Mom26children has written a post about the assumptions people make about her family based on their television appearance. I can identify a lot with what she writes. When CNN came to my apartment, they took two days of footage for that one ten-minute segment. As Mom26children says:
Some of you guys question the severity of my children’s autism by what you saw on an hour show. With commercials, you had 45 minutes into my very “edited” life.
I’ve been asked privately to clarify a lot of things about the CNN show, but I haven’t had the time or ability to think back on it much without the chaos of the whole thing being rather overpowering. But I think I’m finally at a point where it’s distant enough I can say this stuff without my head getting tangled in a lot of overloading memories.
That’s one thing right there: The whole experience was me under overload. It does not show how animated I usually am, and even the parts of the show where I did show more animation didn’t make it into the final product. I am remembering in particular when Laura brought baklava over, and they were excited to get footage of me squealing and flapping and smiling. But that didn’t make it into the final video.
They didn’t show me running away from the camera for most of the first morning until I got used to them.
Some funny things didn’t make it into the video, too. I still want to know what CNN does with some of their funnier footage. At the dog park, they trained the camera on my dog. Right as my dog peed. And right as another dog came up behind her and drank the pee. Which had all of us cracking up, but we knew they wouldn’t use that. I guess it’s sitting in an office somewhere if they don’t throw it out. They ought to do outtakes of their news shows.
They showed us at the dog park, but they did not show me after I took my jacket off and had a wide patch of my back exposed, and my staff was chasing me around trying to pull my shirt down while I didn’t get what the big deal was. They also didn’t show Laura explaining to me later that not being able to feel the cold doesn’t mean I won’t get frostbite.
They did not show even a little bit of the interview with my case manager. They interviewed him about his experiences with me and with autistic people in general. He also showed them all the equipment in my apartment that assures that I can get support at night without needing a roommate. (I am thinking of making a short video on that because it’s a really important idea that not a lot of people have heard of.)
There was also a lot of time they spent interviewing me that they of course didn’t have time to show. When they did show it, they did not show the reporter that interviewed me, they just showed Dr. Gupta. The reporter and the cameraman and sound woman actually spent the most time with me, Dr. Gupta was only there for a couple hours to interview me on the second day.
They showed the dentist’s appointment, but not really anything that happened within it, maybe due to confidentiality or something. What happened was the dentist basically assured me there was nothing mechanically wrong with my jaw to cause any pain. (When I saw the jaw specialist a couple weeks later, he did imaging and found that in fact my jawbone is underdeveloped in general, and the rounded area that the jawbone is supposed to rest in, is supposed to be deep and round, but mine is shallow and flat, and that I clearly have mechanical trouble closing my mouth and keeping it closed, as well as dislocation and pain and all that fun stuff, for reasons related to that. The dentist I saw on the show is no longer my dentist for that and various similar reasons, as well as my learning through word of mouth that his practice has a bad track record with autistic patients.)
There was also a lot of misinterpretation.
I suppose it makes better drama to say that I banged my head because I was an intelligent woman who felt “trapped” somehow. But really it was just because I made a typo and I was already stressed out. It was the first time I had banged my head in months, but they played that clip over and over.
I actually told them in great detail why I used a wheelchair, which has to do with a combination of assorted physical problems and a parkinson-like movement disorder I have. I told them how I waited until I was otherwise basically stuck in my house before deciding to get one, and how much more exercise and exposure to the outside world I got now that I had the chair. I told them about previously going out in groups at agencies and holding up the group when I’d freeze, and how another client used to comment they needed to get a giant spatula to pick me up. And so forth. Then I later told them that when I was lying down on my friend’s couch it was easier for me to think to answer questions, and that I’d have preferred to do the interview lying down for that reason. Somehow my reason for lying down for the interview got translated into “why I use the wheelchair” and they broadcast that information instead of all the previous information I told them. They said that I used it to make it easier to think, and while it is easier to think while not concentrating on walking, it’s not my primary reason for using the chair.
I think they were among the many people who greatly simplified the history I actually gave them of my life. That makes sense given the amount of time they had. But I told them a lot of complex stuff about my speech history that got simplified into something much more abrupt and sudden (which is what most people do to it, complexity doesn’t make for good sound bites). We discussed thoroughly why I was considered additionally to be psychotic for a long time, and they discussed that with my case manager as well I’m told. I explained all about elves and hiding in stereotypes and psychiatric force and everything else. I suppose that was too complex too.
I told them that I did not live in my own world, I told them this emphatically. While this did make it into the second segment, the lead-in to the first segment was still somehow about how I was trapped in a world of my own. (The people I talked to at CNN were not the editors, and did not even themselves have editorial control over the content of the shows.) I told them how I disagreed with the mild/severe and HFA/LFA dichotomies and stuff but everyone by now knows what they said about that.
I told them how the video I made was not actually about autism, it was a response to the situation of Ashley X and anyone else where people assume a lack of standard communication means a lack of standard comprehension and that a lack of standard comprehension means a lack of humanity and lack of value and lack of personhood and lack of basic human rights. Like many people, they still portrayed the video as being about my wanting to take people into “my world of autism”.
They of course also did not show me after their team left on the second day, while I was lying on my friend’s couch uncontrollably ticcing and screaming, something my body reserved until I was in private and familiar enough surroundings to do that sort of thing.
They didn’t show when communication broke down, they didn’t show how I struggled to find words a lot of the time, they edited out most of my typing, they edited out a lot of the parts where I said things I didn’t quite mean to say or didn’t understand what I was saying, they edited out the times when my friend had to interpret for me.
They didn’t show a whole lot of my staff, despite my staff being there most of the time, and despite my staff actually having spoken on camera on a number of occasions, as well as spoken to them directly about me, they didn’t use any of that.
So basically, they did not show some of the things I was capable of, they did not show some of the things I had difficulty with, and they simplified a lot of aspects of my life to fit into a ten-minute segment. This is standard for the sort of thing that the media does. I actually found it quite a lot better than I expected despite these problems.
When you see someone on television, you can’t know all about them. It’s not a standard situation. There’s editing. There’s nervousness around the cameras and the intrusions. There’s the fact that you’re only getting a tiny slice of a much broader life. You can’t know what that person is like when the cameras are gone, you can’t know how they move and behave every second of every day, you can’t know their abilities, you can’t know their difficulties, you just get a tiny snapshot of their life framed in whatever way these virtual strangers want to frame it. The person themselves has no control over the editing, nor often do the reporters. Anyone who thinks they can tell all these things about a person based on a news story doesn’t really know how these things work.
And that goes for my own videos too by the way. Seeing me for a few minutes doing things specifically intended for broadcast on the Internet doesn’t equal seeing me all the time either. They are of course more accurate than something made by a stranger will be, but they’re also only tiny slices of my life. Even my blog is only a tiny slice of my life, you don’t see how I live every day. Larry Arnold as well has written about that one.