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Parents of "autism brats" fight back

July 21, 2008 |  6:07 pm

When Michael Savage, radio talk show host, said July 16 that 99% of children with autism were "brats" who should be told to "cut the act out," one could only wonder if he somehow got his childhood "A" disease diagnoses mixed up. Maybe he was thinking of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, a condition characterized by inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity. ADHD affects 2 million children and can be treated with behavior modification or drugs, but for many decades, children with the disorder were considered to be just bad kids who misbehaved, and poor parenting was pointed to as the cause.

But autism? Does anyone doubt that it's a significant developmental disorder? It's characterized by poor social interaction, problems with communication -- both verbal and nonverbal -- repetitive activities and hand flapping. Those are problems a 2- or 3-year-old, the age at which the disorder is often diagnosed, would have trouble thinking up.

But when the New York Times gave Savage a chance to explain himself, he said that while his estimate that nine out of 10 kids are faking it might have been a little high, he said he was proud to have prodded a discussion. He stuck by his comments.

Meanwhile, as protesters from Autism United, a coalition of advocacy organizations, gathered today outside the New York City WOR radio studio, which employs Savage, parents such as Martin Schwartzman, whose 15-year-old son Robbie has autism, are up in arms. "I couldn't understand why someone could be so heartless and so insensitive, and also so ignorant for a national talk show host," Schwartzman said on WCBS-TV.

Savage says he's giving over his three-hour broadcast on Monday to a discussion of autism. Meanwhile, Aflac, the insurance company, has withdrawn advertising from the show.

Areva Martin, Los Angeles autism activist and co-founder with Donna Ross-Jones of Special Needs Network, a group whose mission is to educate parents of the rights their children have to an appropriate education, has a lot to say about Savage's comments:

"It would be easy to dismiss Mr. Savage's statements as the antics of a radical, ratings-seeking talk show host. However, Mr. Savage has over 8 million listeners, many of whom rely on his show for reliable information. His insidious and baseless statements give credence to the type of pervasive ignorance that families face on a daily basis. Such statements foster discrimination against not only the disabled, but also against people of color. To suggest that minority families feign a diagnosis of autism to receive welfare benefits is absurd and reflective of the entrenched racism that continues to rear its ugly head.

"If good old-fashioned discipline was a cure for autism, families across this nation would pull out their switches and get to work. Unfortunately, autism is real and there is no cure -- yelling, screaming, hitting and even the most archaic forms of discipline cannot cure what renowned scientists from around the world recognize as a complex disorder that now impacts one in every 150 children, that lasts a lifetime and impacts every aspect of an individual's development. As a parent of a child with autism, a children's rights activist and attorney, I know both personally and professionally that no one would feign autism for the sake of collecting some amorphous government benefit -- it simply isn't worth it. Thousands of hours of therapy, lifelong care, isolation, grief and isolation are too high a price to pay.

"The rapid response of the autism community hopefully will send a loud and clear message that issues of autism impact people of all socioeconomic groups and that issues involving the disabled are matters of human rights."

-- Susan Brink

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Comments (78)

I'm glad he said it, because now he's pushed too far. He's discredited himself politically and laid bare the hatefulness that lies at the core of all his views on everything.

I suggest that some of these parents, without getting angry, simply organize a breakfast meeting: Mr Savage, plus parents, each one accompanied by his or her autistic child (Mr Savage between two of the children).

This has proven very effective in the past.

unbelievable... is there no end to Savage's inane commentary?

It is the very nature of conservative talk show hosts to speak out of flaming ignorance just to get ratings and promote their own agenda. It is time they be brought to task for spreading false information.

It seems the article may be right. He must be thinking about ADHD. How on earth could he mean autism? This all may highlight a core problem which is our reliance on journalists and commentators to give us reality. Everything is filtered through anchormen without extensive and intensive knowledge. has a good page under the query autism. Michael should read it.

This Savage is an ignorant knucklehead for saying what he did. As Ms. Brink pointed out, he's got the wrong affliction - he's likely referring to ADHD or ADD - and even then he's making a statement that flies in the face of considerable research and efforts to treat the illnesses.

