Pop Culture

Radio host calls autistic children ‘brats’

Radio talk show host Michael Savage, who described 99 percent of children with autism as brats, said Monday he was trying to “boldly awaken” parents to his view that many people are being wrongly diagnosed.

Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage’s firing after he described autism as a racket last week. “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” Savage said on his radio program last Wednesday.

Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a “national panic” by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate.

On his radio show last week, he said: “What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, ‘Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.”’

The government estimates about 1 in 150 children have some form of autism. But many experts believe these unsociable behaviors were just about as common 30 or 40 years ago and that the increase is mostly caused by a surge in special education services and a corresponding shift in diagnoses.

Wendy Fournier of the National Autism Association, a parents’ advocacy group, said she was invited to speak Monday on Savage’s three-hour program by Savage’s boss, Mark Masters of Talk Radio Network, which syndicates the show across the country. A spokeswoman from Talk Radio Network did not immediately return a call for comment.

Fournier called Savage’s comments “way, way, way over the line and cruel.”

“I’m hoping to make him see the reality of what these kids are facing,” she said. “You can’t fix it by telling a kid to shut up. It’s like telling a kid with cancer to stop being sick.”

Evelyn Ain, whose 8-year-old son has been diagnosed with autism, said she had never heard of Savage and couldn’t believe what she had heard when she first listened to the remarks. She organized a demonstration Monday outside New York’s WOR-AM, which broadcasts Savage.

“That isn’t just freedom of speech, it is hateful speech when you say 99 percent of children with autism are brats,” she said. “I’ll tell you, I wish I had a brat.”

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Savage, with more than 8 million listeners a week, is talk radio’s third most popular personality behind Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, according to Talkers magazine. He’s made a living off bold, outrageous statements: His brief MSNBC show was canceled after he told a caller he should “get AIDS and die, you pig.”

Peter Bell, executive vice president of national advocacy group Autism Speaks, said he isn’t aware of any big controversy about overdiagnosis of autism. He said Savage’s remarks, effectively blaming parents, reflect an outdated point of view.

“He’s an entertainer, he does these things for attention,” Bell said. “I think we should, to the best we can, ignore it.”

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