Just so that I don’t have to regurgitate the entire debacle online, check out this article at the Huffington Post about something stupid said by the rapper 50 Cent… and the response from Holly Robinson Peete.  (It saves me typing time, and they can certainly explain the issue better than I.)

The quick synopsis for those who haven’t gone to look – two days ago, 50 Cent chose to respond to a follower who got under his skin by telling him that he looked ‘autistic’, and then followed up by saying he didn’t want any ‘special needs’ followers.  Ms. Peete responded with an open letter chastising him about the comment.

What followed, I think, was very lovely and amusing.  I’ve been watching a progression of tweets on my timeline, all with the hashtag #thisiswhatautismlookslike, and each tweet had pictures of the autistic people in the tweeter’s life.  (Yes, I did join in.  And no, I don’t think 50 Cent has apologized yet.)

The whole issue brings up two issues, only one of which was touched on by Ms. Peete:

  • The way he used it reminds me of when I was growing up, and calling someone ‘retarded’ was an insult.  Just as it’s highly inappropriate and cruel to folks who are truly disabled in that fashion to use it as an insult, people should have an ounce of sensitivity and not use ‘autistic’ as an insult.
  • Autism is seemingly an ‘invisible’ disability.  There are generally few openly visible facets of it that would communicate to the world that a person has an ASD – more often than not, it feels like people just think your child is poorly behaved or ‘odd’, or worse, that you have little control over your child and that you’re a bad parent.

The latter, I think, is the larger issue.  People at large don’t quite know what autism is – it’s just some scary, nebulous disorder to most that carries with it diminished capacity.  The Monster, for instance, doesn’t use a wheelchair, isn’t missing limbs, isn’t blind, etc.  He “looks” like any other healthy, beautiful four-year-old boy when you see him.

No hash-tag campaign on Twitter is going to fix the obvious issue with society understanding what’s wrong with referring to someone as ‘autistic’ as an insult. It’s just a question of getting folks in the general population to educate themselves a bit better about what it signifies and to think before they speak.

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