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Ten Thousand Apologies

Age of Autism Weekly Wrap: Just About Treacle-d To Death

AofA Red Logo Ayumi YamadaBy Dan Olmsted Treacle
Don’t you just love the word treacle? I do. It describes so much of what we're subjected to in pop culture these days. Without looking it up, because it speaks for itself, I’d say its approximate meaning is sickly sweet sentimentality without substance. It’s no doubt named after the candy.
So much of what passes as compassionate coverage of children in this day and age is so much treacle – commodified treacle at that, by which I mean it is packaged to sell, and one touching story is just about the same as another, only distinguished by its bathos quotient (which I think of as just slightly more treacle-y than pathos).
The more bathetic, the better.
Treacle is getting easier to get away with, and harder to get away from. The whole gloppy genre of troops home from the wars and tearfully embracing their families in a brand new home that some app helped them find, etcetera, while an indecipherable Mumford-like melody swells, is a case in point.
Another: On Good Morning America Friday, a child who I’m sure is deserving of all the loving-kindness coming his way was in the spotlight – he was afraid he couldn’t assemble any friends for a birthday party, because he didn’t have any friends, and his mother’s pleas led to an extravagant outpouring of new friends on Facebook. And did GMA ever have a birthday surprise for him!
According to the Daily Mail, “during a surprise visit to the set of “Good Morning America,” Colin Cunningham found out that he has friends all around the world, even though he has to eat lunch alone at school every day.”
And wouldn’t you know, “Colin is very friendly and open, but often shows symptoms of a mild form of autism, which is why he is typically shunned by his schoolmates.
“Fortunately, this is just one of the many difficulties that no longer seems impossible to conquer thanks to social media.”
Wow, social media as super-hero -- like Mighty Mouse, here it comes to save the day! No longer will a mild form of autism spread its evil tentacles around helpless kids -- not when heroes like Facebook and ABC have anything to say about it.
The on-air promos were enough to give me the general idea, so I turned the channel. But on the channel I turned to, the Today show was featuring Bat-Boy – the child with leukemia in remission who took over San Francisco for the day. Turned out he was going to be featured at the Oscars, but the bit got cut. Never mind, he got a trip to Disneyland with the real-life (meaning movie version) of Batman himself!
Now I have to say I loved the Bat-Kid story, which seemed to grow into a spontaneous citywide celebration of a child’s triumph over adversity. (Maybe it's because Batman and Mighty Mouse are my own personal cartoon-era heroes.) The GMA extravaganza feels different to me – a child with a condition that has not been alleviated by all the attention, but is made to seem so.

It reminds me of the mainstream coverage of Donald Triplett, the first person diagnosed with autism.  That version, also impressarioed by GMA, and the unctuous John Donvan, left the impression that everyone was so nice to Don down there in friendly Forest, Miss., that he grew out of a form of the disorder so severe he was the first one to be identified.
No, that’s not right. It’s another story, one I won’t recite here, but suffice it to say he got a biomedical treatment for a toxic exposure, an exposure that has continued to this very day and now drives an epidemic of children with autism, most of whom are not going to conquer it or get a million friends to come to their birthday.
Meanwhile anyone who tries to look at why there might be so many kids like Colin in need of real help, and many more who might escape the same fate if we faced up to reality, gets ridiculed. (I'm looking at you, George Stephanopoulos.)
And to pretend otherwise is just bathetic.
Dan Olmsted is Editor of Age of Autism.


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It's a big story, or the Big Issue....

Anti-treacle league

Thanks for pointing this out. I just had that discussion with someone over a recent New York Mag book excerpt-- published by a Disney affiliate-- on Disney helping a nonverbal young man with autism to speak.

I've stopped feeling Grinchish about the fact that I hate any touchy-feely coverage on autism that does not make a nod to the fact that there's A) and epidemic and B) possible ways to prevent and recover autism.

Eileen Nicole Simon

John and Benedetta,

Thanks for the suggestions. I don’t know if anyone remembers “On the Beach” by Nevil Shute. I think he wrote it in 1959, when we were sure the world would end in a nuclear holocaust. I lived in New York City back then, and still have nightmares of the red ball of fire and mushroom cloud. Somehow I relived that at a Manhattan-henge event a couple of years ago - watching the sunset at the end of W 79th Street.

Or how about HG Wells’ time traveler. He traveled to the future, discovered the Morlock people, then onto the end of time, and didn’t like what he saw. He went well equipped on his second trip, but never returned. Maybe he found a more pleasant place to stay in the past...

For Benedetta

It has always been Benedetta's profound knowledge, wisdom and insight, on top of her majestically quirky spelling which has made her an indispensible member of this community.


Dang - I know how to spell Magestic - fingers and brain crossed over never the less - as happens a lot.


Happy ending;
Hmmmm, okay try this one. The book describes life after the Populations are reduced to record lows;the beauty of the woods, and wildlife, the mejastic wildernes.

Then let them pan out (that is a Holly wood camera saying) and some guy that was a big wig in the government or CDC or EPA or Pharma (that played a part in the story) - still in his suit that is now all tattered and torn is digging his victory garden with a spade - spending his evenings quietly reading by candle light, and it looks like Oh-- something out of the 1700s.

