Saturday, March 7, 2009

Judging a Book by its Cover

Is it ever appropriate to judge a book by its cover? Perhaps not, so this is my disclaimer: The following is a review of a book cover, title, and promotional materials, not the book itself. I don't know what Michael Alan has written about why he wishes his children had a potentially fatal disease. I don't intend to shell out twenty dollars to find out, either. I would be willing to bet I could list every point the book makes without reading it, but that is not the same as knowing.
The book's title states clearly, I Wish My Kids Had Cancer. The subtitle references "survival" and an "autism epidemic." The book has a website, where people have left glowing comments about how "this book has changed my life!" There are currently 8 customer reviews on Amazon.com. All rate the book highly, and words like "devastating," "affliction," and "vaccinations" are much in evidence. There is even a facebook group supporting I Wish My Kids Had Cancer.
Of course Michael Alan is not the first to make such an outrageously offensive statement. Last year, Jenny McCarthy said that she would like her son to have measles. Others have had no problem stating that autism is worse than cancer, most famously David Vardy of the Autism Society of Canada, who added, in case anyone missed the point, that autistic people have "a normal lifespan."
Alan's book cover also states that proceeds from sales of the book will be donated to "charities to help families with autism." In case anyone is wondering which charities these might be, the facebook group's description provides a clue:
***Includes expert testimony from leading DAN! Dr. Mary Megson***
So, Mr. Alan wishes his kids had cancer. How is this my problem? Well, because once again, someone is working to stir up fear of autism, and the consequences for autistic people will include continued misunderstanding, exclusion, and abuse. How terrible must a condition be that one's own parent would prefer to see his child faced with cancer? What is the value of such a life? With every such morbid comparison, autism and cancer, autism and tsunami, autism and death, these associations become more tightly woven in the collective consciousness. With each one adding his two cents worth of stigma, the jar fills up. The perceived value of autistic people declines. The thought that autistic people need not exist becomes more ingrained. Until the thought is no longer recognizable as a belief. It's "common sense," background noise.
Lest we forget that there are many families in which a child does have cancer, I cannot imagine that any of them would find Michael Alan's intentionally provocative title amusing in the least. Like anyone else, an autistic person can be affected by cancer. While clearly I abhor this book's title, I also hope in all sincerity, that Michael Alan's wish does not come true.



I would like to thank Andrea Shettle for alerting me to this story.

41 comments:

  1. Absolutely revolting this book, and yes it's crystal clear, why you don't have to read it, when the title says it all.

    Interesting that we have a "normal lifespan", isn't it? Quite an achievement considering how "poisoned" we are.
    (note: sarcasm)

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  2. Unbelievable. I really don't know what to say. Obviously this father knew the title would draw attention and he did this at the expense of his own children. Not only is the title incredibly self-absorbed, the publisher should be boycotted and harassed for publishing such garbage and this father should be reported to authorities. Not only is he cheapening the lives of autistic children and adults, he is insulting parents who have had a child die of cancer. Cancer is a horrible disease and anyone that has seen a love one die from it would never wish it on their own children. This is positively the worst piece of anti-child garbage I've ever seen. It makes the Ransom Notes campaign seem tame.

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  3. That is so rotten. I wish I could say "I can't believe this," but that would be a lie. I've heard too many cracks from "helpful" people, telling people not to call us autistics, or autistic people, but "people with autism," with the reasoning that "You don't call somebody a cancer patient, you call them a person with cancer." It makes me a little more sad and angry every time I see that comparison, and this... is the worst thing so far, in that vein.

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  4. The day our son was diagnosed with Autism, I turned to my husband (as we were walking out of the hospital) and said "I'm thinking of all the mothers of chidren dying of cancer, sitting at their bedsides, and I am so glad that we're only dealing with autism." Years later, I know I was right to think that.

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  5. Brilliant work, as usual, Bev. Thanks for covering this.

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  6. I agree wholeheartedly, Bev. This is a good example of where extreme DAN thinking leads a family. What a shame.

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  7. Can we form a protest with parents of children who have cancer?

