Autistic Adult Community Condemns PBS NewsHour for Ignorant Remarks

Autistic adult community condemns PBS NewsHour’s “Autism Now” program
Robert MacNeil claims needs and perspectives of Autistic adults not an “urgent issue”

WASHINGTON, DC (April 27th, 2011) – An outpouring of widespread anger emerged from the Autistic adult community last night as journalist Robert MacNeil of PBS NewsHour claimed that issues facing Autistic adults were not “an urgent issue” and not important enough to merit coverage. Asked why his “Autism Now” series failed to include autistic adults amongst those invited to participate, MacNeil stated, “We tried to concentrate on what we thought were urgent issues, urgent problems. And a lot of adults with autism, particularly those who describe themselves as a kind of neurodiversity community, are high-functioning people with autism, who have busy and productive lives in the world, who serve a wonderful purpose of helping the community at large to understand and witness autism and be tolerant of it. But they speak for themselves. And we didn’t see them as an urgent issue, as urgent as the impending arrival into adulthood of hundreds of thousands of teenagers with autism.”

“Robert MacNeil’s comments last night displayed a level of ignorance that is shocking to hear for a professional journalist,” stated Ari Ne’eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN), “To ignore the widespread discrimination, lack of services, un- and under-employment, stigma and countless other issues facing hundreds of thousands of Autistic adults today is unconscionable. Furthermore, to pretend that any comprehensive account of autism is meaningful without substantively engaging with Autistic people ourselves is disgraceful and offensive.”

The series had already attracted significant criticism from self-advocates and other community members, who were disappointed in comments MacNeil had made in promotional interviews claiming that Autistic adults were disproportionately violent and lacked empathy, popular and inaccurate stereotypes about adults on the autism spectrum. Numerous e-mails, blog posts, phone calls and other communications from self-advocates on the autism spectrum had expressed that inappropriateness of those remarks as well as failing to interview or involve Autistic people themselves in what was billed by PBS as “the comprehensive look at the disorder and its impact that’s aired on American television in at least five years.”

“I am an Autistic person who does struggle with daily living needs. I am really bothered by Robert MacNeil saying that people like me don’t have ‘urgent’ challenges,” said Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone, an Autistic woman and neurodiversity advocate in Utica, Pennsylvania. “By not talking to Autistic adults in his series, Mr. MacNeil is ignoring the unemployment, risk of homelessness and many other problems that people like me face.”

The Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) is the nation’s leading advocacy organization run entirely by and for Autistic adults and youth. ASAN’s supporters include Autistic adults and youth, cross-disability advocates, family members, professionals, educators and friends. ASAN was created to provide support and services to individuals on the autism spectrum while working to change public perception and combat misinformation by educating communities about persons on the autism spectrum. The organization’s activities include public policy advocacy, community engagement to encourage inclusion and respect for neurodiversity, quality of life oriented research and the development of Autistic cultural activities and other opportunities for Autistic people to engage with others on the spectrum.