The problem with the OWN channel’s ‘For Peete’s Sake’ reality show

So anyway, the Oprah Winfrey Network (available on most cable/satellite TV lineups, at least here in the US) has a reality show.

It sheds light on the lives of a family that includes an autistic boy, aged 18, who was diagnosed as autistic at age three.

Generally speaking, it’s a step in a positive direction to start talking openly about the autism spectrum and profile the people who live on it.

However, I’m gravely concerned about this show.  This concern is borne out of several thoughts.

Thought 1 – It follows the textbook outlook of the medical, pathological perception of autism, which adds yet one more card to the “Autism Is Bad” pile.

Having just recovered from hits sustained through movies like “Vaxxed” and “The Accountant”, here comes the next round, another instance in which a negative view of autism is driven home to the general public, and yet another reinforcement of the unwanted stereotype.

The good news is, this show busts a couple of stereotypes; the young man is not self-injurious and he does speak (as opposed to the universally nonverbal stereotype).  But the sound bite chosen for the preview trailer was “I don’t want to have autism anymore.”

Why, oh why couldn’t the network profile a family with a member living well (or at least satisfactorily) on the autism spectrum?  We do exist, ya know.

Thought 2 – The “real press” so far–the loudest megaphone–has not been given to the autistic person themselves; it’s been handed over to the mother, who harbors a negative perception of autism.  Ableist, pathology-laden language abounds.

If that preview trailer wasn’t damaging enough, the person chosen for the highest profile interview was his mother, a neurotypical who was absolutely devastated when her son was diagnosed as autistic.  Her world shattered.

I certainly don’t begrudge anyone their opinion or perspective, nor would I seek to silence or stifle their voice.  The mother (and indeed, any over-stressed parent) is entitled to their opinion, and the expression thereof (so long as it’s not damaging to the child or children involved).  It’s just that it would be nice not to have to be constantly bombarded with negative messages hollered through high-buck megaphones.  All this does is reinforce the negativity that already swarms around a hot-button issue.

If she (and some of the other parents of autistic children) feels this negatively toward–and is this vocal about–her son’s neurotype, what kind of message does that send him?  It’s not like he chose to be born this way.  It’s not like he did something wrong.  It’s also an inseparable part of who he is; it cannot be disconnected from the essence of his being.  Therefore, a lament or disparaging word about his autism is a lament or disparaging word against him.  It’s something that, at the present moment, cannot be changed.

Of all the people they could have chosen to feature for a reality show, couldn’t they have selected a family in which autism isn’t such an enemy?

Or at the very least, could they not have profiled a more positive, progressive person’s/family’s viewpoint alongside the family they chose?

Thought 3 – The links at the bottom of the entities that conducted the interview link to the Usual Suspects–Autism Speaks/$peaks and Cure Autism Now.  While I understand and respect that not all autistic people are happy with their spectrum designation, the majority of the Asperger’s/autistic people I’ve met are more than content with ourselves as we are, spectrum status and all.  In fact, most of the people I know actually view their neurotype as a potential advantage, and during a significant portion of the time.

Could they not have included a more positive, less damaging source of information than A$ and CAN?  What about ASAN, the Autism Self-Advocacy Network?  What about Learn From Autistics?  What about The Thinking Person’s Guide To Autism?  Or even a link to Steve Silberman’s TED Talk or ‘Neurotribes‘ book?

With so many excellent, credible, insightful resources of information out there, it’s utterly disappointing–and ridiculous–that two of the most archaic, negative, outdated, and offensive sources would be chosen over all of the available options.  Sources not even supported by the vast majority of autistic people ourselves.

I’ve decided to write a respectful, logical letter to the Oprah Winfrey Network about this show.  My goal is to provide a counterpoint to offset the stereotypical, negative portrayal of the autism spectrum and the people on it.  Perhaps the genuine reality is that they simply don’t know anything different.  But the problem is that this ignorance, combined with a gigantic budget, equals the perpetuation of less-than-accurate propaganda.  After all, the press is only truly free if you own one.  I’m fortunate to have access to blogging, so that I can grab a megaphone of my own when necessary.  But it’s highly unlikely that any of the people involved in this show will ever see this blog, or any other of the long list of amazing Asperger’s/autism-related blogs out there.  Because after all, in order to find them, you have to run the internet search in the first place.  I have the feeling that nobody involved with that show is doing that.  So that’s where my letter will come in – to offer an alternate viewpoint that they might otherwise not see.

