Tag Archives: study

How the media is shaping public perceptions of autism for the worse.

I was planning to write a few more specific response blogs to some of the stories that have been doing the rounds on Twitter over the past few days, but I just don’t have the inclination to sit down and give each story so much time. If you`re not sure what I am talking about let me explain.

First of all we had the autism/radicalisation story in the Daily Mail; a story which implied that autistic people are more likely to become terrorists, and I did take the time to write a full response to this one. Then over the weekend I came across another story, this time linking autism to screen time. In this article a professor of neurology talks about two studies which he claims show a link between screen time and autism. The idea being that some children can develop a type of autism from spending lot of time on Ipads or laptops, and if parents take those away and play with the children more then the autism will go away. A ridiculous story that harks back to the days of the refrigerator Mother, and once again a story written by a professional, based on work by other professionals, that has angered and offended the autistic community.

Then there was a story by writer Kathy Lette, again in the Daily Mail, in which she talks about feeling the need to hire a sex worker for her autistic son as he felt he would never be able to get a girlfriend on his own. As a lot of people on Twitter have already said, it`s not the idea of using a sex worker that’s the problem. It`s the fact there is nothing in the article to suggest that Lette talked to her son about the idea, not even when she came close to picking a women up on the street. It reads as if her plan was just to pick the woman up, turn up and present the woman to her son. Not even going in to the fact that he might not have wanted sex then, or with that particular women, there is the issue of planning. Doing anything that is not planned for, or part of the routine can be hard for autistic people. But something like this should never be sprung on anyone, least of all some one with autism. There is also no input from her son in the piece, and not even a line to say that he is happy for her to write about him in this way. I fully understand that there is a limit on words in an article, and perhaps she did talk to her son both about her idea and about writing the article, but what’s angered a lot of autistic people on twitter is that neither of those things are in anyway clear. It reads as if the plan was hatched and nearly put in to action without him knowing at all. And while this point might have nothing to do with autism, there is also the fact that the writer seems to make no distinction between hiring an escort from an agency, and picking a women up off the streets. From what I understand women working for escort agencies are perhaps less vulnerable, and exploited than women who are forced to work the streets.

All of these articles drew a lot of reaction from the autistic community. There was anger of course, but the overriding feeling seemed to be one of frustration. How many more ridiculous stories about autism are there going to be? We live in a world where, based on one debunked lie from a disgraced former doctor, thousands of people believe that vaccines cause autism. A world where people can go on T.V. and claim to cure autism by changing children’s diets. A world in which some parents will buy and then feed their children bleach because some con-artist has sold it to them as a cure for autism. And not just a world where every school shooting is linked to autism, but now a world where professionals think it`s OK to go in a national news paper, and link terrorism with autism as well.

There are of course other issues: hate crime, so called mate-crime, benefits being slashed, lack of employment for autistic people, autistic people being locked up for years in institutions with no good cause, and there are stories in the media of parents killing their autistic children, and almost being given a free pass by the press due to the stress of `putting up with` their autistic child for so long. I could go on.

It might sound like I am being negative, but I am just stating the facts when I point out the issues that face the autistic community. It`s important to recognise what these issues are if we are ever going to do anything to deal with them, and bring about some changes. But sometimes it does feel overwhelming, and that’s where the frustration comes in. Autistic people want to do what we can to fight against the levels of ignorance in society, but when we see that ignorance floating down from the top levels of the professional world it can feel as if everything we are trying to do is being undone by those who claim they are trying to help us. And it`s not just professionals, it can be some parents too, like those who cling to the idea that vaccines cause autism.

I feel – and this may sound a bit self-serving, but I am not just talking about myself here – but I feel that reading the writings of autistic people is the best way to understand autism. I know when I read other autistic peoples` blogs or posts on twitter I lean more, and recognize more that I never realised or thought of, than I do reading any study or report. And yet it seems that for the most part it`s harder for autistic peoples` voices to break out of the autism community, and in to the mainstream than it is for parents and professionals.

What I mean by this is that autistic writers and bloggers talk a lot of sense, and yet it feels like our voices are mainly being heard by those already in the autistic community. This does not mean there are not some well-known autistic writers in the mainstream such as Temple Grandin, or that nothing autistic authors write gets picked up by the media. But I do think overall it is harder for us to get our voices heard. Where as a professional – and to a slightly lesser extent a parent – can have an idea and no matter how silly it is, or how detrimental to autistic people, it can and often will get mainstream press coverage. Leading to ideas such as autism being caused by vaccines, being cured by diet, or being linked to screen-time filling up peoples timelines, and becoming part of the casual view of autism held by those who are not autistic, and don’t know anyone who is. Whereas genuinely good, thoughtful, insightful, and helpful ways to deal with real-life issues facing autistic people are often stuck within blogs, or on message boards being viewed by only a small amount of people.

It feels as if what you have to say about autism matters more if you are someone who works with autistic people, or a parent of autistic children than if you are autistic yourself. This makes it harder to fight the other battles that need to be fought when those who are meant to be helping you hold so much more power than you do. Even more so when they use that imbalance of power to spread silly or dangerous ideas, and to add to myths and stereo-types around autism.

