Thursday, January 23, 2014

Rain Men or Retards

This exchange popped up in my Facebook newsfeed yesterday. Let's ignore the possible over-sharing on the part of Red (though as over-sharing goes, this was relatively tasteful) and look at Blue's response.

Depending on Blue's analysis of the technology in question, Blue's use of "autism" could either mean "genius" or "brain dead." Not knowing what sort of phone Red has, and judging from Blue's lack of grammatical skills, I assume Blue is not using the word "autism" to mean "super smart," but I admit I do not have enough information to decide if I find this comment funny or offensive. In response to my seeking clarification, Blue said he was "trying to be funny," though that doesn't explain what he thought the punchline was. Maybe Blue's phone constantly makes funny noises or insists on calling the same number over and over...

These are two of the wildly different ways people on the spectrum seem to be portrayed in the media: "Rain Men" or "Retards," brilliant or defective.

Neither caricature is accurate, of course, because all people - autistic or otherwise - are individuals, but some assumptions can cause more harm than others. Why does it matter? Because people's attitudes and actions are usually linked, and if you think folks on the spectrum are less than human, you'll probably treat them that way.

Case in point: this week an Illinois Republican running for state congress said in a public interview that autism and dementia are Divine Punishments because “God is angry. We are provoking Him with abortions and same-sex marriage and civil unions.” Now, if she believes Autism is Bad - like, plague of locusts and striking of the firstborn kind of bad - what kinds of laws might she support for her autistic (not to mention gay/demented/pro-choice) constituents if she were elected (God forbid)? Would you expect her to help maintain special eduction funding or to cut it and divert that money to something God would like better?

I would like to think that Blue has a way-better phone than Red, but most folks don't throw around the word "autism" as high praise.

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Keep it civil, people.