Who Speaks for Autism?: Unpacking media bias in Toronto Star reporting on autism funding and school inclusion

We’ve written a report about systematic bias in the Toronto Star‘s coverage of provincial autism policy changes and school inclusion.

Read the full report here: Who Speaks for Autism_Unpacking Media Bias at the Star

In the report, we examine The Star’s coverage of the Ontario Government’s autism funding decisions between January 1, 2019 and August 28, 2019 about the autism policy funding package known as the Ontario Autism Program (OAP). We look at who the Star spoke with; which therapy they referenced; factual errors and how often they were repeated; and how People of Colour, non-verbal people,and autistic self-advocates generally were underrepresented by the Star.

Some main points:

  • The Star consistently left out the voices of People of Colour, both parents and autistic people, with just 6% representation, even though the GTA has a 51% demographic of People of Colour.
  • Autistic people were only interviewed 4 times in the Star’s autism policy coverage. 0% of people quoted by the Star were non-verbal autistics and 0% were autistic adults of Colour. Amazingly, 2/3 of the Star’s community quotes on autism policy came from the same married couple.
  • School inclusion was referred to as a “burden” and the Star consistently referred to the addition of less than one autistic child per school in 2019 as an “influx,” stating it would lead to “chaos”.
  • No school inclusion experts, nor any non-ABA autism service providers, nor any AAC experts were ever quoted by the Star as it covered these issues during the time period studied.
  • When two autistic people were included for the first time in the Ontario government’s 20-member autism policy consultation panel, the Star did not interview them, but rather mislabeled them as “an anti-science group,” an error the Star refused to correct.

Our report details these and many other issues, as well as outlining the dovetails between politicians, media and lobbying groups that have impacted provincial autism policy for years, as well as shaping public perceptions about autism in Ontario. The paper concludes with a discussion about media bias and what we can all do to stop it.

This wasn’t an easy paper for us to write. To revisit the bias is a difficult but essential process towards making things better. We hope you will read and share this paper, too. Thank you.