July 23, 2008

On Michael Savage and Other Monsters

Before I begin, let's look at what exactly was said last week by Michael Savage, talk radio host and celebrated caveman:

SAVAGE: Now, you want me to tell you my opinion on autism, since I'm not talking about autism? A fraud, a racket. For a long while, we were hearing that every minority child had asthma. Why did they sudden -- why was there an asthma epidemic amongst minority children? Because I'll tell you why: The children got extra welfare if they were disabled, and they got extra help in school. It was a money racket. Everyone went in and was told [fake cough], "When the nurse looks at you, you go [fake cough], 'I don't know, the dust got me.' " See, everyone had asthma from the minority community. That was number one.

Now, the illness du jour is autism. You know what autism is? I'll tell you what autism is. In 99 percent of the cases, it's a brat who hasn't been told to cut the act out. That's what autism is.

What do you mean they scream and they're silent? They don't have a father around to tell them, "Don't act like a moron. You'll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don't sit there crying and screaming, idiot."

Autism -- everybody has an illness. If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, "Don't behave like a fool." The worst thing he said -- "Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry." That's what I was raised with. That's what you should raise your children with. Stop with the sensitivity training. You're turning your son into a girl, and you're turning your nation into a nation of losers and beaten men. That's why we have the politicians we have.

I had no intention of addressing the whole Michael Savage issue here or anywhere else, mostly because what he said was pretty clearly stupid, but also for the simple reason that autism isn't my issue. I occasionally have disagreements with parents of autistic children, and in most cases it boils down to the fact that Schuyler is not autistic. Her condition does not in any way manifest itself like autism, not even her lack of speech, and my beliefs in how she should be cared for, how I refer to her condition and my expectations for her future are completely different from theirs. I have the utmost respect for these parents, and I like to think that the fight I bring on Schuyler's behalf will benefit them just as much. But still. Not my fight, not directly, anyway.

But then I followed a link that was showing up in my stats, and I found a discussion of Savage's remarks on a parenting forum. I found the link back to my blog, and to my irritation, it was in a post by someone who, while disdaining the manner in which Savage expressed his opinion, nevertheless defended his point about how kids are supposedly being over-diagnosed with autism by pointing out that Schuyler was originally misdiagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. You may be reading this blog for the first time right now, as a result of following that link.

So let me say a few things briefly and clearly. First of all, yes, it is true that Schuyler was misdiagnosed, by the Child Study Center at the Yale Medical School, with Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS, or as I liked to call it, for its vague and unhelpful description, "PDD-WTF"), an autism spectrum disorder.

But I also think it's important to note that Schuyler's actual condition, Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria, is extremely rare, with perhaps as few as a thousand identified cases worldwide, and without the MRI that Schuyler eventually received, there was no way to identify what her monster really was. It was unlikely, even at Yale, that anyone was going to immediately get it right, particularly without a brain scan. Furthermore, we pushed for more tests when that diagnosis felt unsatisfactory, and those tests were granted without any resistance because her doctors agreed with us. Her misdiagnosis only stood for a few months, and was suspect from the beginning.

In other words, I don't think Schuyler's misdiagnosis is very helpful anecdotally. Are children being diagnosed prematurely with autism spectrum conditions? I have no idea; my kid isn't autistic, and even when she received that diagnosis, I don't think anyone ever seriously thought she was. I can't speak to how autism is being identified by doctors.

I do think, however, that it is important to realize that yes, autism is a serious, legitimate medical condition and one that affects thousands of families in ways that I can't even begin to fathom. Furthermore, I can't imagine there are really non-deranged people out there who believe otherwise. If there are people out there ready to put forth an intelligent argument in defense of that position, Michael Savage is not one of them. He's a buffoon, and I'm pretty sure he knows it.

Having said that, I don't believe he should be silenced for expressing his opinion. Typically, free speech only truly requires our democracy's defense when it is denied to the assmonkeys of the world; logical or popular positions (and why are they so rarely one and the same?) can usually take care of themselves.

Still, it's nice to know that sometimes the marketplace responds appropriately.


Anonymous said...

Obviously Mr Savage is not following his father's advice. It terrifies me that there's actually an audience for this kind of nonsensical, reactionary crap. He really is taking evolution one step backwards, isn't he?

Anonymous said...

"If I behaved like a fool, my father called me a fool. And he said to me, "Don't behave like a fool." The worst thing he said -- "Don't behave like a fool. Don't be anybody's dummy. Don't sound like an idiot. Don't act like a girl. Don't cry." That's what I was raised with."

