Word choice matters when reporting on autism treatments

A new drug could be a breakthrough in treating symptoms of autism spectrum disorder. But Balkan media outlets have misled the public by saying the drug is a "cure for autism."

Tijana Cvjeticanin
Tijana Cvjeticanin Istinomjer, Bosnia and Herzegovina
Source: Istinomjer
Word choice matters when reporting on autism treatments - NewsMavens

Why this story matters:

Public discourse on autism is packed with manipulations and misconceptions. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is often falsely described as an illness caused by vaccines or a reaction to non-existent "parasites," untraceable to modern medicine.

Parents of children with ASD sometimes fall prey to advertisements of unethical, unsafe and untested practices, presented to them as medicine.

These irrational narratives are frequently supported by media, including those in the Balkans. Spectacular fairy tales of "regular moms who defeated autism in their children" contribute to the stigmatization of people with ASD and the spread of dangerous practices.

In an online environment crawling with charlatans, the media's choice of words to translate "autism drug" could feed dangerous misconceptions. A drug is not the same as the cure, nor is "treatment of symptoms" equal to "curing" a neurological disorder.

health,family,media,science

Details from the story:

  • Pharmaceutical company Roche recently announced that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration  granted a "breakthrough therapy designation" for a new drug they are developing.
  • The designation recognizes the drug's potential, shows intent to cooperate with the manufacturer in the testing process, and takes the drug to market if clinical trials are successful.
  • Early tests show the drug, called Balovaptan, may reduce core symptoms of ASD, specifically difficulties in social interaction and communication. 
  • Balkan media outlets presented news about Balovaptan in a misleading way, such as it was already approved by the FDA and that it could "cure autism."
  • The words "drug" and "cure" are interchangeable in local language, and "breakthrough therapy designation" is difficult to translate, so some media outlets used "approval" in their headlines.
inbox_large_illu Created with Sketch.
Tired of the news media’s prevailing male perspective? We are too.

Get our newsletters composed exclusively by female journalists from all over Europe.

WITH FINANCIAL SUPPORT FROM:
SUPPORTED BY:

Project #Femfacts co-financed by European Commission Directorate-General for Communications Networks, Content and Technology as part of the Pilot Project – Media Literacy For All

The information and views set out on this website are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Union. Neither the European Union institutions and bodies nor any person acting on their behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information contained therein.

STRATEGIC PARTNERS:
NewsMavens
NewsMavens is a media start-up within Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest liberal broadsheet published by Agora S.A. NewsMavens is currently financed by Gazeta Wyborcza and Google DNI Fund.
Is something happening in your country that Newsmavens should cover?
CORE TEAM
Zuzanna Ziomecka
Zuzanna Ziomecka EDITOR IN CHIEF
Lea Berriault-Jauvin
Lea Berriault Managing Editor
Jessica Sirotin
Jessica Sirotin EDITOR
Ada Petriczko
Ada Petriczko EDITOR
Gazeta Wyborcza, Agora SA Czerska 8/10 00-732, Warsaw Poland
The e-mail addresses provided above are not intended for recruitment purposes. Messages concerning recruitment will be deleted immediately. Your personal data provided as part of your correspondence with Zuzanna,Lea, Jessica and Ada will be processed for the purpose of resolving the issue you contacted us about. The data provided in your email is controlled by Agora S.A. with its registered office in Warsaw Czerska 8/10 Street (00-732). You can find more information about the processing and protection of your personal data at https://newsmavens.com/transparency-policy
System.Threading.Tasks.Task`1[System.Threading.Tasks.VoidTaskResult];