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Saturday, May 16, 2020

Autism in The Washington Post

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss coverage of autism in the mass media.

Noa Lewin & Nameera Akhtar have an article in Disability and Society titled "Neurodiversity and Deficit Perspectives in The Washington Post’s Coverage of Autism."

Media representations can perpetuate stereotypes about marginalized groups. Autism is often portrayed as a series of deficits needing correction. Many autistic self-advocates argue, however, that their neurological characteristics represent natural genetic variation—neurodiversity—and that they are not in need of a “cure.” The current study examined articles about autism on The Washington Post website from January 2007 through December 2016. It was hypothesized that articles would contain more elements of the neurodiversity perspective over time. Each article was coded for its overall valence, four measures of neurodiversity, and four deficit measures. Mean valence and mean composite neurodiversity scores significantly increased over time, while the mean composite deficit score significantly decreased over time. While the data suggest positive trends towards the neurodiversity perspective, they also reveal that some aspects of the deficit view of autism did not change over this time period in this news outlet.
Points of interest

Autism is often portrayed as entirely negative, but it has been argued that autism represents a form of diversity (neurodiversity) that should be recognized and respected.

The current study examined how autism was portrayed in an influential US newspaper (The Washington Post) from 2007 to 2016.

Later articles about autism were more likely to use words like neurodiversity, more likely to highlight strengths of autistic people, and more frequently described accommodations for autistic people. They also focused less on identifying causes of autism but continued to use negative terms and very few articles contained the perspectives of autistic individuals themselves.

Although some progress seems to have been made in the portrayal of autism, there is still room for improvement.