Pop Culture

Dear Melania Trump: Autism Isn't An Insult

We miss Michelle already.

Autism is not an insult. It's not a bad word. It's not even a bad thing because being different isn't inherently bad. For many people in the autism community, this is common knowledge, but it looks like some people — specifically, Melania Trump — could use a reminder.

In case you missed it, last week, Youtuber James Hunter uploaded a video titled, "Is Barron Trump Autistic? #StopTheBullying." As of today, the video, which calls for people to stop bullying Barron over his "strange behavior," has over 3 million views. Rosie O'Donnell posted a link to the video on Twitter, adding that if Barron is autistic, it'd be a great opportunity to raise awareness.

Melania caught wind of it at some point, and reacted how any reasonable future First Lady would react: by threatening a lawsuit. The (terrified) Youtuber issued an apology, explaining that it wasn't meant as an insult (Hunter has autism himself), and O'Donnell later followed suit.

Blah, blah, blah. Everyone's busy apologizing for having hurt Melania's feelings, but that's really not what we should be talking about here. As a society, we need to change the way we talk about autism. What message are you sending to parents of children with autism when you react so negatively to the idea that the word could ever apply to your child? What are you saying to adults with autism who already have to battle every day with the stigma attached to an ASD diagnosis? And what are you teaching children who are already likely to pick on other kids for being different? It's simple: that autism is an insult.

It's moments like these when I already miss Michelle Obama. If anything, this could have been a great teachable moment. Melania has gone on the record saying that anti-bullying will be her main focus as First Lady (because irony), and yet not only did she pass up an opportunity to educate others, she reinforced a destructive status quo (which I get is kind of the Trump calling card, but still). Millions of children are getting ridiculed at school every day because they have autism, so if you care enough to use your voice to silence someone who's saying something you don't like, why not use that platform to speak up for this oft-silenced group?

Here, I'll even help you out with a sample statement. "No, my son does not have autism, but autism is nothing to be ashamed of. Millions of people in the world have been diagnosed with autism — they are our sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and friends, and they deserve our love and respect. Autism is not an insult."

It's absolutely rude to theorize about other people's children and I can understand why, as a mother, it would upset her, but she handled the situation terribly. Even if she felt that Hunter was using autism as a way to insult her son (even though it's clear that he wasn't), she had the power to change the conversation and set a positive example. She didn't.

I keep seeing people paint Melania as a helpless rider on the Trump train to crazy town, but I don't buy it. She doesn't get a pass. Regardless of what her husband says or does, she has power of her own. She has a voice, and given the position that she's about to hold, she has more of a responsibility than ever to use it for good.

[Photo: Getty Images]

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