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.
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.