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Gupta, Autism, and EBD policy

It will be interesting to watch what happens if Dr. Sanjay Gupta becomes US Surgeon General and a chief advisor on public health policy for the Obama administration, as many news sources are reporting is likely to happen. Of special interest to those who are concerned about Emotional and Behavioral Disorders will by how Dr. Gupta addresses issues associated with Autism. Vaccines? Facilitated communication?

As Harold Doherty noted about a year ago on Facing Autism in New Brunswick, in his public career on the news-and-information source CNN Dr. Gupta has promoted discussion of some questions from his CNN pulpit. However, there is a lot more to Autism than providing a forum for people to brandish their often-ill-informed opinions about vaccines.

CNN is one of the world’s great communication and education organizations. People around the world listen to CNN and learn about the world from CNN. Hopefully Dr Gupta means it when he says he wishes to report on ALL aspects of autism. He might start by visiting the Long Island residential care facility where a middle aged woman who could not communicate at all was repeatedly abused by staff until outed by a conscientious co-worker and video recordings. The good doctor could also interview people with knowledge of the life of Tiffany Pinckney who died in Toronto from starvation and neglect while living in “the care” of her adoptive sister. Or he could talk to parents whose autistic children wandered into traffic to be lost forever or who have been restrained physically, left in a brick walled isolation room for hours, or simply sent home from school.

The list could continue: Parents who have taken out mortgages to secure financing for the private therapy their children desperately need but that schools will not provide. Promulgation of best-evidence interventions. Coordination of services across the disparate agencies that affect the services individual children receive. Respite care so that parents can catch their breath for a weekend. Etc. And we haven’t even begun to list medical, behavioral, or educational research needs. (Add other potential foci in the comments, please.)

As the holder of one of the most influential posts in public health, Dr. Gupta will need to wade into some difficult issues. He will have to go beyond simply making statements that solicit viewer interaction while avoiding alienating them, a strategy that serves one well in promoting discussions. Discussions are nice, but US health policy—about Autism and many other issues closely connected to Emotional and Behavioral Disorders—needs bold leadership informed by the best available science. Such leadership is likely to cause dissatisfaction among those who receive their wisdom from anecdotes told on popular mass media shows, give as much credence to evidence-based presentations as to an individual’s illogical assertion of correlation, and embed ad hominem attacks in their anonymous comments on discussion boards.

How would Dr. Gupta respond to questions posed by folks representing diverse views about Autism (see, e.g., Kristina Chew’s note about the participation of the Autism Self-Advocacy Network in discussions with the Obama administration)?

Review Mr. Doherty’s comments from his post about Dr. Gupta in January of 2008. For a sample of the interactions about Autism that have been engendered by Dr. Gupta’s work on CNN, see this discussion of vaccinations. Consider saying something about Dr. Gupta’s CNN pieces on FC.

Updates (of a more general nature):

More: Huffingtonpost post: Conyers: Obama Should Not Nominate Sanjay Gupta;