Ellen Langer

Baby sitters and Autism ·


I just heard a public service announcement on the radio that is mind-boggling. It went something like this: a wife and husband are in conversation about leaving the phone number for the police with the baby-sitter. A voice over says: “The likelihood of a babysitter needing to call 911 is 1 in 1500. The likelihood of a child having autism is 1 in 150.”

Now, how could anyone possibly calculate the odd of a baby sitter calling the police? What counts as baby-sitting? Who counts as baby-sitters? Siblings, hired help, next-door neighbors? How long a threshold is there to be considered a sitter? One hour, three hours, six hours? The answers to each of these questions would yield a different probability of the police being called.

We’re too often lulled into accepting statistics that claim to tell us important information. Whatever the merits of calling our attention to autism are, they don’t make up for leading us to be mindless about how we come to that opinion.