Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Toxicity: A Discussion

Over on the daily embarrassment known as Age of Autism, editor Dan Olmstead has decided to launch a personal attack against Kathleen Seidel. In the hit-piece, he attempts to draw imaginary lines between Kathleen's career path and resulting ethyl mercury exposure, with the fact that she is the parent of an autistic person.
It is de rigeur to find this type of (poorly done and factually erroneous) attempted character assassination on AoA, as past "victims" have included anyone from respected researcher
Nancy Minshew, to vaccine expert Paul Offit, to Drs. (and parents) Joyce Chung and Roy Richard Grinker, among many others.
Kev has already explained the foundational level of ineptness displayed by Dan Olmstead in writing this most recent diatribe, by explaining that the supposed ethyl mercury exposure that Mr. Olmstead has 'accused' Kathleen of never actually happened. No need to rehash that point again, as I'm sure Mr. Olmstead is appropriately ashamed of his blind leap to conclusions by now. Or perhaps not, since Mr. Olmstead seems to have made a career of this type of dot-connecting without fact-checking.

What I want to address is the common content of the comments on that post. Aside from the expected "GO DAN!" style of comments, there is a recurring theme there of agreement on something that Mr. Olmstead brought up in his attempt to discredit Kathleen.
Mr. Olmstead's piece uses the following quote from Kathleen Seidel:

"Excuse me. Did it ever occur to [vaccine mercury critics] that someone might object to having their family members labeled as inherently toxic?"

as a springboard for his counter-argument:

"Well, they might object, but that doesn't have any bearing on the truth."

And the commenters to the piece really dig in to this concept, with comments like:

"There is absolutely no logic in saying that it is offensive to imply that a child is poisoned. Poising is something that happens to someone.Poisoning is not a trait one is born with. How can you "offend" someone by stating or hypothesizing that an event happened to someone? Ridiculous!"
"And "toxic" is not an insult -- it is a possible explanation which, when treated, can sometimes result in substantial improvement in quality of life -- health, social skills, cognition..."
"What an ostrich attitude, construing concern over treatment of a medical malady instead as a social gaffe. I know toxic people, myself among them, and have no problem applying or wearing that label."
"Is Kathleen Seidel Toxic?
Unequivocally "yes".
What else could explain her aggressive, obsessive, hateful demeanor.
Somebody toss this woman a DMSA, please!"

I had to throw that last quote in as a perfect example of what connotations the word "toxic" carries in today's vernacular.

Having read these comments, I think perhaps I can offer One Dad's Opinion - not to be confused with "the Neurodiversity movement" (if anyone has a membership list for the ND's, I'd love to see one) - on why it is so important to not refer to our children as toxic when they are not.
Toxic is defined as:

tox·ic (t k s k)


1. Of, relating to, or caused by a toxin or other poison: a toxic condition; toxic hepatitis.

2. Capable of causing injury or death, especially by chemical means; poisonous: food preservatives that are toxic in concentrated amounts; a dump for toxic industrial wastes. See Synonyms at poisonous.

This, then, is the set of parameters folks at Age of Autism are setting for our children. They would have you believe that, in the immortal words of JB Handley, "There is no such thing as autism. Autism is just a mis-diagnosis for mercury poisoning." Words that JB - founder of Generation Rescue and Age of Autism - has never retracted.

The logical extension of this statement is quite simple:

Toxic is bad
Non-toxic ("cured" or "recovered") is good

Since they also take the position that autism is condition resulting from toxicity, then of course:

Autistic is bad
Non-autistic is good

Now I'm not going to sit here and say there is nothing bad about the condition of being autistic, as different individuals experience the challenges and disabling aspects of autism in different ways and it would be foolish to sugarcoat those aspects. And it is certainly not my place to speak for anyone else on this topic. But I have a serious problem with autism being approached from a de facto position that it is a lesser circumstance.

