7 Feb 2012

Irish Examiner Responds to "Autism Controvery"

After all our letter writing, tweeting and blogging, the Irish Examiner today published their response. It is wholly inadequate. They have published an editorial basically saying that they were correct to publish the article because, they say, in a democratic society, everyone has the right to their opinion. It's nice of them to offer us all a civics lesson. I shall however, examine their editorial in detail.

They published wonderful letters from parents and people critical of the article. There was also a letter from Waterford music therapist, Jim Cosgrove in agreement with Humphreys. I wonder is he has any autistic children as clients. I wonder if he still will after today.

There is an excellent article by Kevin Whelan, the chief executive of Irish Autism Action, refuting the article and describing the reality of parents and families struggling and coping as best they can with unbounded love and determination. Lastly, Tony Humphreys is once again given a platform for his opinion in a piece entitled, "Research is crucial to care debate." Research is, conjecture ain't.
IN ALL my work over the years in supporting families with their very real difficulties it has been clear to me that parents always do their best; it would be an act of neglect on my part to withhold information, because information is a very important source of support.
It is now clear to him that parents always do their best, a far cry from the defamatory statements he made on Friday about how parents seek help for their children only to avoid looking into their "own emotional and social struggles" and that we "often need more help than [our autistic children] do."

But what is this information he has such a duty to impart?

My intention in last Friday’s article was to give people information that has emerged in recent times in relation to troubling behaviours in children that are commonly called autistic spectrum disorders (ASD). This ASD perspective has dominated and has been presented as fact. My goal was to show there is another perspective on this and that what has been presented as fact is not fact; it is simply a perspective. It is very important we hold an open mind and keep ourselves informed.
Aw here, why are all of us who have autistic family members getting so stressed, he's only wanting to offer a new perspective. We may have struggled for years to have our concerns about our children taken seriously, and may have navigated the complex diagnostic system and sat with our children through many difficult multidisciplinary assessments before they received the diagnosis. But we shouldn't be so damned closed minded, we ought to listen to Dr Tony- there are no facts, there are only perspectives! Duh, it must be those broader autistic phenotyoes some of us have that limit us to black and white thinking. We probably believe in gravity and the germ theory of disease, dismissing all alternative perspectives!
This is preposterous, Tony Humphreys is rejecting reality.

The seminal work in 2011 The Myth of Autism by Dr Sami Timimi, consultant child and adolescent psychiatrist, and his two colleagues provides very important findings from rigorous research and scientific enquiry. Incidentally, Dr Timimi and one of his co-authors had been diagnosed with ASD when they were children. In the interest of responding effectively and caringly to both children and their parents and teachers, it is crucial this research-based information be taken into account.
Oh it's a seminal work! Can I argue with that. Well, yes. 
The authors he places so much faith in disagree with his assertions, saying "We are NOT saying any of the following: 1. Autism is a condition caused by poor parenting." Moreover, real scientists refer to peer reviewed scientific publications from respected journals when citing research, not popular science books. Mike Stanton has explained, the book was only "a mixture of reviews of certain areas and detailed analysis of particular papers."

Humphreys concludes;
There are very important policy and care decisions involved here. If we can stay open to different perspectives and engage in mature debate, our chances of coming up with the best solutions for what are very real difficulties in family and school holding worlds increase enormously.
Basically, he has taken lots of words to say very little. Why should policy and care decisions be influenced in any way by the discredited model of autism Humphreys promotes? You may as well have astrologers running the judiciary. Nonsensical.

Worse yet is the editorial from the Irish Examiner: "The right to an opinion."

They acknowledge that people were hurt and angered by the article, and mention the criticism they faced then go on to make much of Tony Humphreys credentials as an expert:
Dr Humphreys is a highly experienced and well-regarded clinical psychologist, successful author, and broadcaster.
They mention their "record of campaigning for the rights and services for people with an intellectual disability" and finish:
While we regret and are sorry for the obvious hurt caused by Dr Humphreys’ comments, we stand by his right to freedom of expression in a democratic society, just as we would support the rights of others to disagree with and criticise his views and criticise us for having published them.
So basically, we're sorry you lot took offence and complained because we were only doing our democratic duty to give this dude a platform to express his views.

What I'd like to know is, given that they have mentioned his expert status, and that his article was published in a health supplement, why are they now portraying it as just one man's opinion?
So which was it, expert reportage or opinion?
The piece was ridden with errors, not one bit of it stands up to any kind of scrutiny. Even the Cambridge researcher mentioned by name has called the piece "offensive" and said it "turns the clock back 50 years". Tony Humphreys does not have the right to create a loads of "facts" that are harmful to so many people. Clearly despite the credentials the Irish Examiner is so in awe of, Humphreys is no expert on autism. In fact if that is the level of journalistic standards they adhere to, why don't they get me to write farming reports, or as my friend Lisa suggested, David Irving on foreign policy.

If it is just opinion, and the Examiner feels it is their democratic duty to publish any opinion no matter how factually incorrect, toxic, damaging and hurtful, can I expect to see a parade of bigots getting their chance to have their views aired in a major newspaper? Because after all, we have the right to disagree and criticise them for publishing.

This editorial has made a bad situation worse. This is not over.


Jean said...

Wonderful, wonderful writing. You articulate what I can't. XXX

adrienne Clarke said...

hi I just posted this on the Irish Autism facebook page:

Tony Humphreys teaches parent mentoring courses at UCC. This is a two year part time course, after which his students are free to go out and offer their services to vulnerable parents. here are the course details: http://www.ucc.ie/en/ace/Courses/MarksandStandards/Dip-Parent-MentoringMOD.pdf. The talk tonight is being hosted by a group whose sole qualifications are this diploma and a diploma in counselling. We really need to know what his doctorate is in. It worries me to think these people are around parents who may be in great stress and grief and trauma.

Sharon McDaid said...

Thanks Jean xx

Adrienne, this needs to be followed up on. I emailed UCC a few days back but have had no response.
I have the same concerns as you.

adrienne clarke said...

I emailed UCC on Monday and have had no response. The talk tonight is hosted by a group called United Parenting who seems to be one woman who was a former student of his, and she is charging 60 euro for people to come along and hear his talk.

Now this to me is dangerous and disengenuous. How can anyone be qualified to offer mentoring to parents after a two year part time course. Imagine if these people get gigs with the HSE and end up being the contact point for our parents. It sends chillls up my spine.

My son is 19 so I have an encylopedic knowledge of autism, and I would not presume to lecture parents with newly diagnosed children. It chills me to think these charlatans could be the first point of contact for parents with new diagnoses.

Anonymous said...

Tony Humphreys has built a small empire of self-help books and parent-mentoring courses (which themselves operate as a pyramid scheme, where his diploma is a requirement for other activities) - all on the back of calling himself a Doctor, a Consulting Clinical Psychologist, a University Course Director, etc. There is no legal protection on these titles, and anyone can use them.

It would be an amazing achievement to have the Examiner strip off the titles, with a full explanation of why they are being stripped. I for one fully believed that he was a Dr in a clinical practice and had experience of consulting on the diagnosis and treatment of children - that is what is implied by the use of the titles in the article.

Equally UCC should not permit misrepresentation of academic titles. Other people work hard to achieve them.

Sharon McDaid said...

@Adrienne that's a terrifying thought.

@anon thanks for giving further clarification. I had assumed he was a properly qualified and registered clinical psychologist with a PhD at least. I agree that these ought to be protected titles.