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Friday, April 12, 2013

Really, Parade Magazine, Really?

A few days ago, I saw a link to an online article from Parade Magazine---6 Great Toys for Children with Autism.  As I'm always on the lookout for toys that might engage Janey, I gave it a click.  Immediately after reading the article, I was so annoyed and upset that I told myself not to write about it until I'd given myself a few days to calm down.  Well, it's been a few days.  I guess I'm not quite as upset any more, but I still am pretty bothered the article.

What's my issue with it?   On a minor note, it bothers me because it feels slapped together, like someone said "Autism is BIG right now, and it's April, autism awareness month!  Let's get an article about autism that is upbeat, stat!"  But my big, major note issue with the article is that it completely and totally assumes every child with autism is high functioning.  

Here's a few quotes--- " As children get older, more complex board games like Boggle, Scrabble, checkers or chess are terrific"    Oh, yeah?  I can't wait until Janey gets a little older and can play Scrabble or chess!  Wait, I forgot, we are living in Realityland here!  Janey is NEVER going to play Scrabble.  I shouldn't say never.  It's highly unlikely Janey will ever play Boggle or Scrabble or chess.  It's highly unlikely she'll ever play Candyland, the game mentioned as being "simple"  Sure, these games might help her with her social communication, as the article helpfully suggests, but that would be assuming she was able to understand them.  And assuming she didn't put the small game pieces in her mouth.

Here's another quote...“It sounds almost too simple, but just a toolbox with a hammer, nails, and a screwdriver can be a great inspiration for play,” says Whitney. “Using tools not only builds fine-motor skills, it also builds a sense of accomplishment when kids can create something they’re proud of.”  Uh, okay.  Why did I never think of that?  I've got to get Janey some nails and a hammer right away.  I'm sure she won't use the hammer to break the TV, or put the nails in her mouth, because she'll be feeling so proud of that castle she's going to build!

And here's a 3rd and final quote, although I could quote the whole article, really...“I’m a huge fan of technology, but I also think it needs to be balanced with other activities that help promote needed skills. So maybe it’s an hour of computer time in exchange for an hour spent playing outside with a friend.”     This one maybe bothered me the most, because it's almost on.  Yes, the iPad is great, and yes, it needs to used in a balanced way.  But the part about an hour outside playing with a friend?  That almost felt cruel.  First of all, Janey doesn't have friends.  She has school friends, that are her friends because we call them her friends, but she doesn't have friends she could dash outside and play with.  If she did, I would still need to be right next to her, to make sure she didn't run away, or eat random things off the ground.  It sounds idyllic---go outside and play with a friend!  But it's not reality.

The article wouldn't bother me as much if it was only Janey it didn't understand.  I certainly don't expect every piece of parenting advice to apply to Janey.  But I would guess the suggestions there would not work for MOST kids with autism, including not only almost all the low-functioning ones, but most of the high functioning kids, too.  It's a perfect example not getting that autistic kids are not just quirky regular kids, kids we can mildly modify regular advice for.  

Parade Magazine is hugely, widely read.  If you didn't know much about autism, and read this article, you'd, well, still not know much about autism.  Or you'd get a picture of a very small percentage of the autistic kids out there.  You'd wonder what the big deal was.  Get them some good cooperative games, maybe a zip line or tennis lessons, take them to a building workshop at Home Depot, have them read a few books that teach socially appropriate behavior, and they'd be fine!   If the article had even ONCE included a note that not all children with autism could access the toys mentioned, that a good percentage of children with autism are also intellectually disabled and require constant supervision, I'd have been fine with it.  But it didn't.  It addresses the imaginary world of autism, one filled with brilliant, slightly different but at the core just the same as you and me, future so bright you've got to wear shades autistic kids.  I don't have that model.  I have a real life autistic kid, my amazing Janey.  And we'll stick with toys that she actually can use.


mknecht24 said...

Hurray! The Boggle cure! I'm going to run out today and get one...and a hammer because Lindsey loves to accomplish things. They are assuming a lot in this article like social awareness and goal setting and an understanding of cause and effect. Those take years to master (if ever). Parade Magazine could really help me out by publishing an article like "How to deal with A-holes who stare and glare" or "Tips for Cleaning Poop Catastrophes". Still sucks to have the cool celebrity disease. Today I am feeling pretty bitter.

Suzanne said...

You cracked me up with those article suggestions, but I'm feeling bitter today too. Just sick of it all. Ironically Janey is having some great days, but it just kind of illustrates that even great days are still so tough. I guess I'll send Janey out to play with a friend for an hour outside for a break---yeah.

Sophie's Trains said...

As a journalism grad I have to say that magazine writing is really (in my opinion of course) banal and insignificant. Even their "normal parenting" articles just slap together some over-simplistic "advice" (can it even be called that?) To fill its pages and provide a venue for advertisers- 5 steps to get your baby sleeping through the night! Potty training 101! You'd get more depth at the back of a cereal box.
I think this was exactly what you said- oh yea autism! Let's put together some feel-good article to cash in on all this "awareness" autism is so "in" right now. Eh, magazines. Don't get me started, lol. I was thinking of pitching some "real" story ideas to some local ones here but figured the editors don't want real. That would bum their readers out! They want happy readers who will buy their advertised products, not ones who think too much. Bitter?

audball said...

I agree with Sophie's Trains 100%! In my mind, Parade Magazine caters to old farts in conservative (middle) America who prefer to have just a cursory knowledge of things; never anything controversial, nor in depth. I'm sure the writer(s) of the article just cobbled something together from past essays. The things described are the kinds of activities a neighbor or relative (who doesn't know us very well) would suggest in casual conversation. Certainly, nothing of real value to a parent who knows his/her child.

Parade Magazine could have taken the time to do a good piece on autism; educating their readership and enlightening them about the challenges parents who have children on the spectrum encounter. They could have done a piece on how someone who sees a child having difficulty in public may help or steps to take to get to know a child who is on the spectrum (I'm thinking of even excerpting Ellen Notbohm's "10 Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew"). It's too bad, because their audience (generally fairly ignorant folks) could really stand to benefit from a really informative article!

My parents get Parade Magazine with their paper and, honestly, it's one of those rags one would take to the bathroom for some "quiet time"!