Barron Trump & the Progressive Failure Surrounding Neurodiversity
I’ve had a few people suggest to me that it would be good for our family if Barron Trump had autism. They give me a look that says, “This is straight talk” then lay on me how if Barron Trump had autism it could create incentive for Donald Trump, whose heart is as cold as gutter ice, to use his newfound powers to champion some kind of expedition to the heart of autism and free the children of the “phantom zone” they currently inhabit, meaning… you know… our son Charlie would be cured. A well meaning suggestion, but one that is horribly misinformed.
I don’t know if Barron has autism, and quite frankly, I don’t care. He, like all our children, is a beautiful young life who is picking up the world around him and (God willing) going to use what he sees and what he learns from his very unique perspective of history to grow into a responsible & moral adult. The fact that Barron exhibits some of the traits commonly seen in children with autism — the lack of facial expression, disinterest in surroundings — doesn’t mean anything. His public appearances are typically during speeches and ceremonies that most adults would find boring, let alone a child who probably wishes he was home playing Titanfall. The fact that he isn’t behaving like a child pageant star in these settings shouldn’t enable the populace to make armchair diagnosis’ based on their very limited understanding of ASD.
What concerns me is how those aforementioned “autism” traits are being used in jokes and attacks being launched by so-called progressives who would (rightly) exhibit outrage if that level of ignorance was being blasted toward the groups they’ve championed. I’ve heard Barron Trump referred to as “Damien,” seen jokes suggesting he doesn’t have a soul, and in one infamous instance, an SNL writer suggested he would become the first homeschool shooter.
While these may seem innocuously crass, for the ASD community they carry the kind of bigoted ignorance that we deal with day-to-day. The notion of the “soulless” child with autism, perpetuated by Jenny McCarthy in her utterance of the “light” leaving her son’s eyes when he was vaccinated, is not only mean-spirited, it’s also completely false. My son, like many children with autism, is actually very spirited, very soulful, and also very affectionate. The fact that he may not engage you in ways you find normal shouldn’t earn him your ridicule any more than a child (or adult) who is gay or transgender should be ridiculed by somebody who doesn’t “get it”.
The notion of the autistic child who is, or will grow up to be, a violent psychopath is another stereotype that serves to discriminate, alienate, and ultimately make the public fearful of the autism community. This stereotype picked up steam following the Sandy Hook shooting, when it was revealed that the shooter, Adam Lanza, had Aspergers. While there are some children with ASD who exhibit violent tendencies, the perpetuation of this myth of the “psychopath in waiting” or the “ticking time bomb” child is as nasty and harmful as believing that all Muslims are secretly terrorists in waiting.
Neurodiversity is still in its infancy. And even The Progressive Movement, as inclusive as it is, still has trouble incorporating disabilities and special needs within its platform. But there was a time, not long ago, when a child who was African-American, Hispanic, or disabled, was treated in public as a curiosity (and therefore a threat) because of the obvious differences between them and so-called “normal” white children whom they had been successfully segregated from. It was only when this wall was broken down, and these groups integrated into our institutions, that our generation had the opportunity to freely engage with children of diversity and realize that hey, they’re not that different from us and therefore shouldn’t be the subject of our taunting or discrimination. It also enabled those children to share with us the things they found demeaning and offensive so we could be more sensitive when we make statements or crack jokes.
But with neurology, the differences are much more cerebral, and therefore much more nuanced, making them difficult for people to recognize in the way they engage with this community. The layperson probably doesn’t realize that it is every bit as offensive to call a child who appears to have ASD a “future date rapist” as it would be to make gay jokes about a child who has a lisp. Coupled with the fact that ASD children are usually warehoused in special schools or stowed in special classrooms, the challenge of bridging the neurodiversity gap becomes even more difficult.
We were taught as kids to always smile, to always make small talk, to always be social and to hold those most social in the highest esteem. We were never told that it’s okay to not smile, to spend time alone, or to sit silently and think rather than make chatter. So when Barron Trump is standing on a stage and isn’t grinning ear to ear as he soaks in the spectacle around him with precocious glee per our expectations of him, it challenges our conceptions of normal and we reflexively ask “what’s wrong with him?” If the new Progressive Movement truly believes in social justice and equality, the answer, regardless of whether or not he has autism, should be “nothing”.