60 Minutes Segment on Martin Bryant pushes Autism Spectrum Disorders Back into the Dark Ages

I am appealing to all members and advocates to urgently discuss the segment on Martin Bryant televised by Channel 9's 60 Minute program on Sunday evening, 27th February 2011, with a view to formulating appropriate responses to address several issues.

Transcripts of program segments are usually available on-line, however I am unaware of whether these transcripts are complete or if they have been edited.

My concerns include the following:-

1. The report repeatedly singled out Asperger's Syndrome (AS) exclusively as being the causal factor for Bryant's history and actions. No other conditions, including possible co-morbid conditions, were named or alluded to. Several AS traits (e.g. social isolation) were used to justify a diagnosis reported as being made 3 years ago;
2. Contextual factors leading up to the tragedy were not addressed. Context is vital to understanding, and allows viewers to put events into a more accurate perspective ;
3. Both the reporter (Charles Wooley) and a psychiatrist he interviewed used insensitive and derogatory language that demonised AS and Bryant. He was repeatedly labeled using dehumanising language, such as "monstrous", " a pathetic failure" etc, in a way that linked these descriptions to AS;
4. Why single out AS? I question any diagnosis of AS for Bryant, given that he does not appear to satisfy at least 2 key criteria - being no delay in language development and an average to above average IQ. Even if the diagnosis 3 years ago was correct, AS alone would not be responsible for his actions and it is irresponsible and unethical to present this event otherwise;
5. This segment has potentially caused deep psychological harm to many people with AS, or with AS relatives, and who constitute a substantial minority of the community. Autism Spectrum Conditions have been dogged by stigma and stereotyping, and have only recently been more accepted as part of a normal continuum of human existence. The Spectrum is still widely misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and attributed to 'bad behaviour' by many. As a person with AS, who has a child with AS, it made me feel incredibly ashamed, even more socially isolated, socially despised as being "monstrous" by nature, socially viewed as potentially violent at extreme levels, a 'pathetic failure' (note - I was labeled as a failure by adults throughout my childhood), and unwanted as a member of the broader community. I instantly regretted having a diagnosis, and worse - I now blame myself for having this label attached to my child. I now regret that her school is aware she has AS, and I have grave fears for an increase in future challenges and barriers that we already face each day. We experience much discrimination that we remain silent about - in education, employment, primary health care, and within all social interaction. When many people interact with us they tend to be either disparaging or patronising, due to communication differences and behaviours caused by sensory issues/anxiety. In light of how this made me feel, I would suggest that people will be even more reluctant to seek diagnosis and assistance for AS for themselves and/or their children. If this had occurred 10 years ago I would never have presented for re-diagnosis and I would have chosen to keep my child's differences within our family;
6. In view of point 5 above, it also appeared from the segment that Bryant's mother received inadequate assistance and support for her child even though he received (at least) one diagnosis of mental illness in his childhood. This situation will now increase if people feel too stigmatised to seek assistance at all for fear of being diagnosed with what has been broadcast as Martin Bryant's diagnosis;
7. Bryant was isolated not only by his condition, but by society. He was left to deteriorate to the state where he committed such tragic acts, and this alone highlights the double tragedy that Australia faces regarding its treatment of those with mental illness and/or neurological differences. Why demonise one person? Should not the broader community also be labeled as lacking empathy and badly behaved? Who intervened when it became obvious that Bryant was experiencing major difficulties? Is this the best response that broader Australian society can muster? Are you happy to accept this as being appropriate?

I have lodged a complaint with SANE Australia http://www.sane.org/stigmawatch/report-a-media-item and will lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission. I encourage all members to seek access to this segment if possible and to take steps that assist giving people with AS a voice that represents human dignity and rights.

I would also appreciate any assistance in suggestions regarding other steps which may be taken regarding reporting this program as harmful, offensive, and in violation of basic human rights.

Thanks.

Notes:- The "full transcript" as shown on the 60 Minutes web-site is not an accurate reflection of the segment. It does not include the introduction by Charles Wooley:-

“Tonight, the woman who raised a monster. The secret life of Port Arthur killer, Martin Bryant. How Carleen’s little boy turned into a mass murderer.”

“We all recognise the face. I mean, how could we forget? 15 years after the Port Arthur massacre that (emphasised) photo still sends a shiver down the spine. Nowadays we like to think that his eyes are a little crazy and that (emphasised) expression is ever so slightly off kilter. But that’s all in hindsight. The fact is that apart from being a bit troubled as a kid and intellectually limited, really Martin Bryant could be anyone’s son. He just happens to be Carleen Bryant’s son and the burden of that has been devastating for her.

