Sunday 1 May 2011

Something That Really Bugs Me About Most Autism Articles in the Media

I've clarified something that really bugs me about most articles about autism in the mainstream media (not our own of course). It's that they never, or hardly ever, interview anyone who's actually got autism. Can you imagine doing an article on, say, living with a kid with diabetes, and not interviewing either the kid ( if old enough) or an adult with diabetes? Or cancer, mental health issues, spina bifida, etc etc? Indeed, just about any condition you name, they will always do their best to interview those with the condition, or, if it's about kids and they're too young, to interview some adults with it. In other words, they go for journalistic balance.
BUT NOT WHEN IT COMES TO AUTISM. The most I've ever seen is the occasional sidebar, usually with someone like Jen Birch. (She must get sick of being interviewed by NZ media, every time autism or aspergers comes up!) Otherwise, it's like there is this great gaping hole in their articles.
I can only presume it's because of the overwhelmingly negative image that autism has, and which they continue to foster. I'm unsure whether those on the spectrum are assumed to be too 'handicapped' to be able to communicate their position (even those who are obviously verbal, and adults), or whether they aren't seen as having a valid viewpoint or position to discuss. Either way, the image presented is either of children who will grow up into remote, uncaring, selfish 'weirdos' and semi-automatons (with spots, BO, thick glasses and pocket protectors perhaps?), or, if 'lower functioning', someone to be put into 'care' of some kind, and forgotten about. Certainly not anyone the average person would want to know, or make a connection with, or learn about the experiences and viewpoints of.
I could say 'well that's their loss', but in truth, it's ours. Through such attitudes being common, and commonly perpetuated by the media, we continue to be marginalised, dismissed, rejected, stereotyped, bullied, harassed, shut out of employment, and generally excluded from so much of life, and the world. We end up lonely, bruised in spirit, often bitter and cynical, with mental health issues like depression and anxiety disorders, not to mention frequently living in poverty, or homeless. In short, we are suffering, and while one article alone doesn't cause this, it certainly won't help either. If only someone would do a REALLY balanced article, one that puts the other side of the story, and starts to demolish some of the myths, eg that we are incapable of love, have no capacity for empathy, and no feelings.
If only. I must confess, i'm not holding my breath waiting.