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  8. Really makes me angry. This guy is too ignorant to even have kids!

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  9. I saw the Facebook group for this on Friday and thank you Bev for clearly expressing just how revolting this is. I wrote a few days ago about my mum who had cancer for 10 years before she tied. I've lived with my autistic son for 8 years, I can tell anyone which I'd rather see a family member have.

    I wish Amazon didn't sell that stupid book, but I don't even want to draw too much attention to it and give it publicity it doesn't deserve. They've chosen the title to get notice, the best punishment is to ignore them and their grotty little book and hope it's pulped, that is, if it's not printed to order.

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  10. Hmmm. I wonder if it might be possible for Michael Alan's kids to be taken off him and placed in an autism-accepting family, and then Alan be told they had died of cancer? That might be karmic justice for all...

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  11. Wow. I'm speechless (a rare occurrence).

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  12. I can't believe that anyone would use such a horrible title. No, actually I can. With all the crap I've read online, nothing surprises me anymore when it comes to how we're viewed. But still, I'm constantly reading about how I have no empathy, that I'm selfish and I always have to have it my way. I'm immune to it by now, but I can't stand the cancer comparison. My mother has spent eleven years fighting breast cancer. Do these people even realize how much I wish she had autism? At least then she would have that dreaded "normal lifespan." I don't even know if she'll live to see me graduate high school.

    I understand, we're a handful sometimes, we need more assistance than other kids, but that's no reason to wish we were dead.

    I really want to explain stuff like this in my psychology class about how autism is perceived and what that does to people. I'm doing a presentation in May and I was really hoping I could use some of your Square Talk cartoons, (especially the one with the square covered in labels with toxic and train wreck) to show the other kids what it's like. It would be great to ramble on about something that interests me for an hour and not get interrupted. Could I please have permission to use a few of your cartoons?

    Sorry if this is too long and off topic. Gweezle

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  13. the publisher should be boycotted and harassed for publishing such garbage

    The book seems to have been published by PublishAmerica, a shady publisher known for publishing anything sent to them.

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  14. The parents of childhood cancer patients are (deservedly) esteemed for the fortitude they display in the face of seemingly unbearable emotional and familial strain. How convenient for Michael Alan and his followers that casting autism as worse than cancer allows them to see themselves as even more saintly than cancer parents, and how nakedly self-serving.

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  15. My mother died of ovarian cancer.
    She went through a lot of misery the last 3 1/2 years of her life, and she was cheated out of seeing any of her 6 grandchildren.
    The jerk who wrote this book is grandstanding at the expense of his children, and the attention he is attempting to garner is only going to backfire on *us*, the people in the autistic community, when the rest of the larger society, in particular those people whose lives have been hurt by cancer, decides that those autism parents are an ugly whiny lot undeserving of the sympathy that people like this author so desperately crave.

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  16. My triplets are autistic, and one of them had cancer. I am so appalled at the title that I can't even speak right now. In the last two weeks we have spent one weekend at my daughter's cancer camp reunion (where we found out that 3 of her camp mates had passed away over the last 2 months), and lost 2 more wonderful little children that we knew.

    I hope that his children NEVER see this book title. I can't imagine how they would feel.

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  17. Anonymous to avoid Internet trolls taking advantage of the events in my family:

    My father, who is also autistic, had a prostate cancer scare last year, and has made a full recovery. But none of us will forget fearing for his life anytime soon. My grandfather has just been told he may have only a month to live, with lung cancer that they are hoping has not spread to his brain. Two of my family have had organs or parts of organs removed when they became cancerous or pre-cancerous. And years ago I watched an autistic friend lose her daughter to brain cancer right after they thought she might have beaten it for good.

    I know so many other people with both autism and cancer in our families and you had better believe that every last one of us knows that there is no comparison. There are no words for how disgustingly selfish and obviously sheltered the author of this book is to even make the comparison, much less act like autism is the worse of the two. Nobody I know who's experienced cancer in themselves or a loved one would ever dream of it, even those who are lucky enough to survive without any ill effects.