Wish me luck 😉



  1. I think writing to them is a good idea. It’s SO important for people to know that not only is autism a range of things (behaviours, thoughts, feelings, abilities), it’s not all bad, and just as there is a range of behaviours, there is a range of voices that speak about it. I am not familiar with all of the different organizations, and from your descriptions, it sounds to me as though the producers may have been either lazy about their research, or simply stopped at the most vocal organization, taking that as *the definitive voice from on high* for all of autism. Just as I have a problem with saying that all LGBTQ people are one voice, or all muslims, or all women, etc, it’s important that they know how wrong it is to generalize. Especially in such a negative way.

    From your descriptions, it sounds like perhaps the mother involved is also in the range of the more extreme in terms of her opinions and outlook. The “reality show” mentality will, after all, attract more attention. And that’s so unfortunate. But the middle-of-the-road isn’t going to sell the ads and bring in the numbers that the extremes will. 😦 It’s even possible that they’ve taken her words and feelings out of context to represent something even more than she really feels. Whatever the case, this is even more reprehensible in that it sounds like they’ve turned experiences of autism into a sideshow, a spectacle. It’s damaging, it’s cruel, it’s vile.

    Good luck!!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Thank you! 😊❤️. Yep, you got it – they probably went to (what they thought was) the most “authoritative” source and went from there. And someone’s message can be slanted so influentially in one direction or another, just by taking sound bites that are easily misinterpreted when extracted from their surrounding context, too ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you! Ever since hearing of the show, I have been troubled. You articulated quite well why. Best wishes on the letter. Can’t wait to read how it goes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, my lovely! Once it gets written (which might be a bit lol), I’ll share it as a follow-up blog post 😘💚💙

      Liked by 1 person

  3. This (fortunately) is the first I’ve heard of this show. Sounds like a very different experience, compared to “Speechless”, which I try to watch religiously. Writing to them is a great idea. And now you’ve got me thinking I should watch it (ouch) myself… and write to them, too.

    Maybe they literally have no idea there’s another side to things — and they were going for the drama/heartstrings effect. Poor, poor families, forced to deal with autism.

    Oh, dear… poor things.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Absolutely, girl! I’m not sure whether my lone voice will make much difference, but a chorus of voices from our community and its supporters is bound to make them realize eventually. You go, girl! 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼. Let’s do this ❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  4. God help us…
    Do you really expect OW of her network to understand anything not having to do with them increasing their audience and profits?
    Wish you luck, you’ll need it…
    Sorry, just being me again, and grandma on my shoulder agrees…

    Liked by 3 people

    1. So true! 👏🏼👏🏼. Yeah, I definitely feel the same way. I figure the more we speak, the more we can change things little by little. I figure we can use their profit motive to our own advantage; if they start to realize that their show is a public relations nightmare, they may revamp it, expand it to include other viewpoints, or maybe scrap it altogether. Who knows 😊. I don’t think my lone voice will make much of a splash, but a chorus of voices from our community and its supporters just might. I’m a stubborn (although jaded) optimist, though lol 😉💙

      Liked by 2 people

    1. Lol awesome! ❤️. Thank you very much 😊. Nah, you’re not missing much lol. We went several years without cable, just watching movies and DVD series instead 👍🏼. We do have cable now, but found we had to subscribe to one the top tier of channels, one of the biggest packages, just to have decent options that weren’t pandering to the lowest common denominator lol 💜. I like forensic shows and stuff on microbiology, and whatnot, but that’s about it 😊💞

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Much agreed! I don’t like them either. They seem choreographed to emphasize conflict, and I’m just not all about that 😉❤️

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Once again you hit the nail on the head. We are sooooo pleased that you wrote the letter expressing your observations and thoughts. Why does the media always feel they need to horrify peoples disabilities rather then show their strength in adapting and or overcoming the challenges they are given.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Mind if I reblog this on my site?
    You have vocalized the same thoughts I had in my head about the show, and I only watched one episode. Unfortunately, it was the “I don’t want autism” episode. I was hoping she would be better than Jenny McCarthy, but just so you know, Holly Robinson Peete has been heavily influenced by Jenny McCarthy. Also, Autism Speaks has been a heavy influence. Is it any wonder RJ feels autism is fundamentally wrong?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sure thing! Please feel free to reblog anything, anytime! I really appreciate it 😁❤️


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