I want to start off by telling everyone my husband, the hubby, aka The Wise Old Sage, really enjoys Morning Joe. He watches it every day as he gets dressed for work. I never liked it, but would watch it with him so we could have a few minutes together before the day got rolling. That being said....
I was wondering just how long it would take for some pundit, pseudo-psychologist or morning talking head to decide that the Aurora, Colorado shooter had to be on the autism spectrum. It happens every time there is a tragedy of mass proportions in our society. The first thing you hear is that the perpetrator had social issues, so ipso facto it means they had to be on the spectrum. I suppose what made the comments by Joe Scarborough so egregious is that he backed them up by saying his son has aspergers.
Sadly, people who watch his show are actually going to believe that he may be right considering his son is autistic. Because we all know that if you have a child with autism you are now the
resident expert on autism or at least apparently someone who like Joe
thinks he is. For who knows better about how every autistic individual functions than living with one person who has autism. The idea that if you meet one autistic individual you have merely met one person with autism does not register with the majority of society. They don't know about autism. But if that person telling everyone about autism, happens to be a former Congressman, TV news reporter and pundit, that makes what he says gospel. He of course would never say anything out of turn. Would he? You can read more about his statements HERE and HERE.
Yes the autism community reacted immediately. Whether through:
media announcements, (Here, Here) and
The community, rightly, is demanding a retraction of his comments. So far I have not seen any retraction. If someone finds it please let me know. (See Update below.)
I think the main issue here isn't the fact that someone, somewhere, said something stupid when it comes to autism. We know it happens. What disturbs me the most is who said it, and the effect it will have on the lives of our children. When you are in the public eye you have a responsibility to use good judgement and to make certain that you do not cause irreparable harm to others.
While autism is discussed and the subject of many movies, TV shows and even PBS specials, people who do not live with autism or who do not know anyone with autism, quite frankly are frightened by actions of individuals that they consider beyond social norms. I'm not talking about a child with autism. I am talking about an adult with autism. While the ABC show "What would you do" did show a compassionate group of people in dealing with an autistic adolescent, my thoughts went to, what would the reaction have been if the autistic person was an adult? What would their reaction have been if the person were higher functioning but stimming? What would their reaction be if the autistic person was a full grown man, high functioning, having a meltdown because he was overwhelmed by sensory issues? Something tells me that when a person grows up and is no longer someone society thinks is "cute" and can pat on the head, society loses sympathy. Especially when people are uneducated and an individual whom they respect are telling them to be frightened.
I am talking about society not understanding idiosyncrasies that characterize autism like types of stimming: hand flapping, finger drumming, humming, head smacking, hand biting, hair pulling, clothes/paper ripping or fidget toy holding. I am talking about voice-modulation issues. I am talking about becoming overwhelmed by noise, smells and types of lighting for those on the spectrum, which could lead to a semi-meltdown sometimes in public. I am talking about emotional disregulation and how it presents itself. I am talking about two grown youngmen who are 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds. Who are brilliant but can become stymied by the world in which they live. I am talking about my sometimes overwhelmed sons who people look askance at when they act out. I am talking about two very gentle, kind, sweet youngmen who would like nothing better than to find a way to make this world a better place. I am talking about how my sons have now been fingered as possible psychotic killers by someone with the soapbox of a Joe Scarborough.
Life can be daunting enough for my boys at times without having the added indignity of pundit stupidity thrown at them. Society is uneducated enough about autism and what it is, without added speculation from someone who thinks he knows everything but obviously knows nothing. Sometimes people really need to know just when to STFU. Especially those who wield the power of the media.
Meanwhile if I am anything it is proactive in my life and my children's lives. Yes, I took care of making certain that the college would know that the boys were not a danger to anyone or themselves when they entered. I had them tested for college and retested last year. I made certain that the testing included propensity for violence, psychosis etc. I wanted to make absolutely sure that the college understood that the boys' "issues" were not a threat to anyone. Yes in this world you have to be ahead of the curve on that account. This was sadly, not the first time, some pundit said something stupid about autism and honestly, I know it will not be the last.
I suppose the only thing that we can do for our children is to find a way to educate those around us and society in general when it comes to what autism is and is not. In some small way that is why I do not celebrate Autism Awareness month, only because I find that we need to have autism awareness 24/7 in our world. As I wrote earlier, we are autism awareness. And it is what society does for autistics in October rather than in April that counts. I guess I should have written its what society does in July instead, It is how society reacts to the stupid statements of someone who should really have known better than to continue the ignorant and harmful stereotype of those with development disabilities.
Another interesting issue here is, that if a pundit had demeaned or promoted a stereotype of an ethnic group, race or religion, they would not only be forced to apologize they would most probably lose their jobs. (No I don't need Joe fired. An apology would be good though.) You cannot denigrate any group or people without being held up to ridicule. And rightly so. But so far nothing when it comes to defaming every person on the autism spectrum. Oh his son is autistic so its OK? No it is not.
Belonging to one group or another does not give you license to slander, name-call or promote ignorance. It's no more appropriate for those in the "autism community" to deride and promote ignorance about others on the spectrum, than its OK for "As-A-Jew" Jews to throw out anti-Semitic-dog-whistles. It's no more appropriate to deride someone on the spectrum because you have an autistic relative, then it's OK to promote antisemitism saying, "I can't be an antisemite, some of my best friends are Jewish or my sibling is married to a Jew." Or promote racist stereotypes by thinking I can't be a racist, " there are African-Americans who live in my town and I even celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr. Day." No one should get a pass when they promote fear and hate.
Shame on Joe Scarborough and shame on MSNBC for allowing this stereotype to go unanswered.
Until next time,
UPDATE: Apparently Joe Scarborough has offered a rather half-assed written response on the controversy..not an apology by any means... more of a "leave me alone, you are all dolts, and that is why I have to write this stupid stuff in order to get my bosses off my back" kind-of-comment. HERE.