There is a new study out linking a father’s age to risk of autism. The story has been reported in one of the most popular news sources in my country, The New Zealand Herald. They have presented the story under this charming heading:
In that story, the reporter independently refers to autism as a disease. Not once, not twice, but three times. I can almost forgive this error in classification, because the researchers themselves are quoted (in other news stories) as categorizing autism as a “disease.” I’ve now read numerous versions of the report from news sources around the world, and thankfully the vast majority of them call autism a disorder or a condition (though at least one did decide autism was an “illness,” which seems even more erroneous than calling it a “disease”.)
But “dooming?” Really? It’s necessary, in a major national newspaper, to use an emotive (and frankly, distorting) word like “dooming,” in reference to autism?
Dooming: (1) To condemn to ruination or death. (2) To destine to an unhappy end.
The use of words like “dooming” and “disease” as descriptors of autism, just reinforces for me that autism is still the over-simplified monster-under-the-bed for reporters and the public. To my mind, presenting autism is this sensationalist and inaccurate manner, is in the same category as those who present it as always some fluffy feel-good difference that comes inevitably hand-in-hand with a genius IQ and a talent for computers.
The fact is that autism is complex and various. It is many things. The reality and experience of it varies greatly from individual to individual, and from family to family. But what it is not, is “disease” or “doom.” Thankfully, the New Zealand Herald was the only news source I could find (after extensive searching) which chose to use such an emotive headline.
As for the story itself – the details of how strong the evidence and explanation is of a link between older dads and autism – I’m going to wait until particular reputable science bloggers dig through the study’s details and explain it; I learnt a while back that mass media is a very poor source of accurate science reporting. They’d sooner run a scary headline and make claims of new definitive proofs, than explain and present scientific findings in the less sensationalist light of reality.