On Michael Savage and Autism, an Appeal for Calm

Those of us who follow talk radio and/or autism-related issues are aware that a campaign has sprung up calling for the firing of syndicated radio host Michael Savage.

Speaking on his July 16 broadcast, Savage claimed that 99 percent of autism cases are fake; that they actually are examples of kids misbehaving and bad parenting.

According to Media Matters, Savage said:

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.’ ” Savage concluded, “[I]f 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.

In response, Savage says his comments were taken out of context by Media Matters. He explained his views more fully this week, telling Jacques Steinberg of the New York Times, for example, that the 99 percent fakery figure was “hyperbole.” On his own website Savage called on people not to make a rush to judgement about his views based solely upon the charges of critics. He added that his comments were actually in support of truly autistic children, who, he said, lose out on services and funding they need because money is “pilfered by those who are not autistic.” “The truly autistic child needs as much help as he or she can get,” he said; what he opposes is “fakery.”

Nonetheless, calls for Savage to pay a severe professional penalty continue. A big advertiser stopped advertising, a seven-station radio network in Mississippi dropped the show, and there have been calls for Savage’s firing.

The group AutismLink circulated a letter Monday evening saying it is calling on autism organizations to sign a petition calling for Savage’s firing. Tuesday afternoon the group circulated the following list of organizations and individuals it said have called for Savage’s firing:

AutismLink, National Autism Organization
Autism Centers of Pittsburgh
FEAT of the Carson Valley, Minden, NV
National Autism Association
Mary D’Angelo, Parent, St. Louis Missouri
Autism Society of West Virginia, South Central Region
Henderson Homeschoolers
Las Vegas Special Needs Homeschoolers
Autism Society of York PA Chapter
Janice Bachert, New Berlin, WI
Mary Neumeier, Walden, NY
Aware4Autism, PA
Autism Connection, Marion Ohio
Autism Society of , Harrisburg, PA Chapter [sic]
Daniel J. Cavallini, Attorney at Law, Indianapolis, IN
FEAT (Families for Effective Autism Treatment), Louisville
Mary Pat and Steven Cantando, New York
Queens County Parents Autism Coalition (QCPAC) in Queens, NY
Autism Resource Network, Inc., Hopkins, MN
Brookings Area Autism Support Network, South Dakota
Autism Show U Care
Autism Spectrum Support Group of Lebanon County, PA
PEACE (Parental Encouragement for Autism in Chidren Everywhere), Lakeland FL
The FUZZ Foundation, Indianapolis, IN
Organization for Autism Spectrum Information & Support, Inc., Ohio
Lyme-Autism Organization, Portland, OR

My sense of this is that those who are calling for Savage’s firing should calm down. Savage clearly has sympathy for children disabled by autism. His greatest offense was that his disgust over what he believes is people using autism for financial gain encouraged him to exaggerate the extent to which autism is overdiagnosed and the ease with which genuine autism (which presently is incurable) can be cured. The hyperbole was not helpful, but it should not be confused with an attack on the genuinely disabled.

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