Cherry Sperlin Misra

Hey Linda- Get that engraved in stone- "Getting more cynical by the day"
What I love to watch and analyze (and hate) these days in the media, are the attempts, no doubt successful , to embed ideas in the public consciousness that would be beneficial to the corporate sector.
These days we , in India, are watching on CNN, about 10 times a day, a short piece about a Miss Nakioka in Japan who , at age circa 100 is still swimming laps .
"Hmmm", I think, "This looks like they want us to think that if we eat a lot of mercury-laden fish like the Japanese, we too may live to be 100" "I notice they aren't showing us the one in four Japanese men who have Alzheimers Disease" " Could it be that Bumblebee Tuna is losing ground?" And then I think "Well, that could be far fetched"- except that I later noticed that my daughter was talking about Japanese people living a long time- and she gets most of her news from other sources, often the internet. This is one example ;there are numerous others.

John Stone


I remember someone once remarking that the ideal Hollywood filmscript was a tragedy with a happy ending. I am convinced that one day there will be a happy ending, but it won't be a real happy ending because the maimed and the killed - and those with scarred lives - will still be maimed and killed or still have scarred lives when the historical epoch is over.


Eileen Nicole Simon

Back in 1995 I took a course in screenwriting. I thought fictionalizing my ideas about auditory processing in the midbrain might be one way to make understanding a neurological disorder more interesting.

I got through to one agent, who wanted to cast Arnold Schwarzenegger as the hero, but who also told me my story needed a more upbeat ending. I’m still trying to figure out how to find something upbeat about post-special-ed days, coming to the attention of the police every day, and fending off the obnoxious advice of smiling do-gooders.

Last year I took the advice of a friend and put my screenplay up on and, at or, price 99 cents. My sister liked it.

Any suggestions for a not too treacly ending would be of interest to me.

Maurine Meleck

If only adults would go back to reading good books and kids would start reading ...........

Jonathan Rose

It reminds me of "Queen for a Day," a television quiz show from the 1950s. A panel of women who had suffered real enough hardships would be encouraged to describe their misfortunes in some detail -- and no matter how hard their lives, the MC was relentlessly cheery and upbeat. After each tale of anguish, the studio audience applauded, and the woman with the highest score on the applause meter was "Queen for a Day." She would receive the help she asked for (often medical care) but also a lot of consumerist junk donated by the sponsors. (Presumably the three women who lost went back to their miserable lives.) I'm sure it was a very special moment for the woman who won, as GMA was for Colin. But neither program addressed the underlying social issues, and "Queen for a Day" went off the air around the time Medicare and the War on Poverty rendered it obsolete. One TV critic called it "tasteless, demeaning to women, demeaning to anyone who watched it, cheap, insulting and utterly degrading to the human spirit."


An occasional happy human interest story wouldn't be so bad if the press did their job the rest of the time.

Can I nominate this as the asinine contribution of the day?:

Pregnant woman, her boyfriend and her two children in Florida unknowingly eat LSD laced meat, get sick and go to the hospital where she then gives birth. The newborn, who was just exposed to an unknown dose of LSD, is declared, at least by the reporter, as "healthy". How do they know? Have studies been done on the effects of LSD on infants in utero? Can the newborn tell them what he's feeling, seeing or hearing? What kind of a factoid assumption is that? Getting more cynical by the day, I'm wondering if the content and tone of this story is designed to protect Walmart and/or the meat company from litigation by minimizing the public acknowledgment of damages. The story makes it sound like no big deal, happy ending. Meanwhile, 3 kids were exposed to a hallucinogenic street drug.


Dan; sometimes if you can't do anything big, you do something small.
Those us of with kids who are different know that that the birthday parties are the worst.
Some of our kids, they want friends, but they are different enough that they aren't on the "cool" list. My youngest is kind hearted, gentle, loving; but his interests are those of a younger child, he doesn't really understand what is cool and what is not; it makes life hard for him. And though kids at his school are kind, chances of a real friend are pretty slim.
So; yes, I sent a card with some cash for a present for Colin.
What this has done is given Colin one birthday year where he has a different memory of life.
Our kids deal too much in pain; every bit of happiness, treacle or not, is precious.

John Stone

How we become collectively very stupid.

Dan, you remind me of of an encounter I had with a young journalist at a local newspaper more than a decade ago when I was trying advocate over disappearing educational provision for disability which was coming under attack from the bureaucratically devised ideology of "inclusion". We were struggling to get heard on this issue until a lady called Maria Hutchings ambushed Tony Blair on a TV talk show just before the 2005 General Election.

Anyhow, the journalist was full of the fact that a story of hers had just been nationally syndicated. It was about a teacher or a support worker who had intervened at a local school to stop a child being bullied ie someone was actually doing their job and it became national news momentarily, no doubt with aid of a government department. Young journalist has the road to success pointed out to her.

Oddly enough, when my picture appeared in the newspaper (only the local one of course) it was staring across at one of the government's chief news-manager Alistair Campbell (and I guess that cannot have helped my budding career as a special needs advocate either).

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