Often, all the responses to articles like the ones I talked about above will only be read and spoken about in the autistic community, whereas the articles themselves are out in the mainstream.

So what? You might think that as long as autistic voices are being heard by autistic people what’s the big deal?

Well it`s the mainstream that shapes the view of society as a whole, that gets read by the next generation of parents and professionals, and helps to shape their view of autism and autistic people. And I, for one, would rather have those views shaped by the writings and thoughts of autistic people themselves.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

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And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762

Why research in to autism needs to be led by autistic people.

In my last blog I talked about an article put out in the Daily Mail linking autism to radicalisation. (  https://askpergers.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/are-autistic-people-at-a-greater-risk-of-being-radicalised-my-response/ )I explained why the ideas put forward in this article are wrong, and why I think the idea behind the article itself is dangerous. I am far from the only autistic person to take issue with the article; in fact I have yet to come across an autistic person who does think positively about it. One of the issues that came up the most when I was talking to other autistic people on twitter about this article, is the lack of autistic-led research around autism.

More often than not if someone is planning a research project around autism, wants to decide which projects will get the most funding, or wants to talk to the press about autism research, that person is not autistic. Often autistic people are not even consulted in these matters. If you look at the autism and radicalstion article the team behind that admitted on twitter that they had not worked with autistic people on the idea before they published it in the press. The article came out, and met with a strong reaction from the autistic community that you imagine would have been wholley predictable had the authors just talked to a few autistic people before-hand. In fact if they had spoken to autistic people they might have decided that the research they were planning to do would not be the most helpful – or at least focusing it on terrorism would not be. Perhaps it would have ended up being a wider piece of research looking at how autistic people can often fall victim to things like so called `mate crime` where they trust someone to the point of thinking they are still friends even after that person has hurt them, or tried to push them in to doing something they know to be wrong. This is something that can impact on a growing number of autistic people, and knowing more about it, and working with the police to help them understand, might genuinely help some autistic people. But as it was we got a poorly researched article that did little more than drum up fear around an issue autistic people had not even asked anyone to look in to. I am not trying to say that non-autistic people can`t do good work around autism – they can. But if you really want to know what you`re talking about, and be taken seriously then at some point you have to talk to the real experts – autistic people.

I am not alone in thinking that if professionals and researchers would take more time to listen to what autistic people are saying, and work with us instead of trying to do what they think is best, it would be better for all involved. We see a lot of studies coming out saying things like “Making eye contact can be painful for autistic people”, to which most autistic people reply “Well yes. We have been saying this for years.”

There is a sense that autistic people can say something for years, and it not be taken seriously until a non-autistic professional says it too. As if we can’t really be trusted to know or understand how our own minds work. And at the same time if a piece of research comes out that we don’t agree with we are meant to just take it at face-value, and accept things about ourselves that we know not to be true. While research by non-autsitic people does play a part in helping us all to understand autism – and I would not want to downplay that, or make it sound as if only autistic people should be working on understanding more about autism – I do think autistic people are well within our rights to reject some findings, or directions of research. We can look back to papers published by highly respected researchers in the 1940s and 1950s that blamed `cold and unfeeling Mothers` for causing their children’s autism, and see that at times it would be silly to accept something just because it’s written in a book by a so-called `expert.`

When things like this happen it often takes professionals years to admit they got it wrong, and all this does is deepen the divide between autistic people and the non-autistic professionals, leading to a situation where time and money is being directed at arguing a case that autistic people already know is silly, just to avoid having to back down. For a more recent example of this look at how the professional world has reacted to the idea of females being autistic. For years they said females could not be, but now – even after countless women and girls have been diagnosed – some (not all) professionals are still clinging to the idea that these females must somehow be super-manly on the inside, or else how could they be autistic? Instead of just admitting they got it wrong, and trying to look at why that might be, they still cling to the idea that autism is a male thing, even when the autistic person is female. Understandably this approach does not earn those professionals a lot of respect in the autistic community

Autism is a way of thinking, a way of feeling and a way of seeing the world, and the truth is autistic people are the real experts. I am not trying to say that non-autistic people don’t have a part to play in understanding autism, and thinking of ways to help autistic people with some of the things that we do find more challenging, but I am saying this needs to be done hand-in-hand with autistic people.

Perhaps if all research around autism were to be led by autistic people – or at least take the time to talk to us and find out what we want, and how we feel about things – there would be less conflict between the autism community and professionals. And autistic people might start to feel that our voices are being listened to. Much more could be achieved if autistic people and professionals were able to work with each other instead of clashing. But for that to happen autistic people need to be given a greater role in leading research, and studies around autism.

You can find my new book here: http://www.jkp.com/uk/communicating-better-with-people-on-the-autism-spectrum-34251.html

If you need any help or advice abut Asperger`s/Autism or simply want to talk about it check out our free help and advice service ASK-PERGERS?

Twitter https://twitter.com/ASKPERGERS

Facebook https://www.facebook.com/ASKPERGERS?ref=hl

And have a look at our books (at the time published under pseudonyms, but we did write them trust us on that!)  http://www.jkp.com/catalogue/author/1762