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Fri May 22, 2015, 02:11 PM


Don’t use autism as an insult – do focus on the real issues impacting the autistic community


This week, former Israeli foreign minister and head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party Avigdor Lieberman found himself in hot water (again!) after labeling those who wish to see Israel return to the pre-1967 armistice lines as “autistic.” Thanks to a quick response from the Ruderman Family Foundation and other disability activists, Lieberman quickly walked back his remarks, issuing a somewhat uncharacteristic semi-apology.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time that political leaders in Israel or the United States have maligned the autistic community by using our diagnosis as an insult in one political dispute or another. No doubt few in the Prime Minister’s Residence or the White House have forgotten last year’s reveal from U.S. columnist Jeffrey Goldberg that senior Obama Administration officials referred to Netanyahu as “Asperger-y.”

Nor is this pejorative usage limited to the halls of power. Even Amos Oz, considered the father of the Israeli peace camp, accused right-wing settlers of “moral autism” in his seminal 1983 book In the Land Of Israel. What is it that makes so many prominent figures feel that it is appropriate to use autistic adults and children as stock figures in political attacks?

Much of it may have to do with the role that autism already plays in our political culture. To many neurotypical commentators, autism is un-personhood par excellence. A condition associated in the public’s eye mainly with small children and tales of pity and woe, few think of autistic brains as belonging to adults who vote, work, attend university or even serve in the military.

Brought to you by the head of the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (ASAN).


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