Some might say I’ve gotten more cynical over the years, when it comes to information and news sources. Of course, we can’t trust everything we read on the internet, but we can’t trust everything we hear from the news or read in books, either.
While I’ve already written quite a bit about how to find a decent news source here, researching matters relating to neurology, therapy and treatment has its own set of obstacles.
While there are subtly different things to watch out for when consuming info from various sources, it’s always a smart idea to look at these three points:
- Research makers – motivations, connections, backgrounds
- Verify information
- If they feature only one organization, drug or service, they’re advertisements, not resources
Here are some more specific things to watch out for in the different formats you’ll come across.
When I listen to the radio or watch the news, I take the information in with a truckload of salt. The problem with most of these programs is that we sometimes need to look deeply into the motives and funding behind the content.
When these programs cover things like autism, dyslexia, medicine or other topics in that realm, I’ve noticed they repeatedly refer to a specific product. That product can be a book, a therapy regimen or specific school.
While some of the information may be valid, such as some of the symptoms or lack of resources, you’ll notice the host and whoever’s being interviewed will more often than not frame the service in question as the “only”, “best” or “revolutionary” option available.
Those services may even help some people, but they often don’t stand up to what’s advertised. I tend to place them at the same level as the drug commercials aired on TV. They’re advertisements veiled as educational programming.
Privately Run Schools/Organizations
I watch a lot of videos on YouTube, especially when searching for good media to include in my articles with HubPages. I’ve noticed that specialty schools for autism or dyslexia put out a lot of informational videos about the two issues.
Often, these videos are pretty spot on, especially when it comes to spotting symptoms and early identification. Many of them also demonstrate very effective therapies, especially when it comes to sensory, physical or occupational therapy. That makes sense, since that’s what their employees do all day.
Much like the talking heads, my problem is when those videos become commercial instead of instructional. Again, the red flag to watch out for is the use of words like “only”, “best”, “revolutionary” and others.
When in doubt, always verify.
When it comes to researching on the internet, always look at where the articles are coming from. If they’re on a web page run by a radio host or some other public figure, I’d at least attempt to verify the information given with third party sources. Knowing who owns and operates the web page, or writes the articles, is just as important as the information within.
For example, I’ve plugged “autism treatment” into Bing. Here’s what I got on the very first page:
Those first four results are all paid advertisements. The first and the fourth are clear ads for therapists, while the second is for some sort of educational certification.
The third one, however, is a bit tricky. The web address “AutisticDisorderInfo” and title “Autistic Disorder Symptom” are attempts at misleading people into thinking it’s a site about autism. When you go to the page, however, it’s all about the drug Abilify. Remember, the site isn’t there to offer information in good will, it’s there to further sell consumers on taking the drug. The warnings are there, because they’re bound by federal law to list them.
Now, here’s what we have when we scroll down past the paid ads:
Autism Speaks and Autism Society are both non-profit organizations. Their pages both have similar overviews of available treatments. I personally don’t care for Autism Speaks, but I don’t know enough about Autism Society to have any sort of opinion for it. However, those two pages are actually pretty decent starting points for composing a list of various therapies to research further.
WebMD also provides a general overview, as does the about.com page. However, about.com also lists specific available options. Generally, I tend to trust WebMD a little more, especially when it comes to medication, because much of their information comes from package inserts and studies.
About.com hires authors from various backgrounds to write for them, so when I read info from about.com, I also read up about the author’s experience, before finding alternative resources to verify the info.
That article was written by a mom named Lisa Jo Rudy, who has learned about autism from raising a son on the spectrum, study and working directly with her local community to better the lives of others with autism. While science, studies and degrees are extremely valuable, personal experience is often just as important. I think I’ll add her book to my “to read” list, too.
Anyway, for those not in the US, CDC stands for “Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”. I may not agree with the view of Autism-as-a-disease, but the information on the web page does seem to be pretty sound. It gives a general overview of what each type of common therapy is, and how it works.
While it talks about the fact medication is often used to treat comorbid issues, it doesn’t go into the individual medications used. It also talks about the need for close monitoring of behavior and overall health, as many medications can have unpredictable side effects.
It also acknowledges that symptoms may indicate a physical problem instead of autism, which should be checked out by a doctor. The page uses headbanging as an example. Some ASD kids use that as a stim, or do it during a meltdown, but it could also indicate chronic headaches, which could be symptoms of an underlying physical problem. That’s an important tidbit of information missed on the other web pages.
The last page listed is for a treatment center in Texas. This page is far more useful for people in that geographical area, but their blog does have some good ideas for people across the country to consider.
In the end, it’s vital to check as many resources as possible, and perhaps take notes. I generally prefer to look for patterns once the available articles start to repeat themselves. If the article in question seems unreliable, I often find it is, but there’s never any harm in double checking who owns the web page, info about the author and verifying information.
Despite being dyslexic, I’m something of a bookworm. I prefer fiction, urban fantasy and that sort of thing, but I also enjoy nonfiction, especially when it pertains to the neurodiverse experience.
When choosing books to read, I often look at online reviews, and if possible, check it out of the library before spending money on it. Researching authors beforehand is more important than ever, as well.
I’ll often take notes while I read, as well. Although we’re trained from an early age to find books more trustworthy than what we read on the internet, I still think it’s important to double check the information, especially if the book is older.
It’s also a smart idea to check out what connections the publisher has to the community or issue being addressed, because they choose manuscripts that fit the tone and information they want to be associated with.
The last common information source I’ll cover is film. These can either be absolutely wonderful resources for connecting with others in the community and getting necessary information, or extensive commercials for services/products.
Again, reviews are extremely valuable, as is researching who the filmmakers are and their motives. I’d also advise taking a look at the studio, and at least reading the blurb that often accompanies the listing.
I tend to keep a close eye on the language they use, the way they frame scenes, the interviews they tend to feature and the music they use to set the tone. Those things all tell a lot about the emotional impact they want to have on the viewer, and will effect what information you take away from the piece.
While this is all stuff I’ve learned to watch out for, I may have missed a few points. If you’d like to add any, feel free to leave a comment below.