Too bad he reaches so many people with his ignorance. Perhaps he could atone by doing a little research about autism and sharing the facts with his audience.

Is the concept of "freedom of speech" completely unknown?

Does that freedom no longer apply to those we don't agree with?

What? Someone was offended or disagreed with something the good Dr. said? Well then, let's fire him immediately. We can't have differing opinion in the media now can we?

"I couldn't understand why someone could be so heartless and so insensitive, and also so ignorant for a national talk show host,"

You've never heard of Savage Wiener? You have GOT to be kidding me. The man is a cancer on humanity.

That is outrageous! I have a 12yr old step daughter with PDD NOS, her symptoms span many disorders; OCD, ADHD, inability to form or maintain relationships, destructive behaviour, loss of touch with reality, auspergers and autisms symptoms. It takes constant discipline, psychiatrists, and a neurologist to keep her from winding up in an institution, her maturity level is that of a 6 yr old. I seriously hope the talk show host did not actually mean what he said, my step daughter will probably live with my wife and I for the rest of her life, unless some unusuall medical breakthrough is made eventually.

I have taught children with autism for many years - thus far I have not found ANY brats... 'just' kids with ready smiles, inquisitive eyes, love of strawberries, great rhythm ... "Just because" a child with autism may look 'normal' does not mean s/he is not coping with a potentially devastating disability. My students face many challenges - one of the worst is the isolation they face, both via having autism and being seen as 'different'. For anyone - ANYONE - to add to this challenge via such repreehensible words is absolutely unthinkable.

One would hope that people who are paid to speak on the air, on TV or via print journalism have some recognizeable and appreciable skills that helped propel them on their way to recognition. People whose profession brought them recognition from afar ... and much deserved respect. We just lost one of these stars a few weeks ago.

The ONLY thing that this particular radio "talk show host" accomplished was a verbal fart demonstration. His words absolutely lack any (ANY) degree of insight re: autism or, more broadly, how to recognize ANYONE with a disability. Now that he's done with his fetid, foul, malodorous, mephitic, noisome, reeky, stinking, f#rt, we can walk away while holding our breath ... and then find someone else to listen to.

The amazing thing isn't that Michael Savage said something incredibly stupid. The really amazing thing is that this guy has 8 million listeners.

It is very discouraging to a lot of good people when a radio commentator in search of better ratings and publicity does what Michael Savage did. He certainly got his publicity but at what a horrific cost to those parents of Autistic children. There is really no corollary between misdiagnoses and real problems. To say that 99% of kids have been diagnosed inaccurately cannot obviously be correct so the statement can only badly hurt parents that are experiencing the problem. Are there wrong diagnoses? Of course. Does that mean that it is permissible to trash the 60-70% (or whatever) correct diagnoses and utterly destroy those parents that are living with the problem? I don't think so. I believe that it would be just as accurate (or even more so) to say that 99% of those that heard his broadcast were disgusted with Michael Savage. I understand that one large insurance company canceled their advertising on his program. Fantastic. Get him off the airwaves.

He said 99% of the children who were misdiagnosed with autism were just misbehaving. If he did say what this article alleges, why not quote him? He's not quoted because his words were taken out of context to mean something completely different than he said

What sort of commentary do you expect from any of the cretins foaming at the mouth on AM Right Wing Talk Radio.

I haven't listened to over-the-air radio since streaming audio was introducted on the internet.

wow another uneducated, idiotic comment from a neo-con radio talk show host, go figure. i swear these people would have gotten along great with Hitler.

I think he did get his "A" childhood diseases mixed up. I might agree, in part, to ADHD, but not to Autism, which is very sad.

I expect he will eventually apologize because he is not correct about Autism.

Can you imagine what other "opinions" from the press are "off" enough to do damage? What happened to just plain journalism, reporting news? Everybody has to have an opinion, sometimes not even an informed opinion, and scream it at us on radio and cable TV. I am sick of them.