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  18. I wonder if it might be worthwhile entering a few negative reviews on the book at Amazon? Or for people who aren't comfortable entering reviews, there is also a feature there that lets people with Amazon accounts comment on other people's reviews. I doubt the author would really listen (you have to be pretty entrenched in your views to go and write a whole book about them), but the right comments might get a few readers to stop and think, especially after hearing the experiences of people who have had both Autism and cancer in the same family.

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  19. Andrea- I already did enter a negative review on Amazon, and a few other people have as well. I can't see how it can hurt. The author's response to the first criticism about the title was "if you read the book, you'll find out it isn't that bad." Part of my comment back to him was that I wouldn't financially support him by actually buying the book because I found the title so offensive. If he chose that title in order to create controversy and boost sales (or his publishing house convinced him to), then I doubt if we have the same experience of autism or life to begin with.

    I think that it's important that people who may be encountering autism for the first time through this book realize that it is very likely a one-sided, negative view. People DO read Amazon comments before purchasing, so I think that it's a legitimate way to protest.

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  20. I totally agree with your opinion on the author and his book. I would rather that my child had Asperger's than have cancer. These people are perpetuating their misunderstandings about people with Asperger's and Autism. I remember the video that Amanda did. She was brilliant. Imagine if she had cancer, too. How sad!

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  21. My grandad died of cancer. He went through horrible pain, but at leat he got to live a long and happy life first.

    How could anyone wis cancer on a *child*?

    How could anyone think living with a disablity is worse than death (especially etremely painful death)?

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  22. I'll bet he would change his opinions pretty quickly if any of his kids did have cancer.

    It is an insult to anyone who has ever had cancer or serious life threatening conditions.

    It hard for me to put into words, how low I think this guy's morality has stooped other than to say that the notion to me is pure evil, satanic.

    May God forgive this evil because I find it hard.

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  23. love you kids in this precise moment.. exactly who and what they are... cancer or autism... love them.

    judgement is what clouds love. judgement of autism or judgement of cancer.. or even judgement of the title of a book. tis human. most importantly..underneath all of the judging is love.

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  24. After hearing that this thing has 8 positive reviews, all I can think of is this article I found recently about authors and publishers hiring people to write fake positive Amazon reviews for their books: http://www.thedailybackground.com/2009/01/16/exclusive-belkins-development-rep-is-hiring-people-to-write-fake-positive-amazon-reviews/?ref=email

    I'm actually wondering now just how much glowing praise of autism epidemic hysteria books comes from professional shills (or not-quite-professional shills, but shills nonetheless). I've always suspected that it happens quite a bit in the psych field, particularly when the upshot of a book is to sing the praises of some drug or other, but it would absolutely not surprise me to discover that it happens with the autism books too.

    (And to the last Anonymous who posted-- many, many people claim that they are acting out of love. Many parents who murder their autistic or otherwise disabled children claim that they acted out of love and that it was a "mercy killing." Even if they ever, at any time, genuinely did love the child, that doesn't make it right or acceptable. Feel-good talk about how everyone just needs love is not going to solve such problems. And I don't think it's wrong, or antithetical to love, to judge when people do things like murder their children or say they wished those children were dead or had potentially fatal diseases.)

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  25. I left a message on malicious alan's blog at (www.iwish... yada yada yada).

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  26. that's cool.. I have no problem with that.. I'm not against judging.. I feel it's human. That father may judge his autism experience however he sees fit. I am just coming more from a place where perceiving anything (such as any health or mental issues or behavioral issues or even a lack of conscience... anything in life) doesn't have to be seen as a problem to be solved. It can be seen this way, yes, but just as we feel being what we are(aspies or auties or whatever it may be) does not have to be seen as a 'problem' to be solved or an *illness* to be cured. By 'love' I meant something more like opening one's heart.. do you ever feel like you can relate to two opposing sides? I do here. Being a human is not an easy thing no matter what.

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  27. I've tried several times to think of a suitable comment, but frankly, this is so revolting that I am at a loss for words.

