The world we live in now is saturated with media, we have magazines, newspapers, television news, television current affairs, internet news. It’s everywhere. The news cycle is so short that news agencies are forever looking for that next big story, that next quirky story that captures the attention, the next feel good fluff piece that will bring them viewers, likers, readers. In essence, they want eyes to see and ears to hear whatever it is they are serving us up.
The grander the claim they can make the more likely they will get good viewer numbers or reader numbers or whatever the metric they are using to measure with may be. Headlines are key in getting drawing people in regardless of how actually relates to the content of the story being presented.
Among all the serious world news of the moment, so-called medical breakthroughs are one of the favorites to run. A key theme that is returned to often is a new miracle or life-changing treatment or cure for a condition. In recent days, there has been mention of a new cancer regime that genuinely looks promising and this can only be a good thing if it works out to be an effective treatment.
On the other hand are the constant claims of wonder treatments that change everything for developmental conditions. Throughout my life, I can recall this happening over and again with different conditions. In the last couple of decades, these have been focused on Attention Deficit Disorders and Autism.
As regular readers would know I am a pretty out and proud autistic. Anyone viewing my public posts would be able to ascertain this pretty quickly. At times friends and people I trust, draw my attention to articles about autism. In the last week, I have had two friends direct me to two different news items. One about Donald Trippett who was one of the group of children Leo Kanner investigated in his original Infantile Autism work.
The second was one of the latest and greatest so-called wonder treatments. This was a story promoted in the Australian National News media. It has all the markings to garner the ratings. A nice family, a story of school failure, doting parents prepared to do anything and an apparently amazing response by the child.
But what is not present of course is actual credible information. No actual research. No actual science. No interview with actually credible academics. No way to verify the results. The claims made are anecdotal. You can view the story below:
I applaud the family for accessing therapy for their child. I truly hope they see good outcomes in supporting their child to be the best they can be.
The problem here is the reality. The reality is that these stories tug at the heartstrings of families seeking out a cure for something that is firstly not curable and secondly does not need to be cured. A quick look at the comments on the story above and you see lots of people tagging their friends to see the story, probably for genuinely caring reasons, however, it is a perpetuation of a cureist ableist culture that sees disability and difference as if it is a subhuman existence.
Several months ago we saw a similar sensationalist story on a different network. In this case, it was a music therapy program. There is no question whatsoever that the music teacher running the program was making a significant difference for the autistic students she taught. It was not a cure, and I don’t believe the teacher felt that it was meant to be or ever could be. Unfortunately, the program was story was promoted as if it was. A clip played with the teacher saying “and there is no sign of the autism”. When viewing the program itself, it was laughable as a young autistic boy stimmed his way to the piano as this statement was proclaimed.
Another case of the media proclaiming something as a miraculous or amazing or groundbreaking treatment. Essentially the media playing loose with the truth.
Unfortunately, this behavior by the media is not benign. It hurts people. People are puffed up with false hope only to be disappointed yet again. Every time a so-called cure or treatment like this is proclaimed people are hurt and hopes are dashed.
There is no question that parenting autistic children is a challenge. Especially to non-autistic parents. But, parenting every child is a challenge. It’s a different challenge, yes, and in many cases without question a more difficult challenge, a challenge that is always going to be hard to know because every autistic person is different. The manifestation of autistic traits for every autistic is different from every other autistic.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the media would think about some of these things before they made these grand proclamations of wonder treatments and amazing therapies. Even if all they could manage to think was to take account that all autistics are different and just because a therapy is positive for this situation does not mean it can be replicated in any broad sense.
And wouldn’t it be wonderful if they did some research before going to air or to print or published online these proclamations. Imagine if they bothered to contact some credible sources of information. If they bothered to consult with research institutes and, shock horror, actual autistic adults, they may find that these anecdotal cases just don’t ring true.
Come on Media please lift your game. How about some feel good stories promoting the neurodiversity paradigm. An expose of the wonderful work of Autistic advocacy organisations like ASAN and autistic advocates working for acceptance.
There are no miracle cures, treatments or therapies. Autism is a neurological difference. Autistics are in need of acceptance not cures, accommodations not treatments. Autistics are here, always have been, we are here to live life alongside everyone else and not to be the receivers of sympathy or the source of inspiration or the fodder and fuel for feel good stories.