if simply being 27 is “enough” in common to forge some sort of bond… yet folks somehow expect this of small children. As if being one of 22 kids assigned to the same second grade teacher is, in and of itself, the basis for friendship.Often it is, sometimes it isn’t and, well, it’s an unrealistic and unreasonable expectation*.

      You’re certainly entitled to rage against the fact that editors (mostly) write headlines, while journalists (mostly) write articles and that this occasionally translates into inflammatory headlines.

      * my feeling is that you need a critical mass of about 60 people to ensure every kid/grownup “clicks” with someone and finds a friend. If a class (or team or working group or whatever) has only 22 people, you can be a lovely person, the other 21 people can be lovely people and you can simply not “click” with any of ‘em. The proverbial pond isn’t big enough and nobody is a problem. If you’ve got, say, a group of 500 and are unable to find somebody you “click” with… well, the problem is very likely to be YOU.

  10. Laura Nadine May 27, 2014 at 12:39 pm #

    ((Hug))

  11. Gary George May 27, 2014 at 2:04 pm #

    Stan you really ought to learn a little something about autism and perhaps a little something about the cynical nature of most journalism before you attempt to argue with someone who literally lives with Autism and the prejudice it attracts.

  12. Loretta K May 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

  13. Lori Fair May 27, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

    Stan…are you a journalist?
    …there is responsibility on all levels, no one is excused, not the reporter, editor, newspaper….I don’t care who wrote the headline! This is irresponsible journalism. Its unfortunate that the mediocrity of this reporting will be accepted by the masses.
    Let me introduce myself…I am the mother of 15 yr old boy with autism.
    Someone doing research will set out to prove *their* theory, they test hypothesis and look for relationships between variables. Its actually not that difficult. Some one once *proved* 2nd hand smoke was good for you.
    This whole piece from beginning to end is irresponsible and quite frankly bullsh*t.

  14. Mike Sweeney (@TargetThinking) May 27, 2014 at 9:56 pm #

    We have been trying to recruit an Autism Blogger and we are a Pay for Content model. Please contact me if you are interested: http://www.filmannexnetworks.com/#/bloggers-artist/

  15. Will June 2, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    Unfortunately the media reported the facts in most of the articles I have seen. The parents were concerned for his well being and mentioned he was an Aspie. No lie there. Get over it.
    Most parents seem to want to gloss over or mainstream there child’s deficiency in some way; “My child is smart, beautiful, generous, etc”. I understand completely. I love my children too. However, you need to get over the hypersensitivity to anything that is not glowing about an Aspie.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. My special needs reads #3 | Autism & I - June 7, 2014

    […] This one is recent and topical – as a journalist myself, it annoys me no end to see media outlets shout out crap like “person with autism shoots XXX number of people” and “serial killer autistic” and stuff like that. Especially in the American media, the “journalists” seem to have a checklist… I imagine they go through it like this: “Shooting? Was he Muslim? If yes, let’s use the word terrorist. Was he white and not religious (ie Muslim)? OK let’s call him disturbed. Wait, was he autistic or have Aspergers or ANYTHING we can blame it on? OK great, let’s use that as the news hook.” WHAT. THE. F***. And what pissed me off even more recently was an “article” that shouted out that there was a “significant statisical link between mass murder and autism”. But buried in that article was a line that the study was speculative and anecdotal. Uhhhh. My thoughts summed up perfectly here by autism father Stuart Duncan: “Dear news media, this is how you fail the autism community so ba… […]

Leave a Reply