April 19, 2010
Billboard Top Ten
She took her top off for billboards across London, which led to responses from Britain’s three main political leaders and a meeting with the country’s care minister. No, I’m not referring to myself in the third person (England, please, I’m excited just to get out of my house). I’m referring to Britain’s forty-three-year-old Polly Tommey, mother, editor, and autism advocate, who felt in order to get autism the attention it deserves, she needed to shed her shirt in an extremely public manner. Hell, and I thought I was a radical for writing a blog calling for Clooney to represent us.
This is not her first stint at raising awareness in a provocative way. A prior campaign included billboards displaying a postcard to Gordon Brown with her home phone number scrawled across it, promising to save the prime minister millions of pounds annually if he’d just give her a call. That led her to receive an invitation to breakfast with the prime minister’s wife. I’m certain there were scones.
Of course, as with all events surrounding autism, this one has proven to be controversial as well. Part of the issue is the effective way Tommey’s acquired her country’s leaders’ attention. Equally conflicting however, is the agenda behind the billboards. For example, she advocates the creation of residential centers for adults with autism. But this has come under fire by people who believe care for autistic grown-ups should be more widespread and not just limited to segregated housing.
Her own magazine, the one which she herself edits, has been criticized because of its emphasis on nutritional choices for autism treatment (her husband, himself a nutritionist, runs an autism clinic which features alternative remedies for combating autism’s symptoms). Finally, she is considered to be a somewhat divisive component in the autism world due to her backing of Dr. Andrew Wakefield, whose theory that there is a link between the MMR vaccine and bowel-disease induced autism has been widely debunked by mainstream medicine.
After having immersed my son for six years in Applied Behavioral Analysis, a behavioral treatment for autism that forces one to constantly analyze people’s motivations in order to achieve progress, I admit upon first reading the article about Tommey I was a bit skeptical. Was she just trying to drum up business for her spouse? Was she attempting to draw attention to her magazine, as well as enhance its circulation? Was I simply jealous a forty-three-year-old woman still had a nice enough chest after giving birth to advertise it across a nation?
The answer to the latter statement is a resounding yes, and I’ll have to satisfy myself that I, and the public at large, will never really know the answer to my initial queries. What startled me most was that my initial reaction was one of skepticism, not support. I spent my first few minutes after digesting this story criticizing her methodology, not praising the outcomes of her methods. I breezed over the fact that she too has come out and said the issue of vaccination and autism is too polarizing, and she hopes to diverge from further discussion regarding it. I, myself, was snarky, and succumbed to the very thing I criticize others in the autism community for doing. I immersed myself in black-and-white, and ignored the shades of gray. I missed the big picture.
Altruistically motivated or not, half-naked or not, Polly Tommey had a need to force politicians to examine the needs of adults on the autism spectrum more fully, and she got her wish.
I can promise you readers (and trust me, after nursing both boys, you will be eternally grateful) I will not be “disrobing for autism” any time soon. I will also continue encouraging myself to focus on the desired long-term effects of any positive type of campaigns regarding autism, primarily that they raise awareness, reduce divisiveness within the community, and create lasting and worthwhile change for adults and children residing within autism’s confines.
I admit, however, I will also continue to hope for Clooney.