At CNN, Sarah Darer Littman writes:
When my son was diagnosed at age 5, I had many feelings of my own to sort out, a process made infinitely more difficult by others rushing to judgment. Like that 30-minute, long-distance haranguing from a member of my ex-husband's family asking me why I was "damaging" my child by "labeling" him. Imagine how much more reluctant families will be to accept a diagnosis now if there is a link in their minds with being a potential mass murderer -- even when there is no evidence whatsoever this is the case.
"We're very concerned about families feeling stigmatized and being afraid to seek services for fear that their child will be seen as a possible 'monster,'" said Sara Reed, director of advocacy and family services for an autism resource center in Connecticut. "We've done so much work in the last few years trying to reduce stigma and isolation -- to help families get the support and services that they need and deserve. It's difficult enough to raise a child with a disability. We don't need misinformation and community 'rush to judgment' to make it worse."
Journalists, please be responsible. Don't just roll out the celebrity doctors. World-renowned autism expert Dr. Fred Volkmar of the Yale Child Study Center is right here in New Haven. Your shoddy work impacts our children's lives.
Meanwhile, we parents will continue to explain to our kids, who have already grown up trying to overcome feelings of isolation and difference, that what Lanza did has no more to do with them than if he were diabetic or left handed -- and I'll admire and love my son more every day for teaching me to think out of the box.Deanna Pan writes at Mother Jones:
"We are a community that faces tremendous stigma and prejudice, and unfortunately when this happens, the mainstream media presents stereotypes and inaccurate information about autism and disability that only make that stigma and prejudice worse," says Ari Ne'eman, who is the president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network and himself autistic.
"We want to hunt for explanations. We want reasons for horrible things that happen," saysSteve Silberman, a Wired reporter who's currently writing a book about autism and neurodiversity. "The problem is that people tend to go for these sort of pre-packaged, stereotypical explanations …and that's one way we make people who commit these acts seem not like us…and somehow less than human."
This shoddy reporting, particularly from influential and far-reaching news outlets, has real consequences in shaping the public’s perception of autism and other disabilities, Ne'eman explains.
"We're like anyone else. We're people who apply for jobs, look for places to live, apply to colleges. We're generally looking to be included in society and when there is a myth out there that we're people you have to be afraid of, that has a practical impact," he says. "We talk to a lot of people, for example, who are discriminated against in the workplace after they disclose their diagnosis."