Sunday, April 17, 2016

Paging De Niro and Hightower...Wakefield isn't really in it to help autistics

Much ado has been made recently regarding the film Vaxxed: From Cover up to Catastrophe and rightfully so.  There have been numerous criticisms of the film and fortunately, Liz Ditz at I Speak of Dreams has been keeping a running list.  I won't be adding to that list any time soon, my interest is of a different sort.  Recently, it was revealed that Andrew Wakefield gave an email exchange he had with Grace Hightower, Robert De Niro's wife, to Celia Farber, a rabid HIV-AIDS denialist who serves as Wakefield's lackey to release personal communications that Wakefield apparently wants publicised.  Ms. Farber published an email exchange on her blog between Wakefield and Hightower but pulled it about an hour later.  It has been cached here (Hat tip: Mrs Pointer).

There are some revealing statements from Andrew Wakefield that warrant discussing.  First is this:
From: Andy Wakefield [email address redacted]
Date: Mon, Mar 28, 2016 at 2:55 PM
To: Grace DeNiro [email address redacted]

Did you share the confidential link to our movie with third parties? If so, who were these third parties?

From: Office Of Grace Hightower
Date: Mon, Mar 28, 2016 at 4:45 PM
Subject: Re: IMPORTANT
To: Andy Wakefield

Bob shared it with Jane Rosenthal and she shared it with her sister Pam Rawlings [sic]. These are the two people I am aware of his sharing it with. I shared it with no one.
This was two days after Wakefield's film was pulled from the Tribeca Film Festival. First, Jane Rosenthal is the co-founder, along with Robert DeNiro, of the Tribeca Film Festival and also co-chair.  She has an extensive and impressive portfolio of films she has produced, many featuring Robert De Niro.  Pam Rollins (not Rawlings) is Jane Rosenthal's sister and an associate professor at the University of Texas and an expert in communication and autism spectrum disorders.  Then:
On Mar 29, 2016, at 9:18 AM, Andy Wakefield wrote:
Grace, whatever may have happened – and I guess I will never know – in truth my heart goes out to you and Bob. Not only has your family’s life been blighted by autism, but you have experienced some of the relentless and ruthless pressure that has been my life for as long as I can remember.
In truth and healing

Andy Wakefield
Autism Media Channel
Emphasis added.  Let that sink in.

Andrew Jeremy Wakefield essentially called Mr. De Niro's and Ms. Hightower's son a blight on their family.  Of course the devoted flock of Wakefield would argue that he only meant that autism was a blight but it's not.  Autism is part of who the person is for better or worse, just ask an autistic person.  This is the danger of embarking upon the "autism is a tragedy" train; parents no longer see their autistic child but rather one that has been "stolen by" autism" or has had "the soul taken away from them".  Bob Wright, founder of Autism Speaks testified at a 2007 congressional meeting about federal funding for autism.  Here is a chilling quote from him:
Our grandson, Christian, was diagnosed with autism in 2004.  Helpless, we watched him slip away into the cruel embrace of this disorder.  My wife, Suzanne, likens it to a kidnapping, as if someone had taken away the life Christian was meant to live. We all want nothing more than to have him back where he belongs, restored to his family--he's a little prisoner.
This is from the man who founded, what is perhaps, the largest autism charity in the country.  And from Bradley Whitford, the then-acting president of Autism Speaks (from the same meeting):
As my friend, John, has said many times, it's as if 1 in 150 American children was being kidnapped.  What would this Congress do if that was the case? What must it do to deal with these sad facts as they truly are?...

Portia has written a book about Dov called Strange Son.  Here's how she describes the kidnapping, ``It was his mind they came for.  They came to steal his mind. Before anyone gave it a name, even before I knew what it was, I knew it was in our house.  They were very, very dark things, and there was no way to get rid of them.  When I closed my eyes, I felt their shadows passing over me.  I didn't like to think about where they came from, or where they were going.  It was too frightening.  Dov was only a baby, and something was trying to steal him away.  I knew that that was what they did whenever I accidentally fell asleep.  Night after night, I sat beside his crib.  I knew he was slipping away from us, away from our world, and there was nothing I could do to stop it from happening, and there was nothing anybody could do, they told me.  So, I did the only things I could--I guarded him.  Although I knew it would do no good, because I could not guard his mind.  Then, one day, it happened. He was gone.  ''It is even more than just a tragedy for these kids, many of whom, like Dov, we now know to be of extraordinary intelligence, but trapped in bodies which do not allow them to effectively communicate or interact with the rest of us.  It's also a tragedy for our families and for our country.

As if it wasn't obvious, all people mentioned subscribe to the vaccine-causation idea of autism.  Incidentally, De Niro and Hightower are supporters of Autism Speaks. They don't accept their child has been born that way and autism isn't something done to him by vaccines.  That is what is so vile about Andrew Wakefield's statement.  More on that later.  Ms. Hightower not only doesn't appear to be bothered by such a remark but feels sorry for Wakefield:
On Mar 30, 2016, at 3:42 PM, Office of Grace Hightower wrote:

Will you give me a call. I have an idea.
I feel awful about what happened and how it happened. I found out that the film was pulled along with the rest of the world.
The exchange continues:
On Mar 31, 2016, at 5:06 PM, Andy Wakefield wrote:

I will. I am headed for LAX and will try from there.
Sent from my iPhone

On Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 9:39 AM, Office of Grace Hightower wrote:

Just saw Ian Lipkin’s write up in NYT on March 30th you are entitled to a rebuttal. Also he was one of two doctors that I found out consulted TriBeCa. The other is Pam Rollins of Dallas, Jane Rosenthal’s sister. Don’t know of any others but, will let you know if I hear of any others. I spoke with Ian and found him to be quite pro industry and not at all really interested in autism.

