>Teachers often talk about “attention-getting behavior,” mainly negative behaviors that develop in an attempt to gain center stage when the positive attention isn’t sufficient. But what happens when the attention-getting behavior is developed and sponsored by a major university?
The Child Study Center at NYU recently worked with a major advertising agency to create billboards that they felt called attention to child and adolescent psychiatric and learning disorders. Nicknamed the “Ransom Note” campaign, the billboards displayed ‘notes’ like this:
“We have your son. We will make sure he will no longer be able to care for himself or interact socially as long as he lives. This is only the beginning…Autism.”
“We have your son. We are destroying his ability for social interaction and driving him into a life of complete isolation. It’s up to you now…Asperger’s Syndrome”
“We have your daughter. We are making her wash her hands until they are raw, everyday. This is only the beginning…OCD”
“We are in possession of your son. We are making him squirm and fidget until he is a detriment to himself and those around him. Ignore this and your kid will pay…ADHD”
These ads spurred an activist movement that surprised their creators and sponsors. Autism advocates mobilized immediately to protest the implied hopelessness and inaccurate perceptions in these “notes”. Bloggers like Kristina of AutismVox and Vicki of Speak Softly stepped up, spread the word, and eventually were quoted in the New York Times. I read great posts by Mom-nos and Dr. Joe, both parents of children with autism. If you follow the trail from these four, you’ll find many, many more blogs that addressed the topic — written by parents of children with autism and adults with autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.
The campaign has been abruptly halted because of the negative responses. Dr. Harold Koplewicz, head of the Study Center that initiated the Ransom Notes campaign, made a public statement of apology, ending it thus:
“…Our goal was to start a national dialogue. Now that we have the public’s attention, we need your help. We would like to move forward and harness the energy that this campaign has generated to work together so that we do not lose one more day in the lives of these children.
“We invite all of you to continue this conversation online at a “town hall” meeting that we will hold early next year as we plan the next phase of our national public awareness campaign on child mental health. Look for details on our web site www.AboutOurKids.org.”
Well, as the saying goes, the road to you-know-where is paved with good intentions. Gaining the public’s attention by using shock isn’t a new tactic in advertising, whether commercial or public service. Autism isn’t new, either.
But considering that awareness is the lowest form of knowledge, far behind comprehension, application, and analysis, shouldn’t any public relations campaign be far better quality than this one? The autism movement has moved well beyond the awareness stage. Any major attention-getting ideas should be beyond that stage, too.
But you know what I say, “Should” is a bogus word. It’s meaningless, really.
I wonder what kind of “ransom note” they’d come up with for a hearing impaired mom, happily married, well-educated, professional, raising a teen and a college student? If you haven’t guessed, that’s me. And don’t bother with negative attention-getting behavior, either. I’ve taught too long to fall for that.