The Writing on the Wall

OMG Zombies! The leper-outcast-unclean-undead are on the move, seeking to steal away our chilluns and Eat Their Brains!

Except I’m not talking about the latest sci-fi movie with Will Smith. I’ve finally gotten to the point to where I can speak reasonably about the horrible “ransom notes” campaign by the NYU Child Study Center. Their billboards and magazine ads describe children with OCD, ADHD, depression et cetera as being stolen away and held hostage by their disorders. In an article in the New York Times, the organisation’s description of the effort says,

We hope to both generate a national dialogue that will end the stigma surrounding childhood psychiatric disorders and advance the science, giving children the help they need and deserve.

Excuse me? How the HELL does this horrifying campaign “end the stigma”? The stigmas that people with such conditions face are NOT caused by the conditions, they are caused by societal attitudes! Such negative, one-sided publicity only reinforces such.

The demonisation of differences creates fear, loathing and hatred of not only the disorder/disability, but also the person “horribly afflicted” with such (/sarcasm). It’s bad enough that media personalities are describing autistics as “soulless shells”, now we have children who were stolen away, who can do no good — they will be a family burden, a drain on social resources and will surely self-destruct.

Quoted in an article in the New York Daily News, Dr Koplewicz, director of center, calls the campaign “edgy”:

“It’s harsh and edgy and shocking but I don’t think it’s nearly as shocking as the diseases themselves, and the lack of treatment,” he said. “It’s time for psychotic disorders to be equal to physical disorders.”

(“Ooh look — we’re doing Good Works and attracting lots of attention with our “edgy” ads — aren’t we just so clever?”) But that’s not “edgy” — that’s cutting, deeply, stick-the-blade-in-and-twist-it cutting. And “psychotic disorders” ? Things like ADHD or Asperger’s are not psychoses. (You’d think Dr Koplewicz would know better.) These ads do a disservice to millions of children and their families by using such gross inaccuracies to describe disorders in such terms. Way to go to end that stigma, man.

Demonisation separates the accused as being not-quite-human, and thus outside the realm of deserving public goodwill. Demonisation discredits advocates, including self-advocates of the group being slandered. After all, one can’t expect “psychotic” people who were kidnapped by diseases, who are “unable to socialize”, who are a “detriment to [themselves] and others” to be knowledgeable, helpful citizen who want to and who can participate in society.

I’m really, really tired of the “War On X” campaigns, and the “Terrorism” metaphors. Ransom notes is another terrorism metaphor, and it’s especially cruel and disrespectful to those families whose children really were kidnapped by (real, live) criminals.

If you have a child who has a disorder (such as bulimia), the last thing you want to read is a crude magazine ad framing the problem in catastropic terms. This isn’t helpful; it isn’t productive. It doesn’t make your life any easier with your co-workers or boss when you have to take time off work to take your child in for an appointment. Making such issues “shocking” doesn’t put a sympathetic face to a problem when you have to broach the subject with extended family members. All this negative press makes it more difficult for people to discuss problems, to get support from their various social networks, or to be willing to consider anything but the most radical forms of treatment that must surely go with such terrifying diagnoses.

And can you imagine how reading this giant billboard would make feel if you were severely depressed:

We have taken your son. We have imprisoned him in a maze of darkness with no hope of ever getting out. Do nothing and see what happens…Depression

Well, I don’t have to imagine — I’ve been severely depressed, and I can say that the “hopeless” scenario is guaranteed to NOT HELP. Doomed, we’re doooommmed. ::shudder:: These kinds of ads certainly don’t inspire me to patronise the NYU Child Study Center. The whole tone is very unprofessional, and the catastrophic emphasis doesn’t lead me to expect good results from their practice. Apparently the advertising work was done pro bono by BBDO; I say the NYU CSC got what they paid for.

People with various disorders and/or disabilities need education, support and acceptance. Horribly negative “awareness campaigns” like this are anything but! I have seen the writing on the wall, and it’s all about demonising disorders and magnifying stigma. Please, go sign the petition put together by Ari Ne’eman, president of The Autistic Self Advocacy Network, and supported by a dozen different kinds of advocacy groups.


  1. shiva said,

    19 December 2007 at 2:11

    These kinds of ads certainly don’t inspire me to patronise the NYU Child Study Center.

    Awww, poor little NYU Child Study Center…

    Sorry, i have a twisted sense of humour ;)

  2. Patrick said,

    18 December 2007 at 18:50

    If I hear enough of this negative baloney I might just start beleiving it. (Autism Creaks, Generation WrecksYou, now NYU too)

    (How’s that for a response.)

    I could stay at home, not go to work, call my shrink(s), and tell them NYU’s CSC has scared the cr@p out of me and I’m now scared of what I’ll do to myself or others, I’m not going to go out of the house, or eat, and starve myself to death by new year.

  3. Marla said,

    18 December 2007 at 17:21

    Yes, it is all a terrible campaign. I hope they do not spread to our area.

  4. 18 December 2007 at 12:03

    THANK YOU for linking to the petition. I’ve now signed it. This is the text that I wrote there:

    I am an adult with attention deficit disorder. I am NOT KIDNAPPED by my ADD and never have been. Has my ADD caused difficulties for me? Yes, undeniably yes. But my ADD has also helped contribute to traits in myself that I value highly, such as my creativity. And most of the hardships I have experienced are not directly from my ADD, or even due to “lack of treatment,” but to lack of RECOGNITION (I was not diagnosed until age 26) and lack of AWARENESS and UNDERSTANDING that make it hard for me to get the support I need (emotional or pragmatic). Your campaign only serves to DESTROY understanding and make me MORE afraid to disclose this piece of information about myself to others, not less. Because after a campaign like yours, why on Earth should I want to be associated in the mind of others with a condition that supposedly makes me a “deteriment to myself and others”? Congratulations on a campaign that does the exact opposite of what you claim you supposedly wanted to do.

  5. Club 166 said,

    18 December 2007 at 11:48

    Excellent post!


  6. 18 December 2007 at 8:05

    I’ve been reading about this a lot, on various blogs. It’s appalling – there are no words to describe how bad this is. From my viewpoint, this is what happens when the medical model of disability is allowed to run riot. Social Model thinking is the answer, as you pointed out – challenging society, where the stigma comes from, rather than demonising the conditions. I hope that a lot of groups are involved in challenging this, including mental health advocacy people. I’m very glad to hear that autistic people are challenging it. I’ll sign the petition.

%d bloggers like this: