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Denis Leary and Michael Savage Hitch Their Stars to the Autism Community

By October 19, 2008

When I was a little girl, I was often the target of teasing (now more often called "bullying"). I would come home in tears, and ask my mother why the other kids teased me all the time.

Her answer, accurate if not sympathetic, was, "It's because you're teasable. Everytime they say something mean, you scream and yell. The more you respond to these kids, the more fun it is for them to tease you. If you don't respond, they'll get bored."

At this point in history, our autism community has proved to the world of second-rate showmen that we are the ultimate target for bullying - and a terrific source of publicity. Say the word autism in connection with an insult - or even suggest that autism might, perhaps, be overdiagnosed - and you can count on days and days of top-of-the-fold promotion.

Before Michael Savage had something to say about autism, I'd never heard his name (and neither had many of my readers). Today, though, he's a household word even in liberal households - simply because he invoked the anger of the autism community.

Denis Leary, a moderately well-known TV actor, wrote a book entitled "Why We Suck: A Feel-Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid" Despite the obvious silliness of the name, and the unimportance of the book, the autism community has raised both Leary and his achievement to a pedestal. Today, Leary is front page news, and Jenny McCarthy is quoted as saying - In US Magazine - "Whoo! First of all, let me tell you, the autism community has received probably 10,000 e-mails (saying) 'Go kill him! Go yell at him!'"

Go KILL him? Assuming that Jenny is telling even half the truth, there are tens of thousands of autism-related families out there thinking about Leary, writing about Leary, and caring about Leary to the point where they're actually writing letters to ask for his demise. Wow. And in his response to all this excitement, Leary explains - in the Huffington Post - that people are citing his book out of context, and should really read the entire chapter (after first, of course, going out and buying a copy!).

And check this out: here's Denis Leary pictured between Jenny McCarthy and Amanda Peet, in a major article on ABC News' Entertainment website!

In fact, looking at today's Google headlines, Leary is mentioned, pictured, and/or cited, in The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, ABC News, The Chicago Sun Times and Access Hollywood - to mention just a few of the prominent publications. The group Autism United has organized a rally protesting Leary - and they expect hundreds, if not thousands to attend.

Savage and Leary may have said some incredibly dumb and even hurtful things about autism. But as a community, we have responded by providing them with exactly what they wanted most: publicity. And, as more and more celebrities get into the fray, the autism community will become increasingly the target of silly, ignorant jabs.

If a book about being fat and ignorant can get this kind of publicity just because it says mean things about people living with autism, just thing what the next starlet will dream up to get us excited.

As they say in the biz, there's no such thing as bad publicity. And we are certainly providing plenty of it.

October 19, 2008 at 10:26 am
(1) AutismNewsBeat says:

And check this out: here’s Denis McCarthy pictured between Jenny McCarthy and Amanda Peet, in a major article on ABC News’ Entertainment website!

I think you mean Denis Leary

October 19, 2008 at 10:47 am
(2) Robin H. Morris says:

Lisa Jo,
You may have read my blog last week http://www.revolutionhealth.com/blogs/resilientmom/celebrities-sensation-16379
Celebrities Sensationalizing Autism.
Remember, first and foremost, there is money in Autism. Every comedian, shock jock, actress, snake oil salesman or politician that needs a boost will rely on the disease du jour for publicity.
It’s attention 101, albeit negative, for those of us who are simply trying to raise our children with autism.

October 19, 2008 at 1:19 pm
(3) autism says:

AutismNewsBeat – YES! I like it. Actually, though, he’s not physically with the ladies at all… it’s just a set of head shots…

Robin – seems to me that a lot of this sensationalizing happens because we, the autism community, are willing to rise to the bait. Heck, any PR person worth their salt would recommend a mention of autism just to get the repercussions on national and international media. In fact, I’m betting that’s why it was mentioned so often in the political debates.

Personally, I feel that we’re legitimizing a lot of nonsense when we actually organize to combat Denis Leary. There are plenty of things to organize for, against, and with – from educational opportunities to housing to massive cuts in state-level funding for all kinds of programs for folks with autism.

But to take a book like Leary’s seriously (when he himself wrote it as a joke), and then spend good time and money to actually protest it? Seems to me we’re giving him what he wants and needs, and all we’re getting out of it is a headache, bad digestion, and even slimmer wallets.

Lisa (autism guide)

October 19, 2008 at 1:39 pm
(4) Sandy says:

I cant imagine any respectable adult/role model repeating the suggesting to kill someone over words they used. Should we kill our X’s who say the same things? Or our in-laws? Or that person at Target? I cant imagine the autism community is that angry to send 10,000 e-mails stating such things. Someone needs to step in and calm these people down.

I’m beginning to think it’s all a well-thought out media plot. Some one says something negative, being their opinion, and you get the ‘role models’ to jump right in. They all end up with publicity but to what end? Is it helping our kids? Are any of our kids aware of these media statements? Would it filter down to their peers? Who do you think will buy this book anyway? No one I know is planning on it. And in the end, people like me will just roll their eyes and again think anyone in Hollywood is out to get recognition via other’s: those with autism. Yes, there are bullies in school, and you don’t have to have autism to be their targets. You can be over weight, a jock, a book worm, not popular, not wear the name brand clothes, wear glasses or braces on your teeth. When my child is bullied, I do not relate it back to autism. I relate it to plain old fashioned mean kids. Why anyone would want to contribute to these statements is beyond me, since what will happen is our kids will figure autism IS something bad (for those who comprehend they have autism). “Mommy, why are you mad?” “Well, child of mine, this actor said some horrible things about autism.” “Like what, Mommy?” My child is allowed to see the word autism all over my house and he knows some people don’t understand, like his own dad. I wont waste my time making explanations and excuses for that dad or Leary (who my son will never have contact with), but build my son up for who he is.

