Anyone who knows me knows better than to make a crack about autism. I wear the fact that I advocate for autism awareness and acceptance, not on my sleeve; but on my big, fat forehead. No one can miss a “sign” on that much real estate. So in life, nobody has ever ignorantly used “autistic” to my face. Ang takot lang nila …
The statement of Archbishop Soc Villegas, likening “autistic” to someone who does not understand, was my first exposure to a public figure’s faux pas, as the National Secretary of the Autism Society Philippines. I helped create the statement which lent a voice to the sentiments of our members and of other Filipino families touched by autism. I feel good about how we didn’t dwell on apologies (or lack there of); but demanded action.
And the process got me thinking.
Why do poeple say such unkind things?
The problem is rooted primarily in ignorance of what autism is. We all joke about big difficult-to-spell words like autism, ADHD, dyslexia, bi-polar, schizophrenia, bulimia; because very likely, it has not afflicted someone we loved or stared us in the face when we looked in the mirror.
The public information challenge on autism is a big giant cookie our organization has only managed to take small bites from, over the last 20 or so years.
I also feel that a lack of imagination and limited vocabulary is to blame. I am very thankful that my parents and my Language teachers have gifted me with the ability to describe unintelligence and indifference without resorting to disability slurs. I am thankful that even if the Philippine Constitution granted me the right to say whatever the I wanted, my upbringing equipped me with enough sense to know that I should never ridicule the disabled or use a disability analogy as a literary device.
Who perpetuates the trivialization of these indignities?
Soc Villegas, Miriam Santiago, Sonia Roco, 50Cent and Ricky Gervais are only some of the public figures who were caught with their disability biases exposed.
But this habit of reducing a neurological condition which profoundly affects millions of Filipinos to a joke or an insult or a “harmless expression” is, sadly, commonplace.
Tonight, I stumbled upon a blog entry entitled “Philippines’ Autistic Top 5″. The entry starts with a sourced definition; and falls into a steep downward spiral after the first sentence. I removed the imagery and some supporting arguments to create this condensed version. [The article has since been edited to provide "context".]
“Philippines’ Autistic Top 5″
Posted 07 August 2012, at 8:37pm
By Cheez Miss
M Scott Peck in his book People of the Lie [The Hope for Healing Human Evil] define [sic] autism as: “The utter failure to submit oneself to reality.” “The word comes from the Greek root `auto,’ meaning ‘self’. The person who is autistic is oblivious to certain essential dimensions of reality. Such people literally live “in a world of their own” in which the self (or the identity of the self) reigns supreme.” (p.162)
So far, the following are the top 5 autistic people, individuals, life forms in the country. There are more autistics out there, but this list includes those whose autism exerts the most influence in everyone’s minds and hearts.
Be aware or be square.
1 The Catholic Church … And their [sic] autistic because they can only see their relevance, their need to be relevant and that you should think the same way they do minus what you really think or feel about what they want you to think and feel. Their relevance only exists in their heads and has nothing to do with reality.
2 PNoyNoy … How is PNoyNoy autistic? … Smiling while inspecting the site of a tragic hostage-taking and talking to media about the hostage-taking. …
Allegedly not answering the phone when being called by a foreign official in the midst of a national and foreign emergency. … Blaming PGMA for everything wrong in this country. … Blaming Noli de Castro during an anniversary media party. … Inability to admit or accept blame. … Using the stage as a medium to air his personal grievances and preferences (so 15th century colonial catholic church much). … If you cannot see these as PNoy’s failure to submit himself to reality, you’re probably autistic yourself (yes, name-calling is easy and it works).
3 Star Cinema movies … This movie hails autism and advocates the fact that the lives of peripheral characters do not matter unless they serve the purpose of the 2 major stars’ characters.
4 All those Shampoo Commercials
5 Willie Revillame … Willie Revillame believes his own delusion, greatness and any proof to the contrary are merely provided by those who envy his blessed financial etc. state. Check out these posts on Willie Revillame.
But this list is not comprehensive. Autism is rampant everywhere. Have you checked your own view of reality?
Still reeling in disbelief, I could not stop there. Using Storify, I created a list of tweets containing the word “autistic” in the Philippines from August 1 to 7. It was another gut-wrenching nightmare for an autism mom.
If social media is indeed an emerging anthropological “thermometer” that reflects the true state of humanity, I weep for the farther reaching implication of this benchmarking exercise.
It appears the lapse happens most with teenagers and young adults who belong to the generation of my 19-year old son with autism.
It appears Carl will grow up in a world where he will be ridiculed for a label doctors had given him.
It appears my eldest son will age in this society where the majority — from leaders to his peers to the common tao — may not have compassion for the condition he would spend a lifetime trying to manage.
It appears society is doomed to cheapen our family’s financial and emotional investments in treating autism, by equating “autistic behavior” to the hateful actions society itself wishes to expunge.
These possibilities scare me numb.
Have I been advocating for autism awareness and acceptance; when all this time, I should have been campaigning for the return of the simplest kindness and compassion? The needed virtues appear to be lost to a generation who think “autistic” is a hilarious synonym for every negative human trait they can think of.
I would usually have some upbeat, positive message to make all of this an opportunity to teach and to inspire. But tonight, I will embrace my sadness and my fears. Tomorrow should be a better day.