Autism News Beat

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Developmental delay

April 3rd, 2008 · 18 Comments · Critical thinking, Junk science

In addition to raising awareness of the world’s most famous development disability, World Autism Awareness Day also exposes some of the more enduring misconceptions that reporters still hold about autism. While more and more major media outlets are presenting evidence-based approaches to this intriguing story, many smaller outlets have yet to pass their earliest developmental milestones.

It’s apparent that much coverage suffers from the rush to produce an autism story for no reason other than it’s World Autism Awareness Day. As I read some of these stories, I can almost hear an editor yell “Who can find me an autistic kid?” Barbara Grijalva, a news anchor at Tucson’s KOLD News 13, answers the call with stiff prose and loose attribution:

Autism is epidemic in our country. Ask a parent or a pediatrician, and you’ll find not much is being done about it.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says one in every 150 children is born with autism in the U.S.

There’s a spectrum of symptoms, including communication and behavior problems.

There’s no cure. No one knows what causes it. Parents mostly are left to fend for themselves.

Research has shown that early intervention with behavioral therapy and special education can improve a child’s life, but insurance won’t pay for treatments.

There is very little government money being directed at finding a cure for autism.

It’s a situation that stresses out families. Keri Barber is the mother of a young autistic son. She says, “You go to bed at night thinking about autism. You wake up thinking about autism, and you feel like you’re running full speed but in place.”

The divorce rate for parents of autistic children is estimated to be 85%.

Wednesday was the first “World Autism Day” (sic) to bring attention to, what the experts say, is an epidemic that is going largely unnoticed, and under funded.

If this story has a theme, it’s that a virtual avalanche of spinning, flapping kids is bearing down on our sleepy global village, and the only ones noticing are frazzled parents and our cryogenic news anchor. That there is no clear evidence of an epidemic totally escapes her. Instead of information we can use, we get drowsy stream of consciousness from someone who couldn’t care less.

From WLOX in Beloxi, Mississippi, reporter Don Culpepper brings us news of a WAAD miracle:

Like most mothers of autistic children Dawn Felton doubles as his doctor and therapist.”The avenues I would have to go through was the internet and then I would read about all of these programs that I had no money for,” said Dawn.

One thing she could afford to do was change Justin’s diet to eliminate wheat and dairy products.

But recently she found an organic detoxifying product that she says worked miracles.

“Recently I organically detoxified Justin. One week after that detoxification, Justin began reading books orally for the first time ever. He reads books in front of the entire library at Bel Aire Elementary School,” said Dawn.

I asked Culpepper if WLOX could confirm any of Felton’s claims.

“Unless I had access to Justin’s medical records how could I?” he responded by email. “Since we did a story on them five years earlier, I took her and her family’s word that Justin was improving. And I tried to limit exposing her claims of how and why the treatment worked for them. It was simply a story of hope to promote Autism Awareness Month.”

Ah yes, hope – the only bee that makes honey without flowers.*

Finally, from WRDW in Augusta, Georgia, we have the story of a medical mystery that pits science against D-list actress Jenny McCarthy. To be resolved: Do vaccines cause autism? Fortunately, Health Team 12 is on the case.

Whether vaccines cause or contribute to autism is a hotly debated topic in the medical community and for parents.The Morris family did some research, and they say they are holding out.

“”I would rather take the risk of my child developing measles and curing them, then her develop autism and live in this box the rest of her life,” says mom Mary Wingate. She and her fiance, Joseph Morris Junior, have decided to wait a little while longer before vaccinating their six month old daughter, Georgia Alison any further.

And what was the source of the Morris family’s research?

A late night with Georgia was the wake-up call mom didn’t even know she was looking for. She stumbled across a TV show with Jenny McCarthy as the guest. Something Jenny said — brought her here to a website she runs,

“I was like wow she really is passionate about this and wants people to know more about this,” says Wingate.

McCarthey (sic) has an autistic child and like so many others, she believes vaccines caused her son’s disorder.

What would we do without Health Team 12?