"Not at all really interested in autism"?  Let's see, Dr. Lipkin is only the principle investigator for the Autism Birth Cohort Project.  What are Andrew Wakefield's credentials again?  The exchange concludes with this:
On Apr 1, 2016, at 11:30 AM, Andy Wakefield wrote:

In flight. It seems to me that Rosenthal’s breach of confidentiality is a dismissible offense. We were assured there would be no consequence to her breach and clearly there was – one that amounts to defamation. We arrive around 12.00 in NYC. I will call and perhaps we could grab a coffee over the weekend.
From: Business Office 1

Date: Fri, Apr 1, 2016 at 5:34 PM

Subject: Re: Reflections
To: Andy Wakefield
Yes, I recalled. I am in Florida now will be in NYC afternoon of April 4th.
Are you still in town? Would like to see and chat.

Sent from my iPhone
On one hand Wakefield suggests to Ms. Hightower that Jane Rosenthal should be removed from chairing the Tribeca Film Festival for "breach of confidentiality" yet has absolutely no problem handing a confidential email exchange to Celia Farber to publish.  This isn't the first time he's done this.  Wakefield's sheer arrogance is astonishing.  It will be interesting to see what transpires after this.  But this is only a part of the problem.

What is so very disturbing about this exchange is Wakefield's contempt for autistics while at the same time claiming to champion them.  Admittedly, I haven't seen the movie but will, although all I need to know is in the trailer.  Wakefield and company portray autistics in the worst possible light while portraying the parents as victims.

I have to ask, did anyone get informed consent from the autistic children in the film?  Did they get a say in whether they would like to be portrayed as damaged blights to their families and society?  I think we all know the answer to that.  Sadly, that is the power of Wakefield, his hustle to make himself attractive to otherwise (in some cases) intelligent people.  He appeals to the parents greatest fears and vulnerabilities.  He perpetuates the notion that autistics are less than human and exploits them for his own gain.  This is a very prevalent theme amongst the vaccines-causes-autism crowd.

Wakefield's co-producer Polly Tommey (founder of Autism Media Channel which Wakefield is the director of but isn't listed) allowed her son Billy to be exploited in this film.  Polly Tommey's daughter Bella is also in it and has a blog.  Bella wrote a post in October 2014 which was a dehumanising exposé of her own brother thinly-veiled as a special plea for her own martyrdom.  I posted a comment on the blog but it was removed:

Raising autistic children is a challenge; having an autistic sibling is a challenge but one crucial detail that is left out of this for vaccine-causation parents is that their children have the right to privacy; they have the right to dignity; they have a right to be raised in an environment which does not make them believe they are damaged.  This is the slippery-slope that ensues when parents view autism as a tragedy, something external foisted upon their children who would have been perfect otherwise.  They become less-than-human.

Lesile Weghorn of The Scientific Parent recently wrote a compelling article about how autistics feel about themselves when referred to as "vaccine-damaged".  It is gut-wrenching that autistics have to grow up in a world where they are thought of as a tragedy, a burden and now, a blight on their families.  Did Robert DeNiro and Grace Hightower even bother to talk to some autistics, perhaps even their own son about how autistics are portrayed in the media?  Perhaps they would like to talk to real autism advocates, other parent/advocates of autistic children and autistics about how they feel and how damaging Wakefield's film is, not only on a public health basis but how cruelly he depicts autistics.

Andrew Wakefield is a professional parasite who slimed his way into the De Niro's hearts preying upon their vulnerability, desperation and celebrity.  I wonder though, even if Robert De Niro and Grace Hightower subscribe to the vaccine-causation idea, would they consent to have their son portrayed in the manner Wakefield exploited in his film?  Even more importantly, would their son consent to be portrayed in such a humiliating manner?  If they don't have a problem with their son being called a blight on their family would they mind their son's personal details on display for public consumption?  If they would have a problem with that then perhaps they should reconsider Andrew Wakefield as an ally and take a critical look at who he really is because he isn't an autism advocate or researcher or even film-maker as he so recently fancies himself. 

De Niro and Hightower have the ability and resources to make a real difference and a positive impact on issues surrounding autism.  Pimping a fraud of a documentary about an issue that has been settled is intellectually and socially lazy.  Giving a platform to an unethical, disgraceful excuse for a physician who has damaged public health and profoundly contributed to the negative perception of autistics is an affront to all autistics and their families.

Friday, April 1, 2016

TMI - too much information - join National Autistic Society's new campaign

A young child in purple shirt, surrounded by many people and sounds, holds their ears shut to block out the sensory input - white on pink letters spell "TOO MUCH INFORMATION"

The British National Autistic Society (NAS) has launched a new campaign today, on 1 April, the start of Autism "Awareness" Month. Shockingly, there is very little awareness or acceptance of autistic children and adults in the UK:

28% of autistic people have been asked to leave a public space because of behaviour associated with their autism, 79% of autistic people and 70% of parents felt socially isolated.
The NAS argues that if someone sees only a "naughty kid" when they see a child in sensory overload, they clearly don't have enough information yet. They ask everyone: put yourself on the map and support the NAS to get everyone to understand autism.

A purple outline of the UK and Northern Ireland with bright dots representing clusters of supporters, on the left in white letters on pink background "PUT YOURSELF ON THE MAP"

Visit their site and check out the NAS' material, including a movie illustrating the sensory overload for a young autistic boy. This morning, on the BBC, he explained he hoped:

"this [movie] would cause awareness and respect, because that's as important as anything"