The Autistic Journalist

Using words to explain the mind

Posts Tagged ‘Mike Peden

Q&A…what am I thinking?

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AOL Health posted a Q&A session a couple weeks ago with Jeanette O’Donnell. For the rest of the world, she runs a Blogspot site called What Are They Thinking? (a link to that site can be found in the article I linked here). The title relates to her family: Five of her six children are autistic, but O’Donnell will be the first to blog about how all her kids have improved with adapting to the “neurotypical” environment since they all received their diagnosis.

Q&A’s are a quick way to tell a story without have to interpret what the sources say. Most interviews use this format before they’re edited for print or broadcast. They’re a good way for beginning journalists to develop their skills before having them prune their quotes later on, but they can be effective, especially with sensitive topics like autism. The article’s writer develops a better shield against claims of bias since all they write on their end are the questions, perhaps trimming some of the answers before publication.

In regards to the article, the interview strikes an unusual tone. O’Donnell mentions some controversies she’s dealt with in autism circles because of her approach to the disorder. Her strategy definitely isn’t within the confines of conventional wisdom: She doesn’t believe in chelation (a procedure that removes heavy metals from the body, a hot topic now with the unsubstantiated belief of mercury causing autism), special diets or any other remedy that is popular with parents but unproven in science. O’Donnell believes media coverage plays a role (when in doubt, blame the media…wait a minute, what am I thinking? 😛 ), making autism appear desperate and something that must be eliminated to sustain order in the mental health world.

That’s not to say O’Donnell just sits there. She did employ the classic strategy of occupational/speech therapy, a pursuit with far more documented success. Another point O’Donnell makes was ensuring her kids knew they would have to adapt by society’s rules, regardless of how well society accepts them.

O’Donnell’s last point could create a dichotomy with an earlier question she answered about her critics. Some call her a media whore, yet the interview ends with her asking the reporter why she hasn’t asked what the reason was for having more kids after their first child was diagnosed with autism. O’Donnell may have been looking to get a specific point out, or the reporter may not have thought about it based on the direction the interview was going. Still, when a source mentions questions that aren’t asked, don’t be afraid to ask it. You’ll find out why they want that point in quotes or on the air and how genuine the reasons are.

O’Donnell does use that question to make a genuine point, from my perspective: She challenges any of her critics to meet her autistic children and tell her which one doesn’t belong.

I’ve noted several times about the emotional, reactive response from parents looking to find a solution and the risk of negative consequences by buying into the first thing that supposedly works but has no scientific backing. Of course, in my childhood days, there was no talk about diets, chelation or other odd treatments. Therapy was king. The Internet changed the treatment game in a hurry, and credit must be given to O’Donnell for refusing to fall in the emotional “trap” of doing something without applying some logic to the situation. She also refuses to take credit for her children’s success. To her, they were the masterminds.

The article’s tone itself is a rarity for anyone who isn’t named Jason McElwain or Temple Grandin. Even five years ago, coverage of autism painted a gloomy picture that could pose a problem to all of us. Even now, news outlets have quoted people talking about the autism “epidemic” as the diagnosis rate increases. Most articles assume some tone of how to keep autism from “destroying” us, ignoring the fact that most of us would acknowledge overcoming some flaw in our own lives, documented or not. The positives of autism may be the next phase introduced in autism coverage, and judging the articles I’ve discussed for the last year on this blog, more are sorely needed to give parents a breather and a reason to consider that autism will not be the culprit of our destruction.

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And now for something completely different

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As you may have noticed on this blog, I prefer not to talk about myself in regards to appearances in media. It’s not really my style as I figure my documentaries and other media are sufficient in telling my story.

However, I was the featured guest last Sunday on The Disability Show presented by Many Worlds Network. It was a 30-minute examination of my brain, my blog, and my other exploits.

Click the video below to listen to the podcast.

Written by TheSportsBrain

November 6, 2009 at 11:48 am

Mixed race and autism go hand in hand again

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Happy Independence Day for all you American readers out there!mcclogo A

I began the holiday weekend by going on the mic. The Mixed Chicks Chat podcast had an opening yesterday and I had approached them about appearing to talk about my mixed race documentary that was released in February. We set up the chat earlier in the week and the show went without a hitch.

Fortunately, I also went without a major hitch. I never ask anyone to submit their questions to me ahead of time because it runs the risk of coming off as fake or rehearsed, but my hunch about what I would get asked was right. Most of the episode focused on my documentary, including what got me interested in the subject and why I feel so strongly about sharing the stories of the mixed race community. This was the first show where I really didn’t pay much attention to the chat window, in part because I would have been distracted trying to talk and read what others were saying simultaneously (which probably cut the chat conversation in half; I’m one of their chattier listeners).

The other subject I expected to talk about came somewhat unexpectedly. I had mentioned my exploits with autism before on the show, but didn’t know how much the hosts really got into it. About midway through the show, they hinted me on what they wanted to get out of me, which meant I shared my autism diagnosis with listeners. We didn’t talk about it for too long, but as I’ve discussed before, autism is one reason why I feel a connection with other aspects of social justice. Even though I’m not mixed and didn’t understand multiracial identity well until college, both of our communities share the struggle of feeling exploited at times because we have a characteristic that easily separates us from others. I can’t speak for them, but after attending a social justice retreat a couple years ago, I found myself exploring social justic topics more often to hopefully get past surface questions. Whether it’s “What Are You?” for multiracial people or “What do you think?” for autistics, you can only get so far by asking the obvious questions. It helps to have hosts know exactly what you’re going through.

I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that I developed a good repertoire with the hosts and listeners. Some people love to hate journalists like me because we occasionally do things to make others uncomfortable (otherwise, we wouldn’t be doing our jobs), but they liked that I tackled the topic of mixed race and autism before that without any personal agenda attached. It’s hard to learn much if you don’t let your subjects tell the story. I think my interview also gave the hosts and listeners who I’ve connected with a chance to learn about me. I’d definitely go on again if I get the chance.

If you haven’t listened to Mixed Chicks Chat before, I’d recommend doing so. Fanshen and Heidi are fluid hosts who love what they do for social justice and aren’t afraid to listen to anyone who’s willing to listen back. I can’t guarantee they’ll make you look good if that’s your cup of tea, but if you want to learn something, listen to their podcasts.

You can listen to my interview in full here and learn more about Mixed Chicks Chat here.

Written by TheSportsBrain

July 4, 2009 at 3:46 pm