* Robert Ingersoll (1833-1899), noted American orator and agnostic



18 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Another Autism Mom // Apr 3, 2008 at 2:27 pm

    “If this story has a theme, it’s that a virtual avalanche of spinning, flapping kids is bearing down on our sleepy global village, and the only ones noticing are frazzled parents and our cryogenic news anchor. That there is no clear evidence of an epidemic totally escapes her. Instead of information we can use, we get drowsy stream of consciousness from someone who couldn’t care less.”

    Oh my God this was fantastic. Many of those frazzled parents were the same ones who didn’t give a damn, until they finally had a real problem to deal with themselves. No wonder they tend to be so self-centered and complain how they can’t hang out with their friends at Starbucks any longer, or they are happy to see a measles epidemic because it means less people are vaccinating.

  • 2 Real Answers // Apr 3, 2008 at 6:22 pm

    Autism has been flourishing since 2000. Cell phones have been flourishing since 2000. Cell phones emit microwaves. Microwaves affect the brain and the fetus. I think there are some new questions to ask for Autism Day.

    Try putting cell phones and microwaves and health into google. Try putting microwaves and autism in. Try cell phones, microwaves and cancer. Search on YouTube. It will make you sick.

    Microwaves are not only emitted by cell phones, but also by cell towers. They make our wireless internet possible. We are all paying.

  • 3 isles // Apr 3, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    Health Team 12 really blew its WAAD with that one.

    (Sorry, I’ve been dying to say something like that.)

    The following is an advisory for all small-market journalists.

    1. If you’re going to do a story about autism, the number of minutes of broadcast footage of real Ph.D.’s must be at least twice the number of minutes of broadcast footage of people with Google Ph.D.’s.

    2. If an angry parent comes to you pitching a story that invokes the word “conspiracy,” refer that person to your local social services agency, not to your crack investigative team.

    3. Misstatements are worse than saying nothing at all. Real people suffer when you are careless.

  • 4 Harold L Doherty // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:08 am

    “If this story has a theme, it’s that a virtual avalanche of spinning, flapping kids is bearing down on our sleepy global village, and the only ones noticing are frazzled parents and our cryogenic news anchor.”

    This is what you call “An evidence-based resource for journalists”? Mocking autistic children with developmental delays?

    Developmentally delayed autistic children like my son are real. Your site claim to being an evidence based resource for journalists is not.

    Your commentary is offensive.

  • 5 autblog // Apr 4, 2008 at 9:45 am

    What’s offensive is News 13’s message. Sorry that you missed the point of the sentence.

  • 6 Landru // Apr 4, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    Uhm…yeah. I think you misconstrue ANB’s meaning there, Harold L Doherty, about as badly as it could be misconstrued. He’s scolding News 13, not mocking autistic children, and his analysis of the story seems spot-on to me.

  • 7 Joseph // Apr 4, 2008 at 5:42 pm

    You think Harold actually believes ANB attempted to mock autistic children? That’s absurd. Harold always does this. He goes to a blog post with opinions he doesn’t like, and scans for a paragraph or something he can use to try to discredit his opponent.

  • 8 Harold L Doherty // Apr 4, 2008 at 5:54 pm

    Landru I understand your point but, with respect, I don’t agree. ANB is using the image of autistic children in a derogatory fashion to make his point.

    Joseph, you make no point at all. Just another personal attack because I don’t share your ideological views of autism.

  • 9 autblog // Apr 4, 2008 at 6:17 pm

    I have to ask: What point am I making, as you see it?

  • 10 Joseph // Apr 4, 2008 at 7:07 pm

    If there are any doubts about what I said, he recently did the exact same thing in a blog post at the Runman blog.

  • 11 autblog // Apr 4, 2008 at 7:38 pm

    Kind of transparent. And disappointing. Part of me wants to better understand that kind of obstructionism, but another part says “Why bother?”

  • 12 Landru // Apr 5, 2008 at 8:17 am

    Thanks Joseph. I did only a quick scan before engaging, and I didn’t pick up on what I was engaging with–my bad. I’m with ANB; why bother?

