How You Can Counter Jenny McCarthy-Style Autism Misinformation

The Chicago Sun-Times recently featured a Q&A puff piece about Jenny McCarthy and Autism One. It was the kind of outside-autism reporter's guileless autism misinformation-mongering we might have expected three years ago, but which has all but disappeared from mainstream media after Jenny's autism-vaccine oracle Dr. Andrew Wakefield lost his medical license due to his callous disregard for scientific ethics and rigor.

As this is 2012, Thinking People were understandably upset. Specifically Seth Mnookin, who wrote about the McCarthy Q&A and its ongoing metamorphosis regarding the nature of the Sun-Times' support for Autism One on PLoS: The Panic Virus:
On Sunday, the Chicago Sun-Times published a fawning, credulous Q&A with Jenny McCarthy, who has been more responsible than anyone in the country for advancing the spurious idea that there’s a connection between vaccines and autism.
The comments got heated, as one might expect when expletive-armed pseudoscience true believers rage against evidence-wielding science supporters. Surprisingly, those commenters even included Ms. McCarthy. And Eileen Hall, author of a petition asking the Sun-Times to "Provide space for parents who support autism acceptance to respond" (ideally, the title should have said people, not parents).

The result is that Mr. Mnookin has temporarily disallowed further entries -- which is understandable, and he posted his rationale at the end of his original post.  But what was unfortunate is that this happened before many folks and allies from the self-advocacy and neurodiversity community were able to join the discussion -- myself included. Here is what I would have written:
Thank you Seth, and Eileen. But we are arguing with self-appointed cult leaders. We're not going to get through to them -- Jenny McCarthy's entire industry and her followers' entire belief systems would collapse if they stopped telling the world that their children are broken, or that autism is an epidemic & disease. We can only work towards real change by positive role modeling, by including autistic people in autism conversations, and by trying to reach people before they fall for such dangerous misinformation.
One thing you can do to work towards real change? Buy a copy of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, and share it with someone who needs it. Ask your library to stock a copy. Give a copy to your pediatrician, or your district's superintendent or special ed director. Use our mission statement to explain why. And remember that, as a Thinking Person, you are never alone when it comes to countering dangerous autism misinformation.


Expectations Adjustment: Professional Hair Styling for 8th Grade Graduation

Iz, as you may be shocked to learn if you've been reading this blog since I was dithering over whether to put her in kindergarten or first grade, will be going to high school in the fall. HIGH SCHOOL. Which means avalanches of shock and denial on my part. What the hell, people? She is almost as tall as me, definitely more athletic and academic than I ever was, and -- based on superficial factors -- certainly more likely to leave a trail of broken hearts in her wake. If she wasn't so damn cheeky I'd be mired in appreciative rather than irritated disbelief at the marvelous being Seymour and I spawned.

But before she hits the big grades, she'll be graduating from eighth grade. Next month. There will be a ceremony. Which is apparently a much bigger deal than it was when I hurriedly tossed on my lone Jessica McClintock frock and sat blinking in the Anaheim sun, alternately taking Disc camera photos of my friends, and family -- including my brother Chet, who had just finished his first year at the USMA, looked very handsome in his uniform, and made all the girls squee. It was fun, but it was not a source of stress.

Things are different for Iz's peers, apparently. As Iz informed me yesterday, "all the girls" now get their hair professionally did for 8th grade grad. To which my reply was a parent-censored version of WTF. Really? Professional styling for thirteen year olds?

I don't have a problem with girls of any age occasionally getting their hair or nails done at a salon, as a treat. I do have a problem with kids expecting those services as their right, especially with entitled attitudes that include declaring, as Iz did, that it shouldn't be a big deal because it's "only 35 dollars." As if she had 35 dollars lying around. And not as if she asked what she could do to earn said $35 (though she did, later, after the top of my head blew off and she realized she needed to rethink her strategy). As if we hadn't had a conversation just the month before -- after one of her cousins offhandedly described a non-essential cost as being "only $50" and I almost fell over -- about the difference between understanding a good deal, and not understanding the value of goods and services or of currency itself.

It's not as though she doesn't know how to do her own hair -- she spends hours each day straightening and molding and manipulating her tresses, with mostly impressive results. And it's not as though she doesn't have a mother and friends and auntie-friends like Jennyalice and grandmothers who have Hair Skillz at her disposal. But for some reason, she seems to think her hair won't be "right" unless it's done the way her friends are getting it done.

I suppose I'm mostly dismayed with what I see as a continuous cultural shift away from self-reliance and towards dependence on professional services when it comes to self-care. But maybe this is just the way her generation will be? Maybe it's a California thing? Maybe a cultural thing?

She'll look great either way. But does a 13 year old girl really need professional hair styling? My gut tells me no. But I'm not living her life, I'm revisiting mine -- as someone who loved figuring out how to create Audrey Hepburn updos, What's New Pussycat straight red sheets, and Veronica Lake peekaboos all on my own. Am I expecting too much? Is this just what kids do these days?


Food Tolerance Win: Saag Paneer!

With Leo, sometimes routine trumps all. I'm guessing that's why, after almost two years of me dipping naan in saag and handing it to him, he took over the damn saag-dipping himself.

And now our boy eats spinach voluntarily, just as he does his daily dose of cod liver oil. And his diet is a rounder arena than it once was. Now we just need to help our boy with some of his own roundness. He's got that pre-adolescent lingering chub thing going on. Cute, but just on the cusp of unhealthy, according to his pediatrician, with whom he had his annual exam two weeks ago.

I prescribe: More hiking! Hiking season resumed just two weeks ago:

We've had weird wet spring after a rather arid winter. It's been heaven for Seymour the mushroom forager -- his secret porcini & chanterelle spots are still productive -- but local trails are only now non-mucky. Apparently local drivers' skills are changeable as well, as this is what the entire side of our parked-on-the-street car looked like when we emerged from the oaken hillside:

I'm driving a rental while my car's entire driver's side exterior gets replaced. Mali was less concerned about our car itself than transferring her library copy of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince to the new car's CD player. Leo doesn't seem to mind driving in a different car. And I'm intrigued by this thing called "XM Radio" which lets one have single-theme channels like "Crappiest 80s Tunes." I can now blast fetid Rick Astley or painfully monotonous Nu Shooz at Iz if she and her friends try to use their iPods to flood the car interior with shallow shiny One Direction tunes.

Off to the annual school district fundraiser. I am tired. Hope you are well.