Investigative Journalism, Part Two

In yesterday’s post I described three articles that have appeared in the Chicago Tribune. The first, published two years ago, questioned the scientific underpinnings of ASD treatment and profiled the case of an apparently (?) recovered seven-year-old boy whose father contended that the boy would have progressed without, and may have suffered (yet unmanifested) harm from, biomedical interventions. The second and third articles, published last month, reported that this father’s complaint against Dr. Anju Usman, one of the boy’s treating physicians, had led to medical board charges against her. They also provided the detail that the boy’s treatment had been the subject of a divorce proceeding in which his mother, who supported the biomedical interventions, had lost custody.

Today I’m writing about the effect that such an article has on a parent undertaking a recovery journey. Specifically, this parent. Me.

I’ve made no secret that we’ve chosen an arduous path. Treating ASD biomedically means we’re raising Martin inconveniently. We’re navigating 21st-century America without processed or packaged foods, tap water for drinking or cooking, a microwave, grains, sugar, non-organic products, or restaurants. Martin swallows a lot of supplements—I’m not going to claim “six pills at once,” like the father in the Tribune article, but enough—and participates in 16 HANDLE exercises daily. We do RDI. It’s so much that, any moment when I’m not marveling some new achievement, I’m probably contemplating giving up.

Which means that during the past three months I’ve had a lot of time to contemplate giving up.

When I do research about Martin’s treatment, I seek out multiple sources and do my best to weed out bias, hyperbole, and blanket statements. When I speak with Martin’s practitioners, whether Track One or Track Two, I attempt to engage in dialogue: question, answer, challenge.

A mainstream-newspaper “investigation” is a different sort of animal. Because of their stature, we count on the big sources to do our homework for us, to examine every side and summarize fairly. To question, answer, and challenge without our participation. I studied magazine journalism as an undergraduate, and I remember this rule: When you’re going to write a major article, for that moment in time, you must become the world’s leading authority on your topic. In my mind, before the Chicago Tribune reporters sat down to write their original piece, they should have been the world’s leading authorities on biomedical ASD recovery.

And when the world’s leading authorities say a process is “dubious” and “unsupported,” that’s a pretty good reason to quit, right? Especially if the process is taking a toll on you like none you’ve ever known.

I admit that I hesitated, even, before sending last month’s Tribune articles to Adrian. I feared that they might make him want to quit. (A fear unwarranted: I sent them, we discussed, and Adrian remains as dedicated to Martin’s recovery as ever.)

And now I worry that those articles, and the actions of the Illinois medical board, might make other families want to quit. Goodness knows we’ve got the deck stacked against us as it is.

I can’t tell other families whether to continue biomedical recovery or to quit. I would never try. Heck, I don’t even know where my own family’s journey will end.

I can say that I don’t think the Tribune reporters became the world’s leading authorities, or if they did, they failed to demonstrate that. I know at least one family who allowed one of the reporters to meet their fully recovered son, whom Dr. Usman had treated. I saw no mention of any such families in the articles. I saw no investigation into whether (as I thought the articles may have hinted) the father’s complaints simply arose within a divorce context, or were instead prompted by that context. The Tribune presented the incompetent actions of rogue DAN! doctors; it made no mention of the compassion of competent biomedical-recovery practitioners.

All in all, I thought it was lopsided reporting.

But to a parent who’s desperate, and exhausted, lopsided reporting might just suffice to make you throw in the towel.

That, I think, would be a sorry effect.

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