Carleen Bryant is tormented by the same questions that trouble us all. What made a seemingly ordinary, if dim-witted young man, go out and kill 35 people, and have we learned anything from that dreadful day?”

(Also not shown in the official “full transcript” is footage of Bryant as a child. This includes footage of him talking, accompanied by sub-titles. This is shown where they disclose Aspergers for the second time, with footage and sub-titles portraying him unfavourably.)

The segment has been broadly covered by on-line media, including Herald Sun, Sydney Morning Herald, and news.com.au sites. These all refer to the AS diagnosis, and also invite comments via reader postings. These postings include many that are offensive and insensitive, and indicate the damage that this segment has engendered.

Forums: 

Smoke and mirrors

Hi Michelle,

Paul E. Mullen, the psychiatrist that 60 Minutes featured, actually disputed an Aspergers diagnosis made by the prosecution's forensic psychiatrist Dr Ian Sale in 1996. As odd as it may seem Mullen was commissioned by Bryant's own (government appointed) attorney John Avery. Avery, who is a convicted criminal now in prison, actually presented Mullen's report to the court. This report along with Bryant's eventual guilty plea -- which Avery took 6 month to pry from his own client -- ultimately sealed the case and saw that there was no trial before Bryant was sent to prison. The only logical reason for Mullen to dispute the Aspergers diagnoses was that several studies had pointed to difficulty with motor skills and even perhaps planning abilities in Aspergers cases. Whereas the Port Arthur massacre was carried out with precision and marksman-like accuracy. So it does appear that the diagnoses was tailored to fit the crime.
If that sounds extraordinary, you only need to read an extract from this report as submitted to the court – keeping in mind that this is the defence’s submission:
“This report is intended to clarify for the court why an insanity plea was not considered appropriate and to at least outline some of the factors which contributed to the dreadful actions of My Bryant.”
So they didn’t want an insanity plea and they didn’t want to attribute the crime to Aspergers, and they didn't want a trial.

Read the full report:

http://kildall.apana.org.au/autism/articles/bryant.html

It is interesting to note that in 1984 Bryant, who had been assessed as having an IQ of 66, was assessed by the controversial British psychiatrist, labotomist, deep-sleep therapy and insulin shock therapy exponent assigned to Australia, Dr Cunningham Dax. This is evidenced in Mullen’s report (above). Deep Sleep Therapy (DST) is the notorious therapy that had instigated a Royal Commission in Australia because it had led to the deaths of 26 patients at Chelmford Private Hospital in Sydney between 1962 and 1969.
Deep Sleep Therapy was a psychiatric treatment in which drugs were used to induce a coma in patients during which the doctors would administer a variety of other mind drugs and electric shocks. The idea was that they'd awaken cured of mental disorders, ranging from depression to schizophrenia.
The late Cunningham Dax, when questioned about his examination of Bryant, was evasive and dismissive about his diagnoses, but did note that he thought Bryant could be leaning towards schizophrenia (this is in 1984).

If you join the dots you find that Dr Cunningham Dax worked with John Rawlings Rees at London’s Tavistock Institute of Medical Psychology. You don’t have to do too much research to find out that Tavistock is extensively linked with 'mind control' programmes.
Sounds whacky but it's a fact and it raises the question: what was Dax doing with Bryant in 1984, and what really happened to the records? Dax said that they were destroyed because he shared premises with another psyche and it was in his 'will' when he died to destroy all records.

On 60 Minutes:

Why did 60 Minutes do this piece when Port Arthur is a well-known “no go” zone for the media?
This was simply a response to the recently released book by Carleen Bryant, My Story.
Carleen Bryant originally showed the script to Fairfax journalists Robert Wainwright and Paola Totaro, who didn’t like Carleen’s version so they simply stole the script and wrote their own version. It was released under the name Born or Bred. It is absolute rubbish in which these Fairfax journalists proclaim to be self-taught forensic psychiatrists.

Did 60 Minutes deliberately distort the facts?
They most certainly did.

Firstly, “we like to think the eyes are a little crazy”:
That photo was actually stolen by the media from Bryant’s house post crime. It has been admitted that the eyes were digitally altered by the media in ‘pre-press’ to make Bryant look crazy.

60 minutes claims that Bryant was “arrested at the scene”. Bryant was not arrested at Port Arthur, and, as Carleen claims, has always insisted that he was never there. Bryant was arrested at Seascape Cottage 4 kilometres away the following day. 60 Minutes knows that.