  • 13 Club 166 // Apr 5, 2008 at 8:49 am

    If this blog post has a theme, it’s that many news outlets (not just in small or mid-size outlets) have no problem spinning the truth and flapping their gums about things they know little about, and the only ones who usually notice are frazzled bloggers who unfortunately care about things like evidence and responsible reporting.


  • 14 autblog // Apr 5, 2008 at 9:06 am

    This is what you call “An evidence-based commenting”? Mocking biased reporters with developmental delays?

    Developmentally delayed reporters like David Kirby are real. Your claim to being an evidence based commenter is not.

    Your commentary is offensive.


  • 15 Prometheus // Apr 7, 2008 at 1:14 pm


    HL Doherty comment is an example of what is known as a “concern trolling”. He posts a scolding comment about how your article could be (mis)construed as “[m]ocking children with developmental delays…” in an attempt to either embarrass or discredit you.

    I would be interested to see how many times he has complained about autistic children being described as “a fate worse than death”, “train wrecks”, “toxic waste dumps”, “empty shells” and worse.

    Compared to that, “spinning” and “flapping” are positively complimentary. Besides, they happen to fairly accurately describe activities that many autistic children frequently engage in.

    I suspect that Mr. Doherty found your statement (which I believe is correct) that “…there is no clear evidence of an [autism] epidemic…” far more offensive than any description of autistic children you made.

    I’m sure that he would have rather challenged you on that point, but he has no data to support the “autism epidemic” (nobody does). Since he has been beaten up (in a figurative sense) about that point so often, he instead has resorted to “concern trolling” in the (vain) hope of distracting you or your readers with his “straw man” of concern for how autistic children are viewed.

    If Mr. Doherty were truly concerned about how autistic children (and adults) were being described, he would be posting comments on those ‘blogs that routinely describe them in clearly, unambiguously negative terms. Not “spinning” or “flapping”.

    “Concern trolling”? Just another name for hypocrisy.


  • 16 Autism Miracle // May 13, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Its For nearly all parents, the most important things in the world to them are their children. if your child is suffering from autism.

  • 17 MG // Dec 30, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Came here by way of Jon Swift’s Best Blog Posts of 2008.
    Yikes! As a parent of an 8-year old son who has autism, I knew there was a lot of talking going on back and forth between the different autism camps-the ones who think its the vaccines; the ones who don’t; the people who believe in this type of therapy; the people who don’t..; the people who think its food-related and those who don’t.
    I wish there could be more unanimity, but I guess what will be will be.
    I agree with your point about this post-(at least I think I know what you’re trying to say) that the media is rushing around trying to find stories to do about autism and it’s fluff-just a news story. It has bothered me that just because some actor or singer or politician has a child with autism, then all of sudden autism is a cause and worthy of funding, more study, etc. Where was the concern before? I am glad that autism is getting some coverage but I think that sometimes the “celebrity” of it all drowns out the real issues.

    I think we all can agree on a few things: autism interventions-whether autism cases are an epidemic or just being diagnosed earlier and with more accuracy, need to be funded adequately in the public schools. I think that insurance companies should assist parents/caregivers with costs of therapy for those with autism. I think those are some things that possibly many of us “in this” can agree about(?)

    I had a post about Michael Savage’s comments about autistic kids a while back. While I don’t think that there is a real epidemic the likes that people are talking about, I didn’t like the way Savage (and others) described, put down and blew off autism concerns. Same thing with Denis Leary.
    I do have some concerns though with people like Jennie McCarthy and others with the vaccine thing-shouting at Dr.’s on TV shows. There are some people who are giving people some false hope-I believe, by giving them non evidence-based solutions-new age quackery “cures” and such.
    I also am a little bothered when I see (on Youtube, blogs) or hear about people-(mainly adults) who claim they are autistic, when it seems they have given themselves that diagnosis. Sometimes it is famous people-Darryl Hannah, Dan Ackroyd -but that bugs me a little-pe0ple who seem to be looking at the symptoms of autism and deciding that their behavior fits those symptoms. Heck they could just have poor social skills.
    Anyway-sorry this was so long! Good post! I want to come back later and check out more or your stuff!

  • 18 Daffy Quack McDuck // Feb 17, 2012 at 2:05 am

    Still somewhat underrated.

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