When it comes to autism, those who chafe at vaccine conspiracy theories and “trapped in their own world” stereotypes and the endless biomed cures du jour may have science (not to mention sanity) on their side.
But step aside, people: Jenny McCarthy is armed with Google, and she’s not afraid to use it.
The model and self-styled actress was on Oprah today to talk about her autistic son, and if you’ve caught wind of her thoughts on autism already (or seen how pretty much anything about autism is treated on the Oprah show), you just knew this could not be good.
No joke: McCarthy was cheered lustily by the studio audience for announcing that, after her son was diagnosed, she typed the word “autism” into the Google search engine, launching a courageous and audacious search for the truth. And what came up? Why, story after story about remedies and recoveries and other amazing stuff your pediatrician is paid handsomely by the CDC not to tell you about.
Luckily, Google employs an army of people whose only job is to make sure everything that pops up on the site is totally legit, although I probably should Google that sometime just to make sure it’s true.
McCarthy spoke particularly of clicking on a link “up in the corner” (I believe those are what are known as “advertisements”) and learning about the wonders of biomed.
In the video clips Oprah showed, McCarthy’s son looked healthy and happy (although there wasn’t really much pre-biomed footage to compare with). And i applaud her for being an apparently caring and involved mom — she’s a convenient target for satire, and maybe she deserves the benefit of the doubt. (Although there was something chilling about the way she described getting an employee of a play gym fired for suggesting her son might have a “brain problem.”)
But here’s a TV show with an audience that’s humungous by any standard — many times larger than all the autism blogs put together. And here’s a celebrity announcing that her “real” son had become “trapped inside” this autistic shell, and that she was hell-bent to “get him out.” (More big cheers.)
And here’s Oprah opening the show by quoting McCarthy’s book (yep, she writes, too!) on the different reactions encountered when people learn a child has been diagnosed with cancer vs. diagnosed with autism. Surprising those reactions are so divergent, because as we’ve been conditioned to learn by Autism Speaks and others, autism is at least as terrifying as pending death.
Oprah also cooed approvingly when McCarthy defended biomed by saying, “Well, chemotherapy doesn’t work for everybody either.”
At least McCarthy didn’t talk about train wrecks. Instead, she talked about bus crashes.
Seriously. She offered an analogy about autism that went like this: “If you get hit by a bus, you’re going to recover. But you’re going to have a little booboo.” (She definitely used the word “booboo.” Coming soon to the DSM-V.)
And naturally, vaccines had to come up. McCarthy said she had invoked what she calls her “mommy instinct” to finger the MMR in the case of her son.
Then Oprah read a response she had received from the CDC (at least she took a stab at social responsibility by contacting the agency) that talked about the lack of scientific support for the idea that thimerosal triggers autism.
McCarthy scoffed and said, speaking of her son: “He is my science.”
Well guess what, Prof. McCarthy? MMR doesn’t contain thimerosal. Never has.
She apparently didn’t know that. Oprah also either didn’t know it or didn’t bother to correct it. The studio audience and the vast TV audience were left with yet more misinformation and hysteria and hand-wringing about the horrors of autism, in a forum where so many people could have instead been enlightened about notions like autistic kids who aren’t “broken” and therapies that offer help without taking families for a ride. (A bus ride, if you like. Only one that REALLY crashes.)
Speaking of which: I would have liked to describe the whole show. But about halfway through, I realized my stop had arrived.