60 Minutes also knows that there was never any DNA or fingerprints etc. belonging to Bryant found at Port Arthur. The supposed weapons used in the crime were destroyed – one supposedly by a cartridge exploding in the breach and the other destroyed in the fire that ensued at Seascape.

There are a thousand questions but the one blaring question is why doesn’t the media want to present some of the disturbing anomalies about the case? You only have to research Wendy Scurr, who was a tour guide, an eye witness and victim on the day. She is a national hero, a trained nurse, who fought off her absolute fear, which included wetting herself, to triage and tend the injured and dying until the police finally arrived 6 hours later. She has been totally shunned by the courts, the police and the media simply because she told the truth. It might be an idea to ask 60 minutes about that!

smoke and mirrors

Thanks Reg - I had already read the assessment by Paul Mullins and raised this issue in my complaint to FreeTV Australia http://www.freetv.com.au/content_common/pg-viewer-feedback.seo based on the Australian Commercial Television Code of Conduct, and to Stigmawatch. I encourage anyone who was offended to lodge complaints via these on-line methods.

Regardless of any dispute concerning Mr Bryant's guilt or innocence, my posting and immediate concern relates to vilification and stigma through inaccurate and derogatory portrayal of AS (or any disability for that matter) by the media. It addresses the harm done to those with AS and their families, and the continuing struggle to obtain acceptance and recognition for what AS is and not for what it isn't.

Interestingly, I will all but guarantee that most Australians would be unaware that under Australian legislation there is protection for anyone experiencing vilification using race, age, religion etc ... but not disability. Tasmania is the only state that addressed this National disgrace by introducing state legislation to protect people with disability from vilification, despite the UN including Article 26 in its International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights many decades ago.

In fact the Howard government went to great lengths in 2004 to ensure that the disabled were legally excluded from vilification protection by seeking legal counsel which investigated whether or not Australia was obliged to add disability to its legislation, and the report (see http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/dda/ags2) recommended that it was not and should not. One has to ask "Why?"

Therefore, unless a corporation, industry, or organisation specifically incorporates its own vilification policy to cover the disabled it is acceptable to vilify anyone with a disability. If vilification occurs, there is no official protection or recourse utilising legislation. The best one can expect is a sanction, that is not legally binding, from a code that may or may not be applied. One could therefore construe that in unprotected workplaces for example, it may be illegal to discriminate by not providing equal opportunity for the disabled by way of working conditions or employment, however the disabled may be vilified at will without legal protection. Make their lives so miserable they quit anyway?

This lack of legislative protection also prevents programs such as 60 Minutes from being held accountable for breaching a basic human right that is covered by UN convention, and which most decent people would have thought was covered.

Australia = Vilification Nation.

You can't take the contrived reports of 60 Minutes seriously

I agree that to focus on the issue and not get into any polarisations of the argument concerning guilt or 'conspiracy theories' is the correct path. I mentioned Eric Cunningham Dax because he's in Mullen's report.
The point that I'm actually making is that Aspergers, in my view, has got caught up in a disinformation campaign by the media and certain agencies to discredit Carleen Bryant. She simply wants one iota of proof that her son was at Port Arthur -- and there's none.

Last night's pathetic attempt at an apology by 60 Minutes to the plethora of complaints about vilifying Aspergers was nothing more than blame shifting. 60 minutes simply cut to Carleen Bryant saying that there had been a diagnosis "about 3 years ago" of Aspergers. Peter Harvey exclaimed in answer to a Doctor's objection, "Please Doctor, no intention here to stigmatise Aspergers; what you've really got here is a Mother trying to explain away the crimes of her son."
But that couldn't be farther from the truth: Carleen Bryant had already explained that Bryant's current condition was confidential. And the Aspergers diagnosis was made by Dr Ian Sale as early as 1996, and disputed in Mullen's report -- as I've explained because they didn't want to explain Bryant's skills involved in the event.
In the first instance, this supposed recent diagnosis wasn't Carleen Bryant's diagnosis; it could only be medical staff from either forensic psychiatry or from within the confines of Risden Prison's medical facility. Or, most likely, pure fabrication. Secondly, I'd like to know how medical staff assessed Bryant within the spectrum of autism/Aspergers since most reports have cited him as being clinically insane for several years (Carleen Bryant says this is confidential). I have an account sent to me by a journalist who was present at Bryant's 'trial', who says that Bryant laughed hysterically as he said 'yes' to each of the charges -- and that was more than fourteen years ago. His final words to his attorney as he was led away prison for the rest of his life were, "Can I have a Pepsi."
Why disinformation? Well it's probably hard to accept, but there has been a concerted campaign to cover up certain aspects of this case since its inception.