I don’t get excited over these media things, I wont waste my time on one or two men’s opinions which hardly would effect my or my family and no one else should, either. They’re sucking up energy that could and should be used on much better focuses that are on-going in the autism community, like services, public school system and health care.

October 19, 2008 at 3:22 pm
(5) keithwren says:

Which is worse? Someone making an innocent comment or someone else wanting to “kill them” for making it? With Autism close to us, we certainly know a lot about it, and all of us to varying degrees.

The frustrations Autism brings to friends and families are, at times, insurmountable. I personally have no remorse about people making a comment because they don’t understand about Autism. It is understandable that people outside of the situation could not possibly understand. Autism is a continual learning process for us all!

God bless all these unique kids!

October 19, 2008 at 4:29 pm
(6) AutismNewsBeat says:

AutismNewsBeat – YES! I like it. Actually, though, he’s not physically with the ladies at all… it’s just a set of head shots…

Lisa, who is Denis McCarthy?

October 19, 2008 at 7:41 pm
(7) autism says:

Another Jennifer: Yes, I DO think Leary has a point. I DO think that high functioning autism and asperger syndrome is often overdiagnosed, especially in adults.

BUT – the snippet that’s been cited over and over again is about children, not adults, and it seems to be specifically intended to “call out” the parents of children with autism as incompetent and/or uncaring parents of stupid, lazy children.

I thought Savage had some worthwhile things to say, too. Problem is that, when the worthwhile stuff is packaged inside a giant ball of verbal poop, the worthwhile stuff is lost while the poop is sniffed loud and clear.

This happens all too often, and not only relative to autism. The difference is that in the autism community we respond like a bomb on a short fuse!


Lisa (autism guide)

October 20, 2008 at 12:43 am
(8) EKSwitaj says:

Sorry, but your mother’s answer was hogwash and applying it to a community of people being attacked is offensive. You, like your mother, are choosing to blame the victim and place the onus of prevention on the victim rather than on the perpetrator.

Now, what Ms. McCarthy had to say was out of line, but in the opinion of this adult aspie, her attitude towards autistics isn’t really that much better anyway.

I suppose that when someone is being inaccurate and insulting, we simply ought to let it lie, right? I suppose that we should just be meek and polite and it will all go away? That no one will believe the lies?

Sorry, silence doesn’t solve anything.

October 20, 2008 at 7:43 am
(9) Sandy says:

I disagree, silence solves much and in situations like this, it’s a loosing battle. Anyone can write a book and say what they want, no one is going to ever stop that or stop other’s opinions of anything including autism and those type people are not about to accept someone else’s opinion to tell them their wrong. You can talk or e-mail till you’re blue in the face, wont change a thing since the person is using autism (or whatever) as a ratings gain or self-promotion. The more yapping about it, the more attention this book get’s, more people will buy it just to see what’s in it, filling the pockets of this person.

We all know what autism, all the important people know what autism is. For this one book, there are zillions more that are actually medical and educationally based. Being meek or speaking up, will not prevent the next self-promoter. The negative comments related to MR still happen, and probbaly always will. It’s picking battles, weighing the facts as to if this Leary knows what he’s talking about and who will even listen to him anyway. What people will more listen to is those who suggest to kill and yell at someone which is hardly a manner to speak to anyone. To me, that’s worse than what this Leary is writing. It gives the depiction of us parents as being irate, hot tempered and threatening.

Yes, being silent means we all know better and not giving such self-promoters the time of our busy day.

October 24, 2008 at 2:46 pm
(10) Robin H. Morris says:

This story has legs to be sure. Lisa Jo, no matter how hard we want to squelch negative publicity, your blog as well as my posts and the plethora of responses are derived from concern. The latest issue is that many alumnae of Emerson College, Leary’s alma mater, are demanding that his name be removed from fund raising letters. The notion that a school that has garnered a fine reputation for providing innovative courses for children with communication disorders would be the source of comedy has raised many eyebrows.
The problem for me lies in the responses of people who are putting down the parents who are appalled by such comedy.
Here is my post and the story:

The Boston Globe has reported turmoil amongst the alumnae of Emerson College, Dennis Leary’s alma mater. Whether or not the comedian has been philanthropic to various charities, including the college, angry parents are requesting attention to this matter. Writer Michael Levenson details various responses:

“Sheri Dyas Mellott, a 1995 graduate and mother of two children with autism, noted that the college boasts a successful Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders, which trains undergraduate and graduate students to work with autistic children.

“I think it’s disgusting that a school that boasts that kind of program would be enlisting help from Mr. Leary,” said Mellott, adding that on Monday she had received an Emerson fund-raising letter signed by Leary and his wife, Ann Lembeck Leary, a 1985 graduate. “Whether in jest or not, it’s just in poor taste. And I think it’s offensive.”

David Rosen, an Emerson spokesman, said the college is drafting a letter apologizing to graduates who complained. He said alumni “were quite justifiably upset, but you have too look at the totality of this individual, who has done so much good for so many people.”

I have to say that I was most surprised to read the counter responses on the web site who refer to offended parents as “bleeding heart nutjobs” who need to “get over themselves” and “Lighten up! Get a life! Nuff said?”

I feel as if I am in the Twilight Zone, awaiting The Hitchhiker. Who stole our humanity? When is something simply NOT funny? Walk the walk in a family of autism’s shoes, then and only then can you talk the talk. There is a line, when crossed is dangerous territory. Certainly Mr. Leary and his posse of followers have their own personal verboten arena. Try it on for size, then find humor.

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