Tuesday, September 9, 2008

A "Touching Story" about an autistic boy ...?

Being as intimately involved with autism as I am, I follow most of the news. In the stories that have to do with life (as opposed to scientific or often pseudo-scientific studies), the main thing that draws me is how they portray the lives of those with autism and their families - to see how they match what we have experienced, either first or second hand.

This brings me to the story that made headlines in TV and newspapers a few days ago. You can find it here. Basically, a father and son are swept out to sea after going for a swim at the beach. The father tried to stay with the boy, but after many hours they got separated. A lucky find by some fishermen and the dad was rescued. A few hours later the boy was picked up in the area by the coastguard. It's a story of good fortune and two people's determination to survive.

What gets me is the gratuitous nature of the emphasis the press has put on the boy's autism. That's always in the headline. But, I've yet to see any way that has been tied to the story, in a positive or negative way. Was the boy a better swimmer because his autism let him focus on swimming for 15 hours? No. Was the dad unable to stay with his son because his autism kept him from allowing him to make contact? No. Had the rescuers said it would have been easier to locate him if he had been more verbal? No. There was nothing in the story that made his autism even remotely relevant.

Let's try replacing autism with national origin. An Italian-American father and son were swimming at the beach... how absurd. Look, I'm all in favor of autism awareness, but I'm not sure that just saying a kid is autistic really raises awareness in any meaningful way. Meaningful awareness requires understanding of ways that we are the same or ways that we are different. This story was all about touching your heart. Is it more or less touching because the boy had autism?

1 comment:

  1. It's neither more nor less touching, for my money. However, the autism is relevant to the story in a way that this particular article didn't reveal.

    If you read this version of the story, it's clear that the boy's expressive language skills are relatively weak, and the father made use of Disney-based catchphrases to keep track of him as long as he could.

    Of course, this version of the story has the waters "infested" with sharks and jellyfish, just to ratchet up the tension.


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