I have taught autistic children, and I can tell you, they are not brats. This is a real and very complicated disorder ranging from near normal behavior to anti-social behavior with many other serious deviant behaviors. Where and how did this man ever get information? He is so off-base. I have seen the struggles of the children and the hopeless heartbreak of the parents. Each have been robbed of what normalcy of the family structure should be. The autistic child most often doesn't know what "normal" is within our society.
Go spend a weeks at a school with an autistic child, then find the family and ask if you can follow their daily and nighttime routines with their autistic child. Then you give it a try. Let us know, then, if they are brats or disordered children.
Mr. Savage's statement reflect his name. They ARE Savage!!! Shameful! Get educated about a subject before you speak your rude and damaging remarks. You are sadly mistaken on this one, buddy!

Mr. Savage represents the class of individual who neither knows what he is talking about, nor does he understand what the diagnosis of Autism does to the individual and their families.

It is truly sad that these kind of radio personalities exist.

Susan, maybe you should read the transcript from his show that day, and just perhaps you might find yourself practicing journalism for a change. instead of writing about your own personal brand of thinking. Try and save the gossip for recitative's and neighbors. Savage's own brother was AUTISTIC, not to mention his comments were directed at the medical and pharmaceutical folks for miss diagnosing these kids just to sell more drugs to them for life. Maybe a little research on the story you are writing? Who knows, real journalism may pop out now and then! PS - your employer (LA Times) has no credibility left because of all the false or you might even say lies they put in print like your miss-guided story. (stop reading all the left blogger's to get your stories.) Mike

Thanks for this well written article. I wish I'd heard the original show andf I will now make a point of visiting his website Savage Nation to listen to both.

I suggest someone have Mr Savage spend a weekend with one or two of the many autistic children relegated to the arms of foster care and orphanages because their parents were unable to provide the resources needed to care for them and their special needs. There's nothing like real experience to see how little we know.

As a mildly autistic adult I am way past offended by this. Aflac has withdrawn advertising and we're going to see how many other advertisers we can influence. I suffer discrimination all the time because I'm just a bit different than most ... I'm looking forward to helping to teach a lesson here.

I am not surprised by Mr. Savage's remarks. He is constantly in search of someone or some group to insult on his program. If he is half right I would accuse him of simply being insensitive. But his idiotic views about a lot of topics speak volumes of his rooted bigotry and racism. A case in point: before this episode, he made numerous offensive and often racist statements against Arabs and Muslims. To me his talk show is nothing more than "noise pollution" but I feel sorry for the 8 million people who waste their time listening to this rubbish.

It was mentioned that American Parents would simply pull out their switches and get to work if discipline were the cure for autism...

While I think its a bold misapplication, I also think its a HUGE overestimation of American Parents. Discipline went out sometime after 1970. Just like some kind of fashion that never came back in style (but was sorely needed) discipline faded from the scene. Parents who resorted to it were called barbaric if they were confronted at all. Many simply called the authorities. Recent generations are poorly behaved and everyone wonders why.

Children bring guns to school not to show off, but for the purpose of murdering scores of others and people wonder why.

Religion has nothing to do with it, Autism has nothing to do with it, its simply poor parenting, coupled with the "Its not MY fault" syndrome wherein parents blame teachers, schools, police, then ultimately (before the death sentence is pronounced) society.

This radio show host is just grabbing headlines.
But he IS correct that todays parents need to be more hands on (full pun intended).

I am the parent of a child with autism. He is 8 years old. Thankfully, he was diagnosed before he was 2 and got the help he needed. He is now in second grade and functions in a normal classroom with an aide and does fairly well, but this child does not talk as a normal person would. He echoes what he hears. He can't get his pronouns correct. He can't distinguish between "you" and "me". At first we thought he was deaf because he didn't respond to stimuli as a neuro-typical child would. He is fairly well behaved and we can trust him to do some things on his own because he is fairly high functioning. But, it would only take Mr. Savage a short while of living with this boy to understand that this is a brain disorder. I challenge Mr. Savage to come to my house and work with my son for a month and then see what he says.

the guy is a moron. why give him any attention at all... let him hang himself with his own ignorance.... we oughttta pray for him because clearly his own head issues are far more destructive than autism...



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