Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Celebrities and autism

If you have been reading this blog for a while you may have realised that I am not too impressed with the current celebrity culture. There are just far too many magazines and TV programmes focussed on how celebrities live and how they look. It is all so shallow and really does not provide proper role models.

But there are some areas in which celebrities can perhaps make a diffference. They can use their high public profile to raise awareness of a cause or charity. For obvious reasons I am always interested when a celebrity 'comes out' as having a child with a disability or serious illness, because I think this can actually help public awareness of these conditions.

In the last week alone I have read of Colin Farrell's son having Angelman Syndrome and Emma Noble's son (the grandchild of former British Prime Minister Sir John Major), having autism. On the other side of the Atlantic singer Toni Braxton and model/actress Jenny McCarthy have gone public about their children with ASD.

Having a child with a disability is never easy, whoever you are. Far too many families are in denial or try to hide their problems and meeting other families in the same situation can be a turning point. Perhaps if they also see celebrities having to cope with the same issues, it will make them feel better.

But, and this is a big but, there can also be dangers in celebrity publicity. Jenny McCarthy has written a book about how she has helped 'heal' her son using dietary and alternative approaches. Now I personally know some children with autism for whom this sort of approach has helped, but I know even more for whom it has made no difference. I haven't read the book ( and don't intend to), so I can't comment on how McCarthy has approached the subject, however I do think that a celebrity endorsing any specific approach is fraught with potential danger, especially when wide publicity is also obtained for the book by appearing on Oprah.

The bottom line is, autism can't be 'cured'. I just hope that parents reading this book won't feel they have failed if the methods used by a celebrity don't work for their children. After all, many celebrities have far greater resources available in terms of time and money than the average family.

Three notable things:

1. Fancy an alternative to NaNoWriMo? Why not try this project from the writer Sarah Salway and her collaborator Lynne Rees. I would be seriously tempted if I had more time.

2. I have been stocking up on stationery for my writing and studying. I think I must be getting a bit OCD because everything to do with my novel...file, notebook etc...all has to be purple and is to be stored in my purple bag (Kipling of course...)!

3. So J. K. Rowling has outed Dumbledore as being gay. Doesn't she realise that 'gay' is currently one of the most widely used playground insults? I wonder how this news will sit with her young audience.


Marla said...

I am convinced that in time even some of the celebrities that claim healing will come to the see that the child was probably not "healed". I went through times when I thought our daughter was "healed". No such luck. Now if people of such high status will admit to being wrong on certain treatments, some working and others not or(our child is on meds.)discuss using medication for their children...well I just don't see that happening but I wish it did. I also see the danger in these highly public "healings" or far out ideas. I wish there was a more honest communication about how much we don't know instead of people thinking one cure or one treatment is the end all be all. We tried diets and vitamins and the list goes on. Nothing worked. We got more answers from genetic testing than we thought possible. I wish more money would go to chromosome studies.

Casdok said...

I totally agree with you, in all that you say.
There has been much debate about Jenny and Opera on many american blogs. It is good that it has made autism high profile, pity about the message.

Jenny Beattie said...

I was delighted to hear that Rowling had outed Dumbledore as gay - it only occurred to me in the final book that it may be so. I thought it was good specifically because children use the word as a playground insult. Maybe a positive and loved role model will encourage them to think differently.

Cathy said...

Marla and Casdok, I'm so glad you agree with me. I think we are probably all vulnerable to thinking about 'cures' in the early days after diagnosis, but really everyone should be being taught how to accept their child as they are. The genetic causes are also of great interest to me...I have heard some snippets of info which sound interesting, but I just wish I understood it all more!

Cathy said...

JJ, whenever I hear my son using the 'gay' insult, I turn it round on him by saying something like 'so what?' He isn't really homophobic, it is just a figure of speech, but not a nice one. I do wonder how certain parts of the USA market will react to the JKR revelations though!


Anonymous said...

Cathy, I've just oommented but I don't think it took. I was trying to say how much I find celebrity promoting of disability such a bore. Great, they want to help. Then they should plough some of their millions into a fund and help everyone.

Crystal xx

Jan said...

It's a general thing really, isn't it....folk are afraid to say" I dont understand" or " I have to admit I really dont know"...and yet often, once ignorance is admitted, then help ( of sorts) sometimes appears and then possibly an understanding ( of sorts)develops...