Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Recent autism comments

Ok, I've debated whether to post anything about this or let it go and ignore it. As you can see I've opted not to ignore it. You've probably heard about the despicable comments made by Michael Savage, a radio talk show host, about children with autism and their parents last week.

I guess it's pretty easy to attack a bunch of children and families in the pursuit of ratings. Obviously he didn't listen to his own father's advice of "don't be an idiot." Then again, I guess if he's on to something then I wish we'd known sooner that all we had to do was verbally abuse our kids and the autism would go away just like that. Guess we should call the school and tell them to cancel the IEP's, all they really need is to have insults screamed at them. Yep, that'll fix everything. I can't even say the things I would like to call this guy >:(. I have never listened to his show, didn't even know he existed until this actually, but from what I've read he has a lot of listeners and the notion that some of them will believe what he is spewing is just sickening.

I was wondering where the media frenzy was. After all when Don Imus made disparaging comments about a women's basketball team, it was all over the news and he was promptly fired. Finally yesterday, dh told me that Glenn Beck would be hosting Larry King live and interviewing Savage. Here's the video clip of the interview, it also includes a playback of the original comments that Savage made on his own show.

I have to say, I like and respect Glenn Beck but I was so disappointed with this interview. This evening, I took some time to write him a letter. I know he gets a ton of email so he may not even see it, but I figured it was worth a try. Here's the letter (btw, it didn't look this long in my email editor, yikes, and I even tried to keep it short!):


First, I want to say that I am a regular listener / viewer of your shows (and I enjoyed your book!) and I have a lot of respect for you.

That being said, I was very disappointed with your interview of Michael Savage on Larry King last night. As a mother of three little boys with autism (7-yr-old twins and a 3-yr-old), I found his remarks extremely offensive and hurtful, and when I heard you'd be interviewing him I was looking forward to you challenging his comments on behalf of the innocent children he berated on his show. Instead, you basically handed him the "taken out of context" excuse and then allowed him to continue on making ignorant comments about autism. I'm sorry, but there is NO context in which his statements would be acceptable. The idea of treating any child the way he advises, much less treating a child with a disability that way, is deplorable.

This morning on the radio, you said he had a point about overdiagnosis and then launched into about 15 minutes on ADD / ADHD and medication, with no further mention of autism (at least not before I had to turn off the radio at work). I understand your personal connection with ADD, but my main concern with your interview last night and subsequent discussion this morning is that by not refuting him, and by giving credence to any part of his argument, it gives the appearance that you are validating what he said. We have a long way to go in terms of developing awareness and acceptance of those with autism, and things like this just add to the public misperceptions.

If you're still reading this, I'd like to share some facts about autism with you and refute much of what Savage said.

Autism is a neurological condition, not an illness. My kids aren't sick, their brains are just wired differently. Unlike ADD/ADHD, there is no medication for autism, so I'm confused at what "big pharma" has to gain from kids being diagnosed with autism. Although there is no blood test for autism, there is a clearly defined diagnostic criteria in the DSM-IV, and it involves much more than just "late talking." There is a "triad of impairments" in the areas of verbal / nonverbal communication, social interaction, and imaginative / creative play that must be present for a diagnosis of autism. Getting a diagnosis can take a long time and involves a number of evaluations by different specialists. It's not as though you can walk into your pediatricians office and walk out with a diagnosis of autism.

Further, while there are some people who have both autism and mental retardation, many autistic individuals are highly intelligent and it was frustrating to see the myth that one can't be both "bright" and "autistic" perpetuated on the show last night. In fact, I suspect that those with autism are even more intelligent than the rest of us may realize, because intelligence is often measured by communication skills, an area where those with autism struggle. You may be interested in the story of Amanda Baggs, she is someone who to an observer might appear to lack intelligence but that is far from the truth, as evidenced by her writing.

We love our kids just the way they are, they are gifts from God and we're blessed to be their parents. We're doing what we can to help them learn to cope with sensory overload, improve their communication skills, etc. Our twins have come a long way so far, and our youngest has made progress as well. They aren't brats, they certainly aren't fatherless (my husband is a full-time SAHD), and they aren't lacking discipline. Screaming insults at them isn't going to cure their autism. What they need is compassion, understanding, and a little patience from those around them. What's really ironic is that my kids are some of the most kind and loving people you'll ever meet. One of the strengths of autism is that they don't care about superficial things, they see people for who they are inside. Michael Savage could learn a lot from them.

I know you're extremely busy, but since it's been a recent topic on your show, I hope that you'll take a few minutes to learn more about autism - there is a good summary here.

Thanks for your time.


bits and pieces on July 23, 2008 at 9:27 AM said...

Good for you to call them on this. What a horrible example of ignorance...

Greg Reich on July 23, 2008 at 12:29 PM said...

Several people have been contacting Savage's advertisers to ask them to pull their support. Some have already; some were completely unaware that their advertisements were running during his show. I have a list of his sponsors at

Tripacerchick on July 23, 2008 at 5:08 PM said...

If Michael Savage doesn't understand the autism spectrum, he should find out what it is before spouting his mouth off about it. He should be better informed on what he is actually talking about.

just jamie on July 23, 2008 at 5:31 PM said...

Wow. Stunning letter that should not be ignored. Bravo to you and your boys.

Trish on July 23, 2008 at 8:34 PM said...

Wow, what a great letter. I have seen a lot of talking on forums and message boards about this, and there are some groups calling his employers and sending letters, but I agree it is surprising how little outrage there is. Good job!

GammaDebbie said...

What a fantastic letter! We're so proud of you for standing up for our precious grandsons and all of those who have challenges to face every day.

Genevieve Hinson on July 25, 2008 at 9:56 AM said...

Fantastic letter, bravo! I didn't see that video but so glad you did and acted on it.



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I'm a mom of three boys on the autism spectrum, 11-yr-old identical twins and a 7-yr-old. My husband is a SAHD.


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