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The Fallout of Handley’s Sullivangate: Looking to Tomorrow and Hope

November 16, 2010

What’s in a name? In an anonymous identity? Some of the richest irony coming out of the deplorable post and comments over at AoA is that anonymous posters are crowing about the supposed outing of Dr. Bonnie Offit as Sullivan, insisting he/she has no right to privacy, all while they remain cloaked in it. Of course, a couple someones/someone over there put out another name for Sullivan, and the AoAers have pounced on it, all while holding the idea that Bonnie Offit still writes as Sullivan. AoAers insist that “She’s already trying to diffuse the situation on her blog!”  Apparently, they are referring to LBRB. 

This is, for many reasons, both sad and absurd. While Handley’s post was ludicrous and many bloggers pointed out each and every way it was, the comment, like a feeding frenzy, left little to the imagination. How do these fervent believers feel about strangers, doctors they’ve never met? Well, there are threats galore, aren’t there? 

There is glee at what a great job someone has, getting to come up with the photos to accompany posts and all the other things that being a managing editor entail.

There are people acting like mad, foaming-at-the-mouth Romans at the coliseum, intent on watching death and mayhem. Over two doctors, one of whom quietly engages in a pediatric practice, whose husband happens to be the doctor who helped to invent a rotavirus vaccine and who’s taken on the mantle of staunch defender of the importance of vaccines in saving the lives of children. That’s these two people’s mistakes. That’s what makes them worth villifying. 

Except it doesn’t, and we know it doesn’t. Reasonable people cannot in good conscience stand by and support the Age of Autism site. Too many times we’ve seen AoA call for people to harass individuals they disagree with. They have intentionally allowed comments on that are inflammatory and threatening. 

This is not the behavior of people who support other parents, who support autistic people. You cannot be a disability rights activist and actively call for the harm and harassment of individuals in medical and scientific fields because you don’t like their work. Folks over at AoA have crowed, hoping this will silence Sullivan. Wow.

Even at our snarkiest on science-based and skeptic blogs, even at our snarkiest, the bloggers do not call for readers to harass, belittle, and threaten those they disagree with. It’s understandable on blogs that are non-moderated that commenters may be boisterous and aggressive, but let us remember that absolutely every comment at AoA is filtered, is seen, read, and approved in order for us to read it. That means either Stagliano herself is responsible for what gets on to the site or the author of the piece. We don’t know, because they are unclear about it. But make no mistake, this is Stagliano’s day job. It’s her job. I don’t think I can stress this enough. It’s how she makes a living. She’s admitted it on the facebook page and she talks about it in her book. 

So when we go to looking at what sites in our autism community actively, intentionally, and with forethought go out of their ways to incite people to aggressive actions and more violent, fringe comments, let’s remember that on the skeptic side, we got a few laughs this morning, but we didn’t threaten anybody. Did we? We didn’t do this:

No, we banded around Sullivan and Dr. Bonnie Offit. Not because we’re paid, because the vast majority of us make not a dime from blogging. Not because we’re pharma shills and were assigned to by our pharma overlords, but because we’re friends with Sullivan, either online or even in the real world, and that’s what friends do. They support each other. We recognized a slight against a woman who had done absolutely nothing to deserve some of the things these people are saying about her.

Do not profess to be about hope and acceptance. Do not pretend to represent the autism community and say you’re advocates for families and individuals on the spectrum and then engage in this behavior. And do not pretend that you reach beyond the confines of your belief system regarding vaccines and autism when you intentionally signal out a father of a child on the spectrum.

Nearly two years ago, when I entered the online fray that is the edges of the autism community, I was immediately rejected by those at AoA. My role as a mother to three on the spectrum was always dismissed and my position on vaccines the sole criteria for whether I was part of the ingroup. If you do not agree with them on the vaccine issue, do not expect to be treated with respect. It won’t happen.

Most people do not exist on the fringes where Age of Autism exists. Most parents who believe that vaccines caused their children’s autism are good-hearted, decent human beings who aren’t interested in waging war against other parents. They just want to make the world a better place for their children and to help their children overcome their disabilities. They are to be commended. They don’t spend time tearing down innocent bystanders like Dr. Bonnie Offit. They spend their time reaching out to other parents, regardless of causation theories. In the real world, in the mainstream autism world, causation isn’t nearly as important as what we do now, how we help now.

Lest we think that the AoAers represent most family members, take a minute and go read any of the 240 family member blogs or 109 autism member blogs at the directory. Most of these wonderful people probably missed all of this hoopla. They focused on the things that matter to them and paid no attention to AoA. Why? Because AoA doesn’t matter in almost all of our day-to-day lives. And ain’t that awesome?

Yes, there is a fringe element in our community that seeks to destroy whatever they can. We laughed today in the face of that. And tomorrow, we who laughed, who wrote, who stood will go about our regular lives, recognizing just how far off the deep end AoA has slipped.

I don’t care about what you think caused your child’s autism. I care what you want to do about it. I care about if you want to work beside us to make the world a better place for all our children, to offer positive support to other families and individuals. I care about now and how we make this world shine with goodness, with honesty, and with compassion. I care about tomorrow and helping our children find their place in the world. That’s hope. That’s acceptance. It’s time we quit letting folks co-opt words they apparently don’t know the meaning of.

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