It seems Karma gave him the swift kick in the butt he should have gotten from his father. Freedom of speech and voicing opinions is a wonderful thing indeed; however, it would be wise not to offend the very people responsible for signing the paycheck.

I can't help but wonder if Michael Savage is crying like a girl..LOL

Spamboy said...

Misdiagnoses happen quite often, and sometimes a diagnosis is an aggregate of several doctor's opinions -- both in your case, and in my wife's. They took several months, several MRIs, and a brain surgery to determine their original diagnosis of cancer was actually MS.

It's amazing how much autism has been diagnosed today compared to years past -- but then again, we might not have known what to look for back then (lack of precise tools, medical knowledge, etc.).

So I can understand why Michael Savage said what he did. And perhaps he'll learn "the way" thanks to the "advertiser" backlash. I don't expect the "public" backlash to have much of an effect on him, tho.

Anonymous said...

I did have a father around growing up, and he treated me exactly as Savage suggests. I was told to straighten up, talk right, walk right, be right, and I was punished when I wasn't. 20-odd years of this later, guess what? I'm still on the spectrum. I *wish* that I could be fixed as easily as Savage seems to think I should be, but I've spent a lifetime trying, and I just can't.

Anonymous said...

I'm inclined to agree with your thinking that Savage is entitled to his opinion -- after all, opinions are like assholes, everyone has one! That being said, his remarks speak of ignorance and insensitivity and he deserves whatever backlash of criticism he receives . . .

(By the way, not my issue, either -- although it effects several of my son's peers and is a frightening and frustrating diagnosis.)

Anonymous said...

I get the most frustrated when people think that "free speech" means "free from consequences" and that people ought to be able to say whatever hateful, mean thing they want without any kind of consequences, like being fired or losing advertisers, or whatever.

Wouldn't the point on that forum have been, you know, worth something if Schuyler had continued to be treated for autism? That is, if she hadn't been diagnosed correctly.

PDD-WTF made me laugh.

Michelle said...

Like some of the other comments, I find it amusing that he is so quick to state that his father told him not to act like a fool or sound like an idiot...and in this one outburst, he did both. Wow.

Anonymous said...

Michael Savage is an entertainer/radio host. He is getting just what he wanted with his outbursts, ridiculous as they may be -- publicity and free at that! I bet many people have tuned into his show just to hear more inane comments. Unfortunately, it's the society we live in.

Keep up the good fight. You are fighting the real Monsters!


Christina said...

I obviously find pretty much every word in his rant, other than (perhaps) "the" or "and," to be stupid beyond belief.

Even aside from his comments on special needs issues (see above, re: stupid beyond belief), I find myself a bit offended by his offhand sexism. Apparently, "dummy" = "idiot" = "girl." Niiice.

Also offended on behalf of my asthmatic daughter, who I apparently never realized was just faking it for special attention. Those crafty 7-month olds.

Anonymous said...

I find the misdiagnosis problem comes from the fact that in order to get any special help, from therapists or ANYONE usually, you need to have a diagnosis. Insurance companies need specific codes for what they are paying out all those payments for (after the co pay and the deductible has been met, but not counting what they discounted as allowable, and any maintenance on equipment, being subtracted froma lifetime payout).

Autism was never our fight either, but we had generic terms like static encephalopathy and developmental delays, before we actually got the DX of cerebral palsy a couple of years later. But it is very hard to get any services, when Doctors say, "I don't know what is wrong with them, let's wait and see."

And with a diagnosis, usually comes added expenses. I can look in a special needs catolog, find a pair of adapted self opening scissors for $18. I can got to the Dollar Tree down the road, and pay $1 for a pair that has the little clip that opens the scissors. Therapists make a whole lot less than the $50-100 an hour the centers charge for therapy.

I consider people like Mr. Savage to be ignorant. I consider it my secondary mission in life (after getting the school system to get what my daughter needs) to fight ignorance, and to replace it with knowledge. Some day, he will get whats coming to him.

Anonymous said...

"Typically, free speech only truly requires our democracy's defense when it is denied to the assmonkeys of the world; logical or popular positions (and why are they so rarely one and the same?) can usually take care of themselves."

Brilliant. You seriously summed it up in one sentence. My platonic crush continues . . .

Unknown said...

My mother tends to ask me if Alexandra (my daughter with PMG) has autism. I tell her that, NO! she actually has a "cause" of her disability. I get plenty irritated because I believe that much of the asthma, ADHD, ADD, etc. is brought on by ourselves through environmental toxins.

