I have been in touch with a few people whose children have only recently been diagnosed with autism and who were particularly upset by the article. In those early days you are dealing with so much; coming to terms with changed expectations, the knowledge that your child faces difficulties typically developing children don't, learning about disability and your child's rights and how to navigate the complex worlds of benefits and special education. Currently it is harder than ever as cuts and reduced services make everything such a battle and people are struggling to adapt and survive. These parents have not yet developed a thick skin like those of us well accustomed to the charlatans who use autism to advance their agendas. The quacks have no regard for how they will affect people living with autism or those who love them. It can come as a shock at first when you read about how awful your life is, how damaged your children, how they are to blame for all your problems- or, with retrogrades like Tony Humphreys, how you are to blame for all their problems.
This article was so bad though it even hurt many of us hardened old-timers. It hurt to hear a so-called professional get it so very wrong about our families, to slander us by claiming that instead of doing our best for our child/children with a neurological condition causing developmental delay, we caused it. And we caused it by failing at the one thing that matters most to us- our parenting. He tells the world that we are cold and unloving, that we seek help for our children to avoid our own issues.
Now having a disabled child certainly doesn't make anyone a perfect parent. I've witnessed some bad behaviour from the parents of autistic children in my time among the online autism communities. But we're just like any other set of people, we're fallible, some good some bad and most trying our best to be good enough.
By issuing an apology, The Irish Examiner could go some way towards making ammends to all the people they have hurt.
I wrote the following to the editor:
I wish to respond to the article "Core Connection" by Tony Humphreys and published on 3 February 2012.I have also contacted Professor Baron-Cohen to alert him to how his work has been twisted to fit Humphrey's notions.
This article author propagates damaging and discredited ideas of autism causation. It is accepted by all professionals of repute that autism is a neurological condition associated with developmental delay. It is not, despite what Tony Humphreys professes without evidence, the result of children "defending themselves against the absence of expressed love and affection and emotional receptivity." Blaming parents causes pain to people already struggling to raise their children in a time of cut-backs and reduced services. Parents of newly diagnosed children will be especially vulnerable to these outrageous and contemptuous accusations against them.
Tony Humphreys even goes so far as to assert that the very existence of autism is not a scientific fact, an utterly ridiculous assertion. He is no brave maverick going against the tide of received wisdom, he is a mere crank. The author is either courting controversy to sell books and gain more media exposure and is using your paper to promote himself, or he is setting himself up in a new career as a provocateur columnist. Either way, he and your paper, are trampling all over the families of autistic children.
I shall expect you to publish an apology and a full retraction of this article, and to give space to a proper autism professional to explain just how wrong Tony Humphreys was. I shall also expect to see the parents of autistic people given space to explain just how loving and close their families are.
I now think that Humphreys is hoping to not just promote himself and his book at the expense of autistic children, he is hoping to gain customers seeking to redress their failures as parents and fix their children. The biomedical quackery industry have seen parents willing to subject their children to all sorts of unproven and dangerous "therapies" when told it would lead to a cure. The psychoanalysts want some of that action. In order to sell their services, they have to convince enough parents that the cause of their children's autism is known and fixable.
What I fear now is seeing Tony Humphreys making a tour of TV and radio stations, promoting himself, his book and his ability to cure the children currently "misdiagnosed" as autistic. I hope the media will do the right thing and refrain from giving this man further publicity.