3.20.2017

Spotting Autism Misinformation: The Credentials Gambit, and The Cherrypicker's Bluff

Last week, I gave a workshop on How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You. But then I realized I'd neglected to specifically highlight two of the most common ways in which autism misinformation spreads.

Let's call the first one the Credentials Gambit. This happens when a person is affiliated with a respected institution, and as a result people assume that they are trustworthy. Such individuals even get cited in mainstream news stories when media outlets either lack staff with the expertise needed to identify pseudoscience, and/or they prioritize clickbait. Examples include but are not limited to: 
  • Jenny McCarthy's adamantly vaccine-exempting pediatrician Dr. Jay Gordon at UCLA 
  • Anti-vax crusader "Dr. Bob" Sears of the Dr. Sears parenting advice dynasty
  • Environmental toxins autism causation researcher Dr. Irva Hertz-Picciotto of UC Davis
  • Pseudoscience-flogger Dr. Martha Herbert of, somehow, Harvard. 
    • Herbert's latest implausible culprits for autism causation include cell phones and Tylenol. She is responsible for countless eye-roll sprains.
Source: JMU Be The Change
[image: illustration of pants on fire]
We'll call the second the Cherrypicker's Bluff. In this case, a quotation or citation is taken out of context, or used inaccurately. The cherrypicker is banking that their readers will be instantly outraged—yet disinclined to actually read the article, or do any fact-checking. (This approach is also in constant use by the current U.S. administration.) 

For an autism-specific example: Anti-neurodiversity blogger J. Mitchell recently tweeted of Steve Silberman's 2016 Autism Society of America interview that:
"#stevesilberman accuses critics of #neurotribes as either skipping over parts of his book or lying. bit.ly/2mBuoQG"
But if you click through to the article, you'll notice Silberman actually said:
"I’m really puzzled by the notion that my book focuses primarily on “high-functioning” individuals. [Gives examples of high support autistic individuals from book.] These passages in the book make for very painful reading — but I have to assume that the handful of people who accuse me of “whitewashing” autism either skipped over these parts, or have another agenda for lying about my book that way."
Silberman is not therefore not bristling at critics of his book NeuroTribes in general, but rather expressing frustration with people who, well, cherrypick the book to make unsubstantiated claims about its representation of autistic people of all abilities. And rightfully so -- Mitchell was being disingenuous.

This need for constant vigilance sucks, honestly. It is both exhausting and jading to have to verify any autism information you run across. It also sucks to call people out by name, as I have here; my goal is to help you learn how to avoid questionable autism sources, not to provide the folks mentioned above with fodder for dismissing legitimate criticism as personal attacks. But to learn, you need examples. And these folks have worked hard to be just the examples we need.

But, as always: onward! We must remain skeptical, yet empathetic. And we can take heart in being able to rely on reliable autism information resources, too.


3.17.2017

Not Irish, Today or Any Day

I'm Shannon because my oldest brother got to pick my name. I was born while he was in kindergarten, and he was sweet on a classmate with that name.

I dye my hair red. It's actually brown. Or, going by my roots, mostly gray.

I am not Irish. Family lore has it that some of us got chased out of Ireland ages ago and ended up in Scotland, but Scots is what my mom's side owns and celebrates. (My dad's side is French-Canadian.)

I will most likely be drinking margaritas tonight. Which are faintly green, true. I'll be avoiding bars with shamrock decor however.

But, hey, Happy St. Patrick's Day. 

3.16.2017

How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You

[image Black text on yellow background with a black inkspot on the left,
reading, "How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
Senior Editor, Thinking Person's Guide to Autism
www.ThinkingAutismGuide.com"]
Evaluating autism information is tricky, especially on the Internet. How can we differentiate between helpful and harmful information? Why is questionable autism information dangerous? And why is it that autistic people's perspectives are so crucial to understanding autism?

These questions were the crux of a workshop I gave last weekend, at the annual Support for Families of Children With Disabilities resource fair in San Francisco, on How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You. (I also moderated the workshop on Supporting Autistic People Through Meltdowns, Aggression, and SIBs by Dr. Clarissa Kripke, Brent White, and Lindsey Anderson.)

Since I am a chronic worrier, I thought only a handful would show up. But the session was full, and people had lots of questions—plus many really wanted a record of the talk. So, here are the topics I covered, and please let me know if you have any questions.

How to Find Autism Information That Will Help You

Main takeaway: You, your students, and your child deserve to lead good lives. If you heed bad autism information, you will never learn what autistic people actually need and deserve, and everyone involved will miss the opportunity to achieve the best lives possible.

My Background, and Workshop Goals
Good Autism Info Matters
Language Matters
What Is an “Autism Expert”
  • Who do you trust, if you’re new to autism?
    • Autism professionals: Have experience with populations. But not necessarily a true understanding of autistic experience.
    • Autistic people: Lived experience. Valuable if your loved one/client/student is non-speaking, and/or you are newly diagnosed.
What to look for: Acceptance
What to look for: Legitimacy
  • How do you identify bad information? From science journalist Emily Willingham:
    • Is this practitioner or vendor promising miracles that no one else seems to achieve?
    • Is the person also asking for money?
    • Does scientific research support their claims, or are there only individual (often emotional) testimonials?
  • Does the approach aim to help, or to control?
  • Whose interests does the approach serve?
What to look for: Education
Reliable Resources

(This is not, by any means, a comprehensive list.)
Unreliable Resources

(Also not a comprehensive list; try to use what you've learned here to identify other non-useful resources.)
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