5 Feb 2012

Autism Ordure in Irish Examiner- Why Worry?

I was asked- why bother asking for a retraction and an apology for the vile Irish Examiner article by Tony Humphreys. I agree that any apology the disgraced psychologist gives would most likely be insincere. I still think it is important to contact the newspaper that opted to actually publish his outrageous and damaging piece. I want to draw attention to what this man has said, to explain clearly all the things he got wrong in his article. That his words were published in a newspaper will give them a veneer of truth and respectability to many people.

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.
What tosh.

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.

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 have also contacted Professor Baron-Cohen to alert him to how his work has been twisted to fit Humphrey's notions.

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.


Mike Stanton said...

You are right, Sharon. This vile nonsense needs stopping in its tracks. Well done on contacting the Examiner. I will add my name to a public protest or statement against this man.

Nick McGivney said...

Keep keeping on. Excellent dissection of doddery thinking. It's not what a coldly clinical parent of a child with autism might do, but hey. (Oops, letting the irony leak...)

Lisamaree said...

I'm here, I'm loud and I don't mind being interviewed so please make sure that any media outlet that gives Tony Humphreys the oxygen of publicity - counters it by listening to a loving parent.

As for the newly diagnosed - what struck me was the memory triggered by reading the article - that of my own mother and father telling me in words and actions that they didn't really believe in autism. I was working too much/letting them watch teletubbies/nursing Grace for too long/not spending enough time getting them to eat/toilet/talk/play appropriately/independently

And boy was I willing to believe it. Its me! Its all my fault. I didn't carry them properly to gestation, I didn't follow all the rules in 'what to expect when you're expecting" - I didn't make all my own baby foods from organically sourced ingredients, I let them watch tv, I let them sleep in my bed, I let them cuddle with me when they were crying instead of teaching them control over their emotions - I fed them when they were hungry instead of timing my feeds, I didn't read to them in the womb....

me bad, me bad, me bad, ME BAD! - yes I agree with you.

It took years for me to finally feel that I was doing okay with what nature had handed me. That I had strengths that were really giving my kids an advantage over their genes and I was more than willing to share those strengths. Maybe I wasn't such a bad horrible failure as a mother???

So yeah, thanks Mr Humphrey for letting me experience that feeling of abysmally low self worth again, as if it were yesterday.


Sharon McDaid said...

@Mike, thanks. Their response has been very disappointing. I have also contacted UCC about someone with these views teaching courses taken by parents and teaching assistants.

@Nick, ach you know what I'm like! I can be coldly clinical when needed. But this bollocks; "scientists and engineers have "few or no heart qualities"- cringe! As well as being livid, I'm embarrassed for him.

@Lisa I'd talk to them too. We could soon show that we're not all in our heads!
His words fit so well with the narrative you describe- and that is very common. We work so hard to try to get the truth about our lives and our children out and then this happens. It's unfair.

Anonymous said...

year nine at the frontline says: Tony Humphries' views are sometimes lurking beneath the surface at different places and at different times with different folks working in and around special needs in Ireland - it is important to bury this bigotry and scapegoating