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  28. I would strongly recommend people going to his Facebook site (name is same as title of book) and comment there as you are on here. He needs to hear this and from watching the site, he does comment on peoples' messages. There are MANY people leaving positive statments on that site and I fear this will go further than it needs to (ie, another book being written - wonder what other ailment he could wish on his kids - AIDS, maybe?) Michael Alan needs to hear this side of the opinion and the sooner the better!!

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  29. Julian: I don't doubt for a minute that Alan would solicit folks to write reviews for him. He's of the same self-publishing, "credentials"-having caliber as the "God came to me in a dream and told me to sell you this product to cleanse your liver" folks.

    Then again, what's very disturbing is that charlatans of that caliber do indeed seem to have a creepily powerful knack for preying on folks', um, "feelings" and becoming very popular. There's a cultish sort of frenzy that breeds in those forums, and I'm absolutely terrified to touch it. If you feed it, it gets bigger and stupider and more hateful.

    Saying you wish your kid had cancer is not "edgy", it's not "brave", it's not "just saying what we've all been thinking", it's fucked up and WRONG. And if you think that way, it's not normal and healthy and okay and courageous to admit it, it's fucked up and wrong and you need to fucking STOP.

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  30. And unfortunately presenting the wrong-ness of such a thing in their own forums will inspire responses like "It may seem harsh, but it's the truth and you have to deal with it" or the standard "You obviously don't know anything about autism if you don't know how ho-o-o-o-o-orrible it is to have this kid sucking up all of my 'me' time." Better to get to folks (on a separate forum like this) *before* they fall prey to Liver Cleanse Dude. Something about that mentality . . . it's creepy. Self-promoting "The establishment doesn't want you to hear what I have to say" types and the people who love them, fiercely. Creepy.

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  31. This book title is disgusting. Who could wish cancer on a child????

    My mother-in-law had sons -- one had cancer, and died at age 5. One had autism (asperger syndrome), and grew up to get married (to me!) and give her grandchildren - including a grandson who also has autism (AS - just like Daddy!), who is so VERY loved. I can't imagine any sane person wishing cancer on ANYONE, especially on a child!

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  32. I am sickened by this book
    My Autistic son is the best, sweetest child in the universe to me
    I feel so bad for this man's poor kids in that they have this person as their father and I hope they dont find out about this horrible book that their father has written

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  33. As you are very well aware, the prevalence of children being diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is increasing at an alarming rate. We would appreciate your assistance in helping us try to identify if the use of epidural analgesia/anesthesia and Pitocin during childbirth have any association with the development of autism.

    If you are willing to participate in a survey questionnaire, please email Elaine DeLack, RN at elaine@edmsllc.com and the questionnaire will be emailed to you for your completion.

    Thank you in advance for your participation in this research.

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  34. As you seem completely unaware, the prevalence of evidence that vaccines don't cause autism has been increasing at a rate which is very "alarming" for scare-mongers.
    http://www.immunisation.nhs.uk/Vaccines/MMR/The_vaccine/autism_introduction_mmr
    http://infectious-diseases.jwatch.org/cgi/content/full/2001/412/1

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  35. Due to a spam attack, comments are now being moderated. Thank you for your patience while I work on this.

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  36. What an awful title! I agree with you how hurtful it is to those parents whose children do have cancer. It is very sad if the author feels that he has to be that provocative to get the book noticed and sold.

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  37. I think Michael's book should be titled, "I'm such a rotten parent, I would publish a book saying in front of the whole world, I'd rather have my children die than be on the Autism spectrum."

    I wonder what his kids think. You know if a parent of a NT child wished death for their child, that child would be removed from the home. If it's a child on the Autism Spectrum, it's awww..the poorr parreeennttt! Beyond disgusting, and immoral.

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  38. Sadly enough..I know this guy. His book is FULL of lies! It's definitely a case of great kids and crappy parents. I can't even begin to tell you how badly this book is FUUUUUUUULLLLLLLLLLLLL of LIES!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  39. By son was diagnosed with cancer at 13mths old he battled this terrible horrible painful disease for 8 years till he lost his battle age 9. This book is outrageous and should never have been published. CANCER DESTROYED OUR LIFE WHEN IT TOOK MY LITTLE BOY :'(

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