Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Still Not Justified: A Response to Washington Post’s Article on Locked-Up Autistic Children


This article from The Washington Post “Coping with Adult Children’s Autism, Parents May Face ‘the Least Bad Decision’” by Dan Morse was written almost two weeks ago, but upon reading it, I could not help but find it unnerving.  This sort of thing is happening today.  It’s happening everywhere with bystanders who neither know nor care that it is happening.  In this particular instance, where two young autistic twin males where confined to a room in their house by their parents, the police just happened to search the room on unrelated drug charges and found the twins.  The two young men were both non-verbal, and had trouble with several independent living skills, such as toilet training.
To be honest, I am accustomed to news media’s rhetoric on autism where parents and caregivers who abuse autistic children are given sympathy, yet for me, this article still prompts me to respond and speak up.  The article in question was a follow-up to a previous article from The Washington Post “Rockville, Md., Couple Charged with Abusing Twin 22-Year Old Autistic Sons,” which you can read at the link below to get the story:


                This article talks about a couple in Rockville, Maryland who were found to have locked their twenty-two year old autistic twin males in their basement with now furniture.  The room was full of urine as the young men had been using it as a bathroom.  Fortunately, the couple in question, John and Janice Land, where arrested on July 17 and charged with two counts of vulnerable adult abuse and two counts of false imprisonment, and was reported by The Washington Post on July 21, 2014.
This article did not cause me such frustration, but the proceeding article, written on August 6, 2014, caused me much more anxiety.  You can find it below here to at:


                In the interest of fairness, I can say that The Washington Post stayed just behind the line of outright condoning of the treatment the twins suffered.  It did, however, go to great lengths it seems to dissect certain pieces of the story, combined with local commentary of people in the Land’s community and autistic parents with facts on autistic adults to give a “read-between-the-lines” justification of the Land’s actions.  In the first few paragraphs of the article, Dan Morse quotes a father of an autistic son Mark Buckman, saying, “…it’s possible that, in [the Land’s]minds, they thought this was the least bad way to deal with this.”  Afterwards, rather than talking about what the twins experienced, Morse, spends nearly five whole paragraphs talking about Mark Buckman’s son 18-year old John, and the struggles he has in his daily life, such as the tendency to wander off, and wearing a tracking device to prevent such occurrence, followed by numbers and figures on the prevalence of autistic adults and how families struggle with the lack of services for them, including a quote by an Autism Speaks executive, Lisa Goering, stating that there are not enough services for all the autistic adults who need them.  Goering’s quote, however, seem rather out of place as the organization for which Goering is an executive of has, in the past year, spent only 3% of its budget of over $60million on services that can help autistic people live independently, with the bulk of their budget being spent on genetic research for autism, and its top executives, such as Goering.
                The rest of the article deals almost exclusively with the tendency of some autistic people to wander off, the lack of services for adults once they are out of high school, and sentiments from parents of autistic children.  One woman from Montgomery, Kathy Page, mother of two sons, 24- and 22-years old, is interviewed and quoted as speculating that the Land’s keeping their children in a dark room, one littered with feces, was their way of preventing overstimulation commonly faced by autistic people from happening to their sons, followed by saying that she can understand the frustrations experienced by the Lands.  Though Morse doesn’t condone the Land’s behavior directly, he seems to imply that the lack of services available in the future for the Land’s twins combined with their independent living struggles (for which Morse does not indicate wandering off), justifies confining their sons in their basement.  The article ends with a heart-wrenching quote from the 18-year old John’s father Mark Buckman saying, “All we want is for our son to be happy.”  To me, there is no possible explanation for much of the article’s content, other than to perhaps justify or excuse the Land’s behavior.  For the fact is every one of the parents Morse interviews in his article are one’s struggling with independence skills.  He does not interview parents such as the parents of 17-year old autistic young man, Montel Medley, who The Washington Post itself reported less than two months prior to the current article as graduating high school with a 4.0 GPA before going off to TowsonUniversity.  Nor does Morse mention Dilan Barhmache, a non-verbal teen who gave his high school graduation speech.  As for the people Land’s interviews about the Land’s actions, there is no one quoted in the article as saying that they were wrong to keep their sons locked up.  No one saying that autistic people deserve the same rights as everyone else.  Only implicit sympathy and rationalizing.  Perhaps The Washington Post is looking out in the interest of ratings, but in any case, the article focuses almost exclusively on autistic people who wander off combined with the valid laments of parents whose children lack services, and explanation for the Land’s behavior.

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