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Jerry Webster


By April 1, 2010

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I'm a little bit behind, it seems, on the news magazines.  I read an excellent article in the March 8th (I told you I was behind!)  Time Magazine by Karl Taro Greenfeld on Jenny McCarthy, queen of parents of children with autism and enemy of inoculations.  Karl brings a certain authenticity:  as well as an excellent writer in his own right, he is the son of Josh Greenfeld, and brother to Noah, who was the subject of three books, beginning with  A Child Called Noah, which told the saga of the Greenfeld family's dealings with autism.

Jenny is quite certain that she has cured her child from autism and holds out the same hope to others.  Her credentials?  She is a mother.

Odd.  I work with children with autism, and in some cases it is clear that the mother is the problem.  The failure to say no, the failure to consistently apply consequences and overwhelming guilt that makes them pursue every cock-a-mamie scheme often creates monsters.  One of my students, on a home visit, locked himself in his mother's room, indulged his obsession with fecal smearing and spent the holiday watching television, eating from the trays his mother left outside the door.  We have never had those problems in school.

So, I cured him of that.  Last week I learned incidents of aggression in another student dropped by half in three months. I must have cured him of that.  I'm on quite a roll!  Oh, and none of my children with autism indulge in stereotypic behavior, which is common among children with autism.  I CURED THEM ALL!! And best of all, confidentiality prevents me from revealing their names.  Since we are a residential treatment facility, HIPAA further protects their privacy.  So, nyah, nyah, nyah, nyah NYAH!  You just have to take my word for it!!  I may not be a mother, but I have a Master of Education degree, so I must have CURED AUTISM..  Aren't you impressed?

Yes, I believe it is important to listen to parents.  Yes, I believe that we need to think outside the box and try a variety of therapies.  But I don't think we should disregard empirical scientific evidence, especially if it puts whole populations in danger of contracting measles, rubella, and other childhood diseases which have almost been eradicated because of inoculations.  If anecdotal information is enough to prove our point than take mine.  I HAVE CURED AUTISM.

So, Oprah, give me a call.  Where's my book contract?

Oh, and if you think I'm really serious, check the date!


April 2, 2010 at 3:46 am
(1) mom of three says:

I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I am always open to ideas that might be of help to my son. The lack of consequences and inability to say “NO” applies to all children, not just those with AUTISM. I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that it was his vaccinations, but do feel that there is perhaps something environmental causing the increase in incidences. April fools or not, I don’t think that you or anyone else has cured Autism. I haven’t read the article in Time, but also try not to knock others who are trying to help their children in any way that they can. Autism is a very sensitive subject for some families and many of us struggle far beyond the imaginations of those with “Masters Degrees” looking in. Maybe it’s just me or the mood that I am currently in, but Nyah, nyah not sooo funny, sorry.

April 3, 2010 at 1:03 am
(2) Rebekah F says:

I usually enjoy reading your articles and I’m kind of shocked at your attitude toward parents. I feel you were very rude to the mothers. I am also an educator with a MS in Education, who has worked with kids who have autism. Most parents do the best that they can with their children. They are not perfect and make some mistakes but so do all the other parents. You can’t judge all parents by just a few. I know some that try very hard and are wonderful parents!

April 4, 2010 at 9:48 pm
(3) specialed says:

Rebekah–you are either very lucky or very young to have only ever met parents of children with autism who are stable, sensible and cooperative. The children I work with are either wards of the state or so difficult that their local school districts or parents cannot handle them. Some of my parents are well meaning, articulate and collaborate in their childrens’ programs. Others are difficult, delusional, self absorbed and in at least one case, court ordered not to come on the property.

April 5, 2010 at 3:27 pm
(4) Teri says:

I have to say, that I am behind you! As a parent of a child on the spectrum, first of all I will say that he has told me in no uncertain terms that he does not need to be cured! I too agree that it isn’t something that can or needs to be cured. Believe me, I have struggled and wished every day that my son was different. But, when he explains to me how he is the next rung in evolution, who am I to say he isn’t. I know, Asperger’s and Autism are different, but just because they aren’t saying words that you understand doesn’t mean that they aren’t happy with themselves. I wish everyone could just work together to make people more aware of the gifts of Autism and not just the negatives. :)

April 6, 2010 at 6:36 am
(5) Helen Gettys Michie, Med says:

I am a mother of a 18 year old son who has received special education services for many years because a teacher in first grade said that he exhibited behavior characteristics that put him on the Autism spectrum. He is now a responsible hard working student who has friends both male and female, and has been accepted to college. He will be graduating from a public high school in two months. My daughter now 25 received special education services because of a hearing loss.
Needless to say, your article pushed some hot buttons for me both as a parent and as a teacher. I strongly agree with your point that students need to be vaccinated. There is now a lot of scientific evidence that autism and vaccinations are not linked, and students need to receive shots which will prevent disease.

Parents of special needs students need to be trained to help their child learn. I was one of the lucky ones. My county’s childhood early intervention programs taught me a lot. In addition, I have been taking courses towards this master’s degree in education for many years. Behavior management is one of the many issues that parents and teachers must figure out ways to work together to help students learn.

April 11, 2010 at 1:31 am
(6) Toni says:

I would like to say that I was shocked by your criticism of mothers who have autistic children, but I have been dealing with know-it-all professionals like you since my child was wrongly diagnosed the 1st time. It was only when I finally found a professional that valued my input and opinions, that my child was able to be properly diagnosed. She was misdiagnosed by 3 so-called professionals, who thought they knew more than me. The people who are actually able to help families dealing with autism are the ones that are able to interact with the parents on a respectful level and develop a trusting relationship with both the child and the parents. From your comments and your attitude, I can see why you may have such a hard time with developing trusting relationships with the parents of the children you claim you want to help.