This position requires the view that autism is inherently negative, and that elimination of the condition of autism (i.e. toxicity) is the only worthy goal. Recall that autism is defined as a life-long disorder. There is documented improvement in some young children - some even "moving off" the spectrum altogether - but no "treatment" oriented toward resolving the hypothesized toxicity component has been shown to have been more effective than placebo. So often it has amazed me that, among the parents who go down the road of hard-core buying into the "toxic child" mythology, so little thought is given to the life-long impact of their particular brand of PR on those people who will remain autistic and require community supports throughout their lifespan. The mantra seems to be, "I recovered my kid, aren't you ashamed that you haven't even tried?" Which equates in my mind to, "My kid is better off than yours because he/she is less autistic than yours".
Are these people unable to conceptualize how the "toxicity" view of autism would dictate how educator and service providers may view the individual? Imagine an IEP meeting - "How is Kim this year? Still poisoned? Oh, that sucks ... I guess we'll have to support her again. When do you think she might be detoxed?"
And let's just say that the PR machine (all style, no substance) that is GR and AoA succeeds in their very expensive and cult-like "selling" of the toxic child paradigm to the general public. What, then, of the autistic teens, young adults, and adults that are out in the community - participating as is their God-given right? Will they be met with sad looks, hushed conversations just out of earshot about the poor "toxic cesspool" that is the autistic person? How, exactly, does this world-view engender dignity for the autistic person? You know what? It doesn't. It just doesn't. And it saddens me that people like Mr. Olmstead - himself a person who is NOT a stakeholder in the autism community - devote their efforts to entrenching the public in this erroneous and harmful paradigm. And it saddens me that, as he spirals downward into the rabbit hole of quackery, bad journalism, and harmful mythology, he feels the need to try to drag good people - the latest being Kathleen Seidel - down with him.

Shame, Mr. Olmstead. Shame.

For those who may want to get a more accurate view of Kathleen Seidel's thoughts on autism, you may want to consider reading this excellent essay. It provides a roadmap for how we can aspire to view the Autistic Distinction with the dignity and respect that is so lacking on Mr. Olmstead's Age of Autism.


Matt said...

People are not "toxic", they are "intoxicated" or "poisoned".

People with autism are not "intoxicated" or "poisoned" as a rule.

The language is part of the problem.

In the words of one brave person, "Stop the Hate Speech!"

Anonymous said...

Yes, Stop the hate speech. And whoever is paying DAN to write such hateful trip can step forward and take his part of the blame for it.

notmercury said...

That was a fantastic response, Steve. Thanks for saying all of that so perfectly.

Kathleen Seidel said...

Thank you.

Niksmom said...

Fantastic post, Steve. Thanks.

Jennifer said...

Thank you Steve. My child is not toxic, nor is she "diseased" - another nasty word used by parents looking for medicare-supported autism "treatments".

Joseph said...

"Well, they might object, but that doesn't have any bearing on the truth."

Well, nothing Dan Olmsted writes has any bearing on the truth, evidently.

isles said...

It has just never made sense to me that anyone has trouble understanding this: When you say "John has been poisoned," you are saying John is not right, there's something wrong with John. Duh, of course this is offensive to John, if he has not actually been poisoned.

TheProbe said...

Age of Ignorance could not handle this post, so they censored it:

Olmsted bleated:
"Well, I don't think every case of autism is caused by mercury poisoning -- just that mercury, as a matter of simple fact, is implicated in the rise of autism."

If it is so simple a fact, why can't your mercury mental minnows find some real proof?

Olmsted brayed: "It's a free country and a reasonable public health debate, whether Paul Offit and Kathleen Seidel object or not (and boy, do they)."

No, they do not object to a reasonable public health debate. The problems YOU have, are that 1) you need a strawman to help you, and 2) your conception of 'reasonable' is not rational.

But, PUHLEESE, keep up your bleating and braying. It only proves the paucity of your arguments.

Note that I do not expect this to be posted, but, I will save it, and post it as a response at every blog and mention your censorship.

bTW, Steve, great response on your part. However, the Age of Ignorance does make it easy.

Alyric said...

Thank you Steve for this great post and especially for showing where the 'toxicity' paradigm leads. Very well done:)

leila said...

Shameless indeed! And what a pathetic attempt to infer from her previous occupation that she could have been exposed to mercury. He didn't even bother investigating that she was in fact an administrative person not in contact with the medical materials.

Foresam said...

If the CDC hadn't decided to cover up the evidence, they would be the ones advising everyone to detox their kids.

Anonymous said...

Anytime I see anyone say the words "vaccine expert Paul Offit" I laugh out loud, and ignore the rest of the blog. If you, or anyone else, does not see the gross conflict of interest of a "vaccine expert" making hundreds of millions of dollars off of his vaccine patents (and then being a credible source of info), we have a long way to go.

TheGonzoGirl said...

Daily embarrassment indeed!!!
AoA is one of the worst blogs, and I can't even comment on it in detail, because I'd just explode in a big fit of rage...
THANK YOU for taking the time to rip their nonsense apart, it's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

A word to the fantastically stupid "Anonymous":
Of course a peer reviewed scientist like Paul Offit, who's invention saves HUNDREDS of lives EVERY SINGLE DAY, must be evil, because he earns money with it, right?
That's why we should abandon science and listen to the expert medical knowledge of a former Playboy model, who thinks she has a "chrystal" child?
The irony behind the "big pharma" conspiracy is:
Age of Autism is SPONSORED by the Lee Silsby Compounding Pharmacy, and features ads for *cough*quack*cough* remedies on their blog.
Conflict of interest.
Yeah, right.