The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

A joyful occasion?

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Autism coverage remains at a crawl, but I found an article on CNN that strikes me as somewhat odd. The writer is actually a contributor who doesn’t work for CNN, but she published a long piece about at New York’s P.S. 176X after spending a year there for Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

The article reports services and the environment for students at the school. All students who attend the school are autistic, and 90% of the student body require special services. The meat of the story is bookended by the school’s graduation ceremony.

Obviously, graduation is a big deal for any parent who cares about their kid, but the hope is darkened for parents who discover that their kids are autistic. I added a question mark at the end of the title because the article explains the debate on how to educate autistic students and what to do with them when they’re finished with school. The writer highlights a few options, such as “day hab” programs for those who are severely affected. However, despite the progress rate for several students who attend P.S. 176x, there’s still the problem of integrating and functioning effectively in an environment that still doesn’t fully understand autism. I’d like to not think that graduating from high school will be the pinnacle of their lives, because that means there could be a lot of turmoil ahead. Yes, the severity ranges and can affect a person’s overall capabilities, but I’d like to know how many of these students are attending college or have big dreams now that they have their diplomas. I don’t say this in an attempt to make everything upbeat, but accounting for multiple perspectives, the biggest question parents may have is “Now what?” Knowing that even one of those students will be heading for higher education would give them some assurance that high school isn’t the endpoint, but simply an exit to another freeway.

I go into this a little further in my next autism documentary that I’m currently editing, but the pattern with autism coverage in mainstream media is that if autistic people don’t do something that is expected for their neurotypical peers, they’re often cast as nightmares. Reporters don’t make the kids look evil, the tone simply suggests that options are few and the outlook is dim. On the opposite end, autistics who make an achievement like Jason McElwain or Temple Grandin are often cast as heroes because they did something that wasn’t expected of them, but people who don’t think like them could do without question (although Grandin renovated treatment of farm animals when several others thought she was crazy). Reporting on autism is a tough assignment for journalists since many of them don’t know autism in great detail. Patterns are quickly established because of the lack of knowledge in order to give reporters a starting point. I’m waiting for the time when discussions will get deeper among the mainstream audience.

As the population grows, my gut is parents of autistic children won’t be the only ones thinking “Now what?”

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Written by TheSportsBrain

July 20, 2009 at 10:45 am

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