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Jewish World Review Feb. 1, 2000 /28 Shevat, 5760

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell
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Becoming the subject of a smear campaign -- THE ORCHESTRATED SMEAR CAMPAIGN has become one of the art forms of our times. This was brought home to me recently when I learned that I was the target of a nationwide letter-writing campaign, promoted and coordinated by the American Speech-Language Hearing Association through its newsletter and an 800 number.

ASHA represents speech therapists and is unhappy about my book "Late-Talking Children," in which speech therapists do not always appear as heroes, though they do not always appear as villains either. But ASHA's own newsletter describes this campaign better than I can: "When his book received media attention, ASHA responded by writing letters to the editor, suggesting that Sowell broaden his knowledge about the subject rather than basing his conclusions only on the experiences of his son."

In reality, the book is based on research on 46 late-talking children and their families, scattered over 24 states. Only 14 pages are about my son, compared to more than 70 pages about the unusual patterns found in this group of children and in their families. As for my son's experience with a speech therapist, that was entirely positive, as reported in the book.

Any one could have discovered that this book was not just about my son by looking no further than the table of contents. The first and shortest chapter is titled "A Personal Experience" and is followed by chapters on "Children in the Group," "Patterns in the Group" and "Children Outside the Group." The truth was not hard to find, if you were looking for it.

What the ASHA newsletter said was not just an isolated lie. It was part of an orchestrated disinformation campaign. Again, in their own words: "ASHA is encouraging members who see Sowell's column in their local newspaper to send a letter or editorial to the publication and to notify Mona Thomas through the Action Center at 800-498-2071, ext 4156."

In this way, a coordinated campaign is made to look as if lots of independent individuals around the country are objecting to what I said, when in fact behind it all is an organization making up something that I never said.

What the ASHA is upset about is precisely what I learned from research on all the other children studied, whose very existence they do not acknowledge in their newsletter. Some of these children were wrongly diagnosed by speech therapists who had no qualifications to be diagnosing them at all. This was especially so in the public schools.

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"Late-Talking Children" exposed the needless anguish inflicted on trusting parents by false diagnoses by various kinds of "experts" and the ruin of bright children's education by their being placed in classes for retarded or autistic children on the basis of these mistaken diagnoses.

The book also questioned whether "early intervention" is always advisable for all late-talking children. Nor am I the only one to have raised that question. A British researcher studying late-talking children in England also pointed out that harm can result in some cases, just as benefit can result in other cases.

Despite ASHA's claim that the conclusions in "Late-Talking Children" were based "only on the experience of his son," the book in fact includes discussions of similar children outside the group studied -- including children in England, Canada and New Zealand. It also includes discussions of research on speech development and brain development from scholarly journals in the United States and overseas. And on the back cover there are praises for this book by professors at the Yale Medical School, M.I.T. and Johns Hopkins.

If you are the parent of a very bright child who is also very late in beginning to speak, how much confidence can you have in the professional standards of an organization that is less interested in the facts about this puzzling condition than it is in protecting its own image and turf?

Since writing "Late-Talking Children," I have heard from even more parents of such children than there were in my study. Their letters, phone calls and e-mails tell many similar stories of hasty and dogmatic diagnoses by speech therapists and others, leading to needless problems for parents and children alike.

At one time, I was naive enough to think that ASHA might be interested in this first study to single out unusually bright children who were late in talking. But they have had nothing whatever to say about anything that was actually in that study. Instead, they have launched a propaganda campaign.

JWR contributor Thomas Sowell, a fellow at the Hoover Institution, is author, most recently, of The Quest for Cosmic Justice.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate