In Which A Comment On An LA Times Autism Story Triggers A Shitstorm

Sometimes things happen on the internet. And sometimes the only way you can adequately explain what happened is by using the internet.

Take this bizarre series of events that sprang from an unfortunate and misguided comment left on an LA Times piece on the rise of Autism diagnoses over the past 20 years. The comment was left on the LA Times website by Sue Basko, an LA entertainment attorney.

Here you go:
Many parents today want a diagnosis of autism spectrum for their child, not only because there is a great deal of funding allocated for services for those children, as the news article explains, but also because this qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month. If a family can get a few kids diagnosed with such things, the family can live off the payments. This was caused because welfare payments are so low, welfare is so hard to get, and intact families with both parents present do not qualify for welfare.

The real story would be to check out what percentage of families with child with an autism diagnose are collecting SSI. That is where you will find the real secret behind this "epidemic." Also, school districts that will receive extra funding for each child with autism will be far more likely to make such a diagnosis.

When I was a kid, there were kids who kept track of details, counted things, paid little attention to others, and seemed socially awkward. There were called future accountants.

I realize there are actual cases of autism, which seems to be a form of retardation. A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds, without regard for the fact it stigmatizes the children for life to have such a diagnosis.

Anyone who writes a scathing reply should reveal if their family is collecting SSI or if they or their school is in any way collecting funds based on autism.

Wow, right? I mean, where do you even start?

Enter Liz Ditz, a California dyslexia consultant, autism advocate, writer, and editor. Ditz took offense to Basko's comment, and decided to address the many inaccuracies, misunderstandings, and insensitive remarks in a venue where Basko would be sure to see them. (To be clear, Ditz was hardly the only person who reached out to Basko to address the comment, and Basko claims to have received a pseudonymous voice mail message addressing her post.) Ditz left the following on Basko's public Facebook page (the page is oddly unavailable as of this writing):

Hi Sue. I read your comment yesterday at the LA times piece on autism, and was quite struck by your naiveté about autism.

To begin with, the word "retardation" isn't used any more. The Arc, the largest national advocacy organization, .... [Liz hit return here, falling victim to poor Facebook UI, left that comment, and started over]

First of all: I am not autistic, I do not have a child with autism, and I certainly have not applied for SSI for said non-existent child. Yes the school district in which I live educates children with autism, but since it's a poor and struggling district any marginal payment hardly makes up for the marginal cost of educating said children. I am however, and autism ally an advocate, and a co-founder and editor of The Thinking Person's Guide to Autism (TPGA). Our webpage is here:


and our Facebook page is here:


Second, it is too bad you got a pseudonymous message. However, as I said, your comment revealed an immense amount of ignorance about autism.

The arc (http://www.thearcorg/) now refers to "intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Autism is unrelated to retardation. Some autistics have intellectual disabilities, but many have average or above-average intellectual capacities. What we are finding is that even autistics with limited verbal language may have substantial intellectual ability. I'd be glad to share the research if you'd like.

On to SSI and your assertion that the autism diagnosis "qualifies the child or family to collect a good SSI payment each month" and that families can even "live off the payments" and "A lot of this spectrum stuff, I think, is based on wanting to collect available funds."

Your assertion is completely mistaken

I wonder if you had any idea, when you wrote that, how hateful -- vitriolic even-- your assertion would appear to parents of autistic children, or adults with autism?

I invite you and your readers here to come by TPGA and get to know real families dealing with autism and real adults with autism and how they live.

Ditz's comment was soon deleted from Basko's page. (See Ditz's blog post for a screenshot. She has written about this entire episode, much of which I am recounting here).

Ditz also dug up some information on SSI payments: "The princely sums autism parents can get from SSI, per child: the maximum is $674 per month." Some gravy train.

One would think that the Ditz-Basko episode might end there, as internet exchanges often fizzle after someone is adequately schooled.

Not quite.

I have been a follower of of Ditz on Twitter, and I received the following tweet from Basko yesterday:

I was unsure why Basko had reached out to me, as I had never had any interaction with Basko. I also wondered what the hell Liz Ditz did to provoke such a bizarre, accusatory message from someone I did not know. However, after taking a look at Basko's Twitter feed, I noticed that she had sent the same exact message to dozens upon dozens of Ditz's followers.

Plenty more where those came from.

Wow again, right? Who's harassing who, again? According to Ditz, her only 'interactions' with Basko were the initial post to Basko's Facebook page, Ditz's blog post, and a total of five tweets with mentions of Basko.

The last time I checked, discussing someone's very public comments on the internet publicly on the internet without invoking threats does not constitute stalking/harassment, and most certainly doesn't require the attention of the FBI. (Read Ditz's comments on the accusations here.)

I have a lot of sympathy for Ditz in this instance. I, too (along with many other fellow skeptics and rational, science-minded folks), have a hard time not speaking up when witnessing injustices, fallacious claims, propaganda, or general batshittery/douchebaggery. I just can't let it go unchecked. I'm sure Freud might have a lot to say about this compulsion, but so would Batman. Sometimes we are compelled to fight the good fight, regardless of glory or reward -- often a Sisyphean task on the internet.

A story like this would not be complete without a moral, would it? Well, you're in luck. The above episode inspired a post from writer/blogger Todd W. at Harpocrates Speaks, entitled How Not to Make a Fool of Yourself on the Internet: A PSA. The post is very much worth your time, and includes such advice as: Think Before You Type, Don't Go Orwell, Don't Deny You Said What You Said, Don't Libel Your Critics.

The great thing about such advice is that if we all followed the first rule, 'Think before you type,' there would be no need to follow the rest. And when such rules are broken, we often have no choice but to invoke Thomas Jefferson:

"Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions."

For more discussion on this whole episode:

Left Brain Right Brain

Caffeinated Autism Mom

Colorado Moms


  1. From Ms. Basko's blog:

    "It is also considered a form of torture to attack people in front of others whose duty and inclination is to protect the innocent victims, but who cannot due to the power differential with attackers -- in this case, the attackers being the police."

    I see a parallel here. Liz Ditz, who is attempting to protect innocent victims and an attempt to silence using the police (or the threat thereof)

  2. What is the "rescue team" that Ms. Basko is ranting about over at Harpocrates Speaks? See comments at 4:11 and 4:15 a.m. on Dec 19 2011.


  3. Thanks for pointing this out. I have no idea what this is all about. I have asked Ms. Basko for more information. That post she linked to is painfully vague -- written in a vacuum.

  4. Hi y'all.

    I wrote a series of posts, starting in 2004, about a self-proclaimed disaster expert, repeating information from a New Mexico newspaper investigation. (I was quite involved with disaster preparedness in my community at the time.)

    Snopes later reported on this man's earthquake response mis-information and the charges of misbehavior:


    The man referenced didn't like what the Albuquerque paper found out about him, and didn't like me repeating it, hence the quoted comments at Harpocrates Speaks.

  5. In other words (btw I LOVE Snopes.com) They are slandering you because you produced a factual tid bit and that pisses them off because it affects their income some how by milking their child's well being away; as in Daria it's a sick sad world.

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