Our conveniences and for-profit medical system is slowly destroying our children.

Anonymous said...

I'm curious. Would you mind expanding on which 'environmental toxins' brought on my son's ADHD and Asperger's Syndrome?

Anonymous said...


Dang it! I love the PDD-WTF. That's my son's dx and I have been looking for a nifty substitute. You're good.


Oh boy, Don't encourage the toxin folk like rochelle...hold on to your hats for the diatribes that will ensue from the "green" clubs.

romanlily said...

A local columnist picked up on this same story today. Looks like AFLAC is pulling their advertising from his show. Hey! Instant karma!

Anonymous said...

There's also a lot of evidence for AD/HD being at least partially genetically based. My Ritalin and I are doing just fine, thanks.

As for Savage... eh. Won't be the first time he's acted like a dick, nor will it be the last. Fortunately "freedom of speech" also means "freedom to suffer the consequences of rectal-cranial inversion."

Galen said...

In my work as an occupational therapist, I have worked with many, many children who were autistic. I can honestly say that I have never worked with a kid who I felt had been misdiagnosed...but I have worked with quite a few who were obviously autistic and had NOT been diagnosed.

But I guess it's silly to bring that up, because Michael Savage and others like him aren't interested in facts or reality. Their job, apparently, is to fabricate "facts" to fit their own skewed view of the world.

It's too bad that Savage's father's approach didn't seem to work on him...he still behaves like a fool, still sounds like an idiot.

Karen said...

I do have to agree with Savage on the point that it's the new diagnosis. Doctors are realizing how widespread autism is and seem to test for that first and foremost before moving on. I'm not sure if it's to rule it out quickly or to quickly get a diagnosis, but either way it's there.

Aside from that tiny point, the man is obviously an idiot that needs a severely autistic child of his own. And I don't wish that on just anyone.

Anonymous said...

There are plenty of illnesses and disorders that have been improperly diagnosed as medicine evolves. A hundred years ago, how many people were diagnosed with cancer? Those who were depressed or bipolar were locked away in insane asylums as little as 50 years ago. But as doctors learn more about these illnesses, they can be diagnosed and treated more quickly and effectively.

I agree that sometimes snap judgements are made, especially in young children. I saw it firsthand when I worked in a daycare environment, where it seemed every child who had trouble sitting still during story time was questioned as having ADHD. But even if these disorders are overdiagnosed, it doesn't make them any less REAL for the children they truly affect.

I believe the doctors do the best they can with the tools and information they are given. They are only human, as is Mr. Savage. I can only hope that like medical science, his thinking can someday evolve.

Anonymous said...

I guess Michael Savage's father is no longer with us because if he were, he tell his kid to quit acting like a fool.
That being said, my brother and sister-in-law have a son who is hearing-impaired. If they followed Savage's advice they'd sit him down and tell him something like this:
"Quit playacting! You can hear us; you're just faking. Now cut it out or you're gonna get a head-knocking."
Think how much money they'd save on hearing aids and speech therapy if they followed the Savage Method.

Anonymous said...

It's interesting to note that when Don Imus made his comments about African-American women basketball players, there was a big stink and he was fired, but this idiot Savage can say all he wants about kids with autism and I don't see him getting fired over it. I"d like to see him make comments about kids with cancer "faking" it-that would probably make front-page news.

Anonymous said...

I read an article about this guy in People and at the end it stated he is actually involved in charities for autism...is this true??

Melody Platz said...

I'm in my mid-thirties, and I grew up with asthma. So I'm used to healthy people making assumptions about how I should take care of myself.

During one holiday season, I said I couldn't go to someone's house because I have cat allergies. This normally nice woman said, "Oh, pop a pill. Don't let asthma stop you."

I think blogs like this help people to be a little more understanding. And the Michael Savages should just be ignored.

Melody Platz

Anonymous said...

As you well know, it's lots more useful to clearly identify your kid's exact problem than it is to just whop them on the rear on general principles.

Anonymous said...

After I read the Savage comments, I was angrier than I've been in a long time. Because, you know, 18-month-old children are capable of making concious decisions to not connect with the people around them or learn how to talk. ::eyeroll::

I guess this is why people keep warning me about what I'm getting into by wanting to work with broken kids. Not only is there heartbreak, but I guess there will also be a lot of having to restrain myself from kicking the asses of men like this.