Savaging Autism and Asthma

On Wednesday, conservative radio host Michael Savage had this to say about autism:

…A fraud, a racket. You know what autism is? I’ll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out. That’s what autism is.

I have to admit that I didn’t write about this the moment I read about it. I had to cool down first. Mr. Savage should be congratulated. He’s now one of only four figures in the media who have managed to get under my skin. (In case you are wondering, the other three are Ann Coulter, Bill O’Reilly, and Rush Limbaugh.)

Let’s start with the assertion that 99% of autism cases are fraudulent. This figure is based on what, exactly? Does Mr. Savage have any scientific studies or educational experience to back this up? Has he personally conducted observation and surveys of autism-diagnosed children to verify the veracity of said diagnosis? No, he does what too many other talking-heads do. He makes up a statistic on the spot – a lie that his loyal listeners will begin repeating as fact.

He supports his hypothesis by citing minority asthma diagnoses.

For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden — why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I’ll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket.

Of course, he fails to notice that concentrated minority populations are often centered most heavily around urban developments where air quality is generally poorer and temperatures are generally higher – compounding factors in the development of lung conditions such as asthma. He fails to note that the still-present racial economic divide gives many minority families less access to locations or products providing cleaner air. No, in his mind, minorities are thieves and doctors are supremely gullible.

He also fails to draw a parallel between asthma and autism that should be obvious. If autism, like asthma, is a minority-driven racket, why are the diagnosis rates among racially diverse populations not significantly higher than among Caucasians? Again, he is presenting his information so that his audience infers conclusions that are simply untrue.

Of the parents I come in contact with on a daily basis, those of my autistic children have some of the highest expectations. They are the most consistent, the most structured. They go above and beyond to ensure their children can function properly in a social world. In fact, if money was the issue, as Mr. Savage suggests, these parents picked the wrong disorder. Getting insurance to help with autism treatment can be a difficult task.

Are there misdiagnoses? Of course, especially since the academic and medical communities’ understanding of autism is still evolving. However, it’s much harder to misdiagnose autism and much easier to later catch a misdiagnosis than with some other learning disabilities such as ADHD. An autism label is not an excuse, nor is it a cop-out. It is a flag that this child does need help in specific areas, and the goal is that of independence – not reliance.

Mr. Savage wraps up with this jewel.

If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, “Don’t behave like a fool.” The worst thing he said — “Don’t behave like a fool. Don’t be anybody’s dummy. Don’t sound like an idiot.

You know, that’s actually good advice. I just wish Mr. Savage and the uncounted other pundits with a venue to vent would take it. The world would be a quieter, less angry place, and the autistic population would enjoy that immensely.

Update: Gedblog provides some more commentary, and the author wonders what kind of backlash these remarks could gather from parents of autistic children.

via Media Matters