For those of you who don't know, I work with news media in my regular job, so I have a pretty good sense of how stories are shaped, from initial idea to final result. And because I am very concerned with the way autism is portrayed in said media (can you hear me, Autism Speaks?) I try to offer some POV when asked (okay, even when not asked :-) So I was happy to speak with Susan Donaldson James of ABC News about a research study conducted at the Barrow Neurological Institute in Phoenix, Arizona.
The study is concerned with the joint attention of people with autism, and uses magic (yes, magic!) as a way to better understand how people with autism perceive situations differently from us neurotypicals. Is it true that people with autism can't be fooled by magic tricks? Read the article and see what you think.
My role in the piece, entitled Autism Study Could Find Answers in Magic, was as the "balance"; I honestly don't know enough about the study or about neuroscience--let's be frank--to draw an intelligent conclusion about its results. But what mattered to me was that this piece not go down the path of so many that portray people with autism as cold, robotic, and, unfailingly, "locked inside a world of their own."
Those stories tend to negate the humanity of people with autism--a spectrum as wide as the Montana sky--and, I fear, terrify parents, especially the ones with new diagnoses, at a time when they are most vulnerable. And it's important to remember that communication is a two-way street: just because people with autism may be looking in a different direction or have a different expression from what we would deem "appropriate" in a particular situation, that doesn't mean they lack feeling or a sense of mutuality with us. They just may process and express those feelings differently.
So I was thrilled to see Ms. James seek out a broader perspective, interviewing an adult with autism about his experience of the world, and did what I could to offer a parent's perspective.
As always, I'd love your thoughts.