Finally! A News Story About an Autistic Person That Gets It Right
By Jenny Burke, March 1, 2020
A news story about an autistic person often seems to focus first and foremost on the struggles and difficulties that that person has, and secondly on their accomplishments. Occasionally, a media organization will get the happy news story about an autistic person right. Below, you will find a news story that in my opinion as an autism mom strikes the right balance when it comes to reporting on an individual with autism.
It’s about a 15-year-old who has mastered an extremely difficult skill through intense focus and hard work. He’s clearly a kind-hearted person. And, he has autism and does not communicate verbally.
But autism is really not the focus of this news story: the story rightfully emphasizes this teen’s amazing achievement.
He has completely mastered the art of baking, and is especially good at making cheesecake. Recently, he beat out area professional chefs in a competition!
WSB TV 2, Atlanta: This takes the cake: 15-year-old with autism wins 1st in county baking competition (READ HERE!)
Autism news stories should emphasize strengths over challenges!
While his accomplishment is truly special, I do not think this impressive young person is uncommon when it comes to people with autism. This is based on my experience over the years with individuals who happen to be on the spectrum:
- They have incredible focus, passion, depth of knowledge, and memory when it comes to interests.
- Many have unique and often amazing talents.
- I have yet to meet a person on the autism spectrum who is devious or unkind to others. (A person with autism might make an honest observation that hurts, but he or she did not intend harm.)
- They most definitely are not lazy couch potatoes, but are instead busy and industrious.
- Last, I love their sense of humor; it might be quirky, dry, hilarious, or completely unique, but is always delightful.
In other words, lots of strengths.
I am not being a Pollyanna here: I recognize the significant challenges that individuals with autism face. And living in a world where they are outnumbered by “neurotypicals,” who often lack understanding, can be very difficult. I also realize that sometimes the strengths I describe above can cause problems: my own son will forget to do all kinds of important things, such as brushing his teeth, when he is hyper-focused on an interest!
Individuals with autism and their families need support with the challenges. No doubt about that. (That’s part of why MooBoo exists!)
However, focus that is exclusively negative is just plain inaccurate and stigmatizing and extremely unhelpful. Society, including the media, needs to stop messaging that fails to accurately capture autism. Stigma is a serious and deeply troubling problem.
So let’s take a moment in a news story to celebrate a teenager — with talent and an incredible work ethic — who has mastered an amazing craft.
Oh, and yes, he has autism.
P.S. Congrats as well to his awesome family, too, including a grandma who taught him how to bake!
Here it is again, if you have not checked it out yet. Thank you WSB-TV 2 Atlanta for this excellent story!
I could not resist including this pic of my failed effort at baking from scratch — we needed a chainsaw to cut through this rock!
Have a story to share that focuses on the strengths of someone who has autism? We’d love to hear it! Share it in the comments.