As the father of a child with autism, I assumed that $50 would get me in the door at the Wisconsin Real Help Now Conference, sponsored by the anti-vaccine group Talk About Curing Autism Now.
What was I thinking?
Dear Mr. Reibel,
The purpose of our Wisconsin Real Help Now Conference on Saturday, February 27, 2010 is to bring together members in the autism community in order to educate and support families and facilitate dialogue on important issues related to autism. As such we want to nurture an environment that is conflict free and allows open communication.
Your attendance at a previous national autism conference was disruptive to the mission and purpose of that conference. We want to ensure the focus of the conference is on education and support and that the environment is safe and supportive for conference attendees.
We have given you a full refund of the purchase price. You will not be admitted to this conference.
That makes three different explanations for my expulsion from the 2008 AutismOne conference, held at the Westin O’Hare Hotel. The first was that I had snuck into the gathering without registering. When conference organizer Ed Arranga realized that I was indeed registered, the story changed to “you broke your agreement not to videotape any of the meetings.” There was, of course, no such agreement, and no evidence of such an agreement. I filmed openly for two days without incident, as were dozens of other parents, not to mention film crews from local television stations. So that couldn’t be it either.
But this latest explanation brings vaccine rejectionists within shouting distance of the truth, even though they don’t know it. Skepticism and pointed questions are by their nature disruptive to the “mission and purpose” of these types of organizations. Asking “what is your evidence” at an AutismOne conference is like bringing a camera to a nudist colony – the longer you stick around, the more vulnerable the campers feel.
So what is the mission and purpose of TACA’s Wisconsin Real Help Now Conference? One clue can be found on the Real Help Now website, which reads:
TACA strives to ensure that the focus of our conference is education and support, and to provide a safe, supportive environment for our attendees. TACA reserves the right to refuse admittance to any individual.
In the real world, education means asking questions, challenging assumptions, and going wherever the evidence might lead. At a TACA conference, it means the opposite: providing a safe, supportive environment for denial and magical thinking, a sterile bubble where attendees can live in the moment, shielded from the pathogens of free inquiry and doubt. Support is served cafeteria style, so you can pass up the harder dishes of acceptance and responsibility, and head right for the dessert tray for a banana boat of recovery and blame.
As most adults suspect, the cost of entry to this magical land is much higher than the $50 entrance fee suggests.
Education and support were much in evidence at an Age of Autism Media Roundtable, during the 2008 AutismOne conference in Chicago.