April 11, 2010 at 5:53 pm
(7) specialed says:

Please see my blog Parent Trap. One of the things that is clear from this letter is that parents like Toni are so reactive that she has difficulty reading objectively. I don’t lump all parents of children with autism into a single group. I don’t remember ever saying I had difficulty with parents. When I worked in inner city schools I had very positive relationships with parents, and I have never not had an IEP signed. I have a couple of parents who are email buddies from about.com. I think they know I don’t pussyfoot around or do a lot of hand holding.
If Jenny McCarthy is right, all Toni would have needed to do is look in her daughter’s eyes and she would have known it was not autism.
I do not diagnose children. That requires a specialist. If Toni’s daughter was my student, I would have insisted that her mother have her evaluated at a hospital by both a neurologist and a child psychiatrist specializing in autism. That she was misdiagnosed three times makes me wonder who was doing the diagnosing–the special ed director? The kindergarten teacher?.

April 12, 2010 at 2:12 pm
(8) krista boston says:

Just curious why you keep focusing on the mother. I use a democratic parenting style with clear choices and boundaries. My husband just hasnt figured it out. You know men don’t do subtle….

April 12, 2010 at 3:35 pm
(9) specialed says:

Krista–I may have given you the impression I was writing only about mothers, but I was actually writing about Jenny McCarthy. She’s the one who does all the “Warrior Mother” stuff. Personally, I believe one of the big problems we have is that not enough fathers are fully engaged in parenting. Dads encourage independence, risk taking and launch kids into the larger world, whereas mothers more often see their role as protecting and nurturing. You wrote “I use a democratic parenting style.” I’m curious. When I talk about what I did as a parent I usually say “We always . . .” since my wife and I did a lot of talking before kids and continue to do a lot of talking after kids. My oldest is having a little trouble figuring out his way, but my youngest, at 18, is the youngest person to manage a congressional district in the history of the Democratic party, at least as recorded (Virginia’s 4th congressional district for candidate Dr. Wynne LeGrow.)

April 21, 2010 at 10:13 am
(10) rebecca says:

Sorry that I am just now reading this post of yours. I guess I am so busy dealing with students as well to have the time to read it all. I take your opinion of”curing” autsim for what it was hopefully meant. I am a Transition to work teacher for students with disabilities. Some have Autism “label” and others do not. It comes down to the “real deal”. How do we help your child be as successful as possible. Understand where the child is at, know where the team wants them to go for the future, then how do we get the child there? If I have to tell a parent they are promoting a negative behavior, I tell them. It is my job to educate, sometimes it is the parents as well. The biggest factor I have found is not the child’s disability, but accepting there child and helping the child move forward. I often have to tell parents the cold hard truth. Sometimes it is ” your child does not have any friends because… Your child is not employable because…, etc. Then I say we need to help your child get past this. Yes, I may be idealistic but it works for me for the past 16 years. Keep it simple.
Thanks for your article.

April 22, 2010 at 7:09 pm
(11) Amber says:

I have to say that I can understand where specialed is coming from. I am a Severe Needs special education teacher, and I have been very concerned with Jenny’s claims that her son is cured from Autim. There is not a cure for Autism. You may be able to teach your child to cope with autism and function at a very high level, but they will always be Autistic. I think this statement gives false hope to parents. I get very frustrated with parents who are not able to accept the fact that their kids are disabled and will always be disabled. There is no disability that can be cured that I know of. I understand that parents want their children to be as successful as they possibly can, but they need to be realistic. If your kid has Down Syndrome, he will always have Down Syndrome. If he has Autism, he will always be Autistic. Our jobs as teachers and parent are to give the children the tools they need to work with their disability in order to be as successful as possible.

April 23, 2010 at 11:58 am
(12) Ni says:

Hey Jerry,

Ha ha, Jerry! A happy (if belated) April Fool’s to you too, but must you have chosen such a controversial topic to be ‘funny’ about?

April 24, 2010 at 3:02 pm
(13) Tanya says:

I am a special education teacher and I agree with your premise on Autism not being cured. I understand where you are going with pointing out moms not always seeing the whole picture. I think that can go both ways. Not all special education teachers are created equal nor are parents of special needs children. I have a parent who thinks when I point out the things that are going on with her child at school will return a message that it is part of his problem like we had no clue. I try to create a working dialogue with all my parents. When they refuse to see at least a portion of what we are seeing, then we are at an impasse and are forced to do as much as we can do without a cooperative effort between school and parent. Unfortunately that does not help the student. Both sides, school and home, have to be open to suggestions that is in the best interest of the student.

May 21, 2010 at 9:39 am
(14) mother of an autistic son says:

thats your opinion I guess, the old saying goes opinions are like a**holes everyone has one.

May 23, 2010 at 12:23 pm
(15) specialed says:

It’s an opinion I share with a lot of people, both parents and professionals. This column has gotten me more positive responses than any other. Since your only identity seems to be “mother of an autistic son” I imagine you have lost perspective, like many have. As a teacher of autistic children, I feel for you. But you need to read my blog “Parent Trap.”

January 2, 2011 at 2:21 pm
(16) Megan H. says:

NO! Autism cannot be cured. The child was TRAINED, not CURED. There’s a difference! I should know. I’m autistic! Are you?!
Didn’t think so!
So don’t go bragging about your IQ or whatever ur doing ’cause U don’t know how it feels!
I am ‘training’ as well. I still have a long way to go, but I will NEVER be cured from it, and once I fully learn how to cope with the rest of the world, I hope it NEVER goes away.
Autism is NOT a disease! It only sets people apart from one another. Different, not LESS!

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