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>Our Confirmation Biases: When Individuals with Autism Go Missing

April 23, 2010

>It’s heartrending to read a report of an autistic child gone missing. Heartbreaking to read when that child dies. As parents to children on the spectrum, we feel it keenly, deeply. It is one of our biggest fears, so our ears perk up when we hear yet another story of an autistic child gone missing.

We pray, we ask the universe to be kind, whatever our belief system allows. We wish, we hope, we wait. We grieve for the child when the outcome is the worst possible. We grieve for the families. We redouble our efforts to make sure that we have plans in place, a foolproof way to prevent ourselves from facing this.

If we’re looking at the bigger picture, if we’re balancing not just our narrow world view, but also checking our gut with our head (not letting affect or availability heuristics have their terrifying way with us), instead of magnifying the threat, or even worse, using the situation to exploit and further scare people, we take a gander at just how many children go missing, just how many families deal with this. The worst thing we could do is to overmagnify the likelihood that autism alone is to blame and if only autism weren’t involved, this would never happen. We certainly don’t lay the death at autism’s door, as if it were an entity (confirming along the way that the horrendous I Am Autism video from AS really represents how we see our children and autism).

We breathe, as our heart aches, and we go look at just how many parents have to deal with this, in the US alone, each year; parents whose children have no diagnosis, and we take a minute to reflect that this is not just the greatest fear of a parent to a child with a disability. It is a parent’s greatest fear, period.

According to the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children: “797,500 children (younger than 18) were reported missing in a one-year period of time studied resulting in an average of 2,185 children being reported missing each day.”

So, while we focus our attention, our fear, our concerns, on the autistic children who go missing, let us not forget that each day over 2000 kids under the age of 18 go missing each day, most of whom we obviously never hear about.  It’s likely, what with the 1 in 6 statistic relating to learning disabilities, that over 300 of these kids have a learning disability, while about 20 are on the spectrum. Two to three percent of children have ADHD, so 40 to 60 of these kids who go missing each day might have ADHD. The CDC reports that  “12 of every 1,000 10-year-old children” have some form of intellectual impairment, but that in about a third of other disabilities, this cognitive impairment was comorbid. So, at least two dozen of the children who go missing each day are likely to have a cognitive impairment.

My point, in case it isn’t crystal clear: children, both those with some neurological condition or disorder and those who have no diagnoses, go missing in numbers that should and do strike fear into our hearts as parents. Having an autistic child, or two, or three, or more, doesn’t mean you have the exclusive rights to this fear. It is a global fear. And it is obscene when someone uses the death of a child to further one’s agenda. It is no longer about grieving for that child, that family, but about advancing one’s own agenda.

Reporting about a specific individual should be designed to raise awareness for that individual, to offer support to that family, but not to advance your particular agenda. To go around tweeting the kinds of things one site chose to, well, that’s a reason to be morally outraged. I can only assume it came from the very real fear that we all, whether we have children on the spectrum or not, share.

When we choose to deal with this fear in ways that are exploitive, excessive, histrionic, or strident, perhaps, just perhaps, when we’ve calmed down, thought it out, we ought to own we’ve made a mistake rather than continuing to compound it. Unfortunately, these individuals who keep making this same set of mistakes have never acknowledged them or owned them. Failing to own mistakes says a lot about a person, about an organization.

We can, however, agree, that our children, yes, our sweet, precious children, will aways be our babies, as long as we’re living. And it is that recognition, that awareness, that despite our differences, we all love our children passionately, deeply, and forever, that allows us (should, anyway) to realize that we are united in ways we seldom choose to notice.

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7 Comments
  1. April 23, 2010 12:41 pm

    >It is part of the NIMBY attitude of those bloggers. NT toddler drowns in a pond. "I didn't read that, I don't care"Autistic toddler drowns in pond, "it is the demon autism what done it."If I were to be run down tommorrow would we read "causasian protestant slain in hit and run drama"No they would trawl every lable to gain the most dramatic story from it. If I were over 65 it would "pensioner killed in hit and run," with the notional sympathy that seniors invoke as well as the patronising assumption that I were a doddery old git as well, who ought no to be out on his own.If I were to hold up the off licence, my race would not be mentioned unless I were black, and of course any hint of mental illness or deviancy would be thrown in to 'blacken' my character.It's bias indeed, how often do the AoA cohort ever trumpet something like, Autistic graduates from school, oh no, it is only the negative that is ever invoked in the creation of the tragedy narrative.

  2. April 23, 2010 4:16 pm

    >Agendas? Yes, "countering age of autism" and "The author" definitely have agendas and ideology to spare.

  3. April 23, 2010 5:25 pm

    >Aww, Harold, I'm always so happy when you visit. I'm still waiting for your acknowledgement on that bit of plagiarism and misquote.I absolutely do have an agenda. You betcha. And an ideology. Not sure I have any to spare, though. That's okay, you have plenty of your own. :-)The difference is I will not use a dead child or a missing autistic individual to further my agenda. Exploiting a family's fear, grief, overwhelming pain, in order to push your agenda is a nasty bit of work, don't you think?

  4. April 23, 2010 6:04 pm

    >I've researched and written a little about child kidnapping and/or murders, particularly as it relates to myths about Jews and other real or imagined minorities. A very well-documented fact is that children are far more likely to be kidnapped or killed by a parent than by a stranger: I don't remember the exact numbers, but figures from law enforcement are on the order of hundreds by strangers and tens of thousands by parents. What I believe this means is that the old tales served to direct suspicion away from those who committed actual crimes, and more broadly protect a sense of community. Blaming "autism" fits well within the pattern.

  5. April 23, 2010 8:28 pm

    >Harold won't understand about the exploitation of a family's grief to push his agenda. His blinders about hating autism are too firmly attached.We can only hope that his wife finally gets enough of it, and throws him out of the house, as Karen Best did with her hateful antagonist.

  6. April 24, 2010 12:38 am

    >So, let me get this straight. A three year old wandered from his grandparent's and drowned while trying to cross a creek. That is a real tragedy, and I feel horrible for the family. I don't see how autism has anything to do with it. Furthermore, I'm disgusted that AoA would use it as an excuse to lash out at people they disagree with. He's a little boy with a family in mourning, not a prop for some media campaign. That poor family.

  7. April 24, 2010 8:56 am

    >"This senseless tragedy has been brought to you by autism."What about DHMO?

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