Firstly, it is important for people with autism to remember that not everything they read about autism is a fact. People will have opinions on autism, and on people who are autistic, but these opinions ultimately mean very little.
Even if it is a large newspaper, or somebody who is supposedly a professional who makes the comments. If the autistic person themselves knows them to be wrong then they do not need to begin doubting themselves, or the strength of their own opinions. For example, if somebody says that all autistic people are friendless and spend their time alone, a person with autism who does have friends does not need to take those comments to heart. They know that this is not true, and that they are right and the person speaking is wrong. However, not every autistic person or parent has a good knowledge of autism, especially if the diagnosis is recent. And negative coverage of autism can be detrimental to these individuals.
Unfortunately many people who voice their opinions about autism do so very strongly, and without stopping to think about how it will affect others. Sometimes they forget that autistic people are just like any other people, and there isn’t one single defining feature that applies to autistic individuals.
However, this kind of negative coverage is predominantly accidental; it is often well meaning autistic people, parents or professionals who probably started to write without thinking about the impact of their words. But there can obviously be much more aggressively negative coverage; television and radio personalities in America have been known to rant on about autism not being real, and autistic children simply being spoiled brats.
In the media words like `epidemic` and `disease` are used in a matter-of-fact way, despite the negative impact they have. It appears than whenever there is a school shooting, or something of this nature, the media always hints that because the perpetrator spent time alone, he must have been autistic. Coverage like this not only plays in to stereo-types of autism, or completely denies that autism exists, but it also comes close to a personal attack on individual autistic people. If somebody claims that autism doesn’t exist then they are fundamentally saying that autistic people are liars, and that they are spoiled and manipulative.
People will always be able to voice these claims due to freedom of speech. It would be silly to try to argue that people shouldn’t be able to put their opinions forward. But people with autism have to remember that just because somebody says something – in the media or otherwise – doesn’t mean it has any relevance, or truth. Every single group in society has those who dislike it, and wish it harm. There will never be an end to the supply of racist and homophobic people in the world, for example. In the same way as there will always be those who are prejudiced against autistic people. To a degree this has to be accepted. Spreading positive, or even neutral coverage about autism is important, but what is even more important is that autistic people don’t let themselves get down or stressed about sensationalist, and prejudiced news coverage.
Much of the time the people who voice these opinions don’t even believe them themselves; throughout the UK and US, and presumably the rest of the world, there is a culture of celebrities and television personality’s coming out with controversial statements simply to generate attention. There is no point arguing with people like this.
Changing opinion is important. But the reality is, if a person were to be offended, and upset by every example of the negative coverage of autism, they would find it very hard to get through their day to day life. It is not a case of the autism community not trying to fight, or counter this negative coverage, it is simply a case of them trying to put this in to a kind of perspective as they do so – bearing in mind what they know to be true, and not beginning to doubt themselves because of what others may say.