How the media creates civil war within the autism community


The Media

Nothing much gets my blood boiling more than outright, obvious attempts to pit people against each other. I wrote about it before about how we do it to ourselves but the most obvious problem is the media.

We’re all well aware of the practice of sensationalizing a headline to entice the reader… to get at least one more pair of eyes on them rather than the competition.

But when I saw a headline tonight and clicked on it, I was appalled. Not just because the headline didn’t match the story….

What’s wrong with this story? Let me count the ways!

In the news tonight, I came across this story: Autism Risks: Genes May Not Play Biggest Role

Let’s begin:

  1. The title makes a rather bold statement which, other than the first paragraph, the story does not support. It states “it suggests factors other than genetics are at work” but in no way suggests that those “factors” would “play biggest role.”
  2. Dr. Joachim Hallmayer says “About half of what we see is due to environmental factors, and half of what we see is due to genetic factors” and then goes on further to say “being male is the most significant risk factor we know of.”  So the “biggest role” to which the title is alluding to is gender… which is… not… genetic?
  3. How old is this story anyway? Well, if you hit Google News to find it… you’ll find about 600 other reports on this… from July 5th!! That’s 25 days ago. Why is this story coming out so much later? Without even referencing the “twin study” in the title? Oh right… to get readers!

Now, all that said, the biggest issue I have is this…. Does the headline really tell the story? As I said in #3… there are over 600 news reports on this according to Google News, more if you use other search terms. I only skimmed the first page of results but here are some of the headlines…

Keep in mind that all of these headlines are for the SAME STUDY

  • Autism Risks: Genes May Not Play Biggest Role
  • Twin Study Points to Upbringing, Not Genetics, As Cause of Autism
  • Autism may be environmental, but it can also run in the family
  • Study: Environment plays larger role in autism
  • Autism triggered by environmental conditions, not just genes, says studies
  • Call for answers as research puts environment in the autism mix
  • Study: Environmental Factors May Be Just as Important as Genes in Autism
  • Study: Nurture, not nature, prominent in development of autism in twins
  • Reasons for autism in twins

Can you see just how wide of a net the media throws over this? In some cases, it’s all environmental, in other cases it’s “in the mix” to other articles that suggest it’s upbringing and nurturing that is “the problem.”

By the way, I love that last one. It’s from the “Times of India”… which I have rather enjoyed reading… here’s an example why: this is from their first paragraph:

A new study has found that apart from genetics, pregnancy and birth environment may also affect development of autism in twins.

Brilliant, non biased, no assumptions, no telling the reader what to think. Love it.

Does this happen often?

Unfortunately, this happens far too often with news stories as it is but within the Autism community, it’s almost like it’s par for the course.

It happens with just about every study that is released… which from what I can tell is about 1 per month. Some of the more prominent studies of recent years for the Autism community include divorce rates and diets.

Remember the study that suggested that there was “a higher rate of divorce” (pdf) for parents of autistic children? Then last year, a new study was released that said “80 Percent Autism-Divorce Rate Debunked in First-Of-Its Kind Scientific Study“… it was simply untrue. Or was it? Which do we believe?

The gluten free diet was in the news for a little while where scientists said “A Gluten-Free, Casein-Free Diet No Remedy for Autism.” The Mayo Clinic even went so far as to advise against it unless you’ve made especially certain with your doctor and/or dietitian. Meanwhile other articles such as this one clearly gives you references from PubMed which show that the GF/CF diet actually does clearly reduce some symptoms of Autism.

Where does this leave us?

Unfortunately, this leaves us to fend for ourselves but we’re not doing so well. We read news story headlines such as the one released today… 25 days later… and that title leads us into the story with either a preconceived notion of what to believe… and we believe it… or a complete contempt for the media and the people who would blindly believe it.

By the way, I don’t just mean the people who blindly believe this one particular news story I’m referencing today. I mean…. the people who believe any, or specificly certain articles out of the 600+ that were written about this one study. People will blindly believe which ever study has the most sensational, most hard hitting and more “says what I want to hear” headline they read no matter what the story says, no matter what the doctor is quoted as saying and no matter what anyone else tells them about the study.

And we fight… among ourselves… and I hate it. I hate the media. I hate what they put us through. I hate what they do to us.

About Stuart Duncan

My name is Stuart Duncan, creator of 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.

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