The mass media’s narrative on autism has transposed to acceptance & accommodation

Researchers at the University of California scoured through the online edition of The Washington Post, analyzing more than 300 news stories publicized between 2007 through 2016.

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In recent years, the narrative put forth by one of the nation’s oldest newspapers, through its print circulation and digital edition, has taken a sudden shift.

The Washington Post — often referred to as Wash Post — transposed their coverage of autism from a cause and cure standpoint to an acceptance and accommodation perception of patients with the developmental disorder, according to a study published in Disability & Society.

For the study, a team of researchers at the University of California scoured through the online edition of Wash Post, analyzing more than 300 news stories publicized between early-2007 through late-2016.

The team’s comprehensive examination of stories began before the surge of conspiracy theories regarding vaccination and the onset of autism. The coverage of the Washington DC-based paper has evolved ever since, primarily by the spread of neurodiversity and the depiction of more values and talents of patients with autism, rather than preoccupation with finding a cure.

“Media representations can perpetuate stereotypes about marginalized groups. Autism is often portrayed as a series of deficits needing correction,” the findings read. “Many autistic self-advocates argue, however, that their neurological characteristics represent natural genetic variation—neurodiversity—and that they are not in need of a “cure.”

“Each article was coded for its overall valence, four measures of neurodiversity, and four deficit measures. Mean valence and mean composite neurodiversity scores significantly increased over time, while the mean composite deficit score significantly decreased over time,” the co-authors stated in the findings.

As the results of the study became clear, researchers noted that while most articles recently published discussed more strengths associated with the condition, unfortunately, the paper, in some instances, still utilized negative terms and refused to share viewpoints from patients with autism.

Image courtesy of Saul Loeb