Friday, July 6, 2012

My 2 Cent

Copyright SPIN Magazine

With the holidays and an illness in the family, I have not been on top of everything autism as I usually am. It is also the reason for the lack of posts in recent weeks. Yesterday, it was 103 FREAKING DEGREES OUTSIDE… so I kept the kids inside and while they were playing and overloading on games and television… I was surfing and catching up.

The article that caught my eye was that the lovely Holly Robinson Peete wrote an open letter to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson for having used autism as the basis of an insult in a tweet to somebody that pushed his buttons. Mr. Jackson’s tweet (which has since been deleted at Mrs. Robinson Peete’s request) was:

@50cent: yeah I saw your pic fool u look autistic. I don’t want no special ed kids on my time line follow some body else."

I will give 50 the benefit of the doubt and say that I don’t believe that he honestly feels this way and that he meant these words in jest. Even if he was joking, it wasn’t a wise choice of words on the part of a guy who makes his living… using wisely chosen words.

You would think that he would have learned his lesson by now, especially since he is the endorser of so many products. The guy has more holes in him than a pin cushion for one… secondly he has said thoughtless and hurtful things on Twitter before. On September 30th, 2010 he sent out the following lovely tweet:

“@50cent: If you a man and your over 25 and you don’t eat pu**y just kill your self damn it. The world will be a better place. Lol”

50 Cent claims that this tweet was not meant to bash gay men, but one has to wonder considering the timing. Rutgers University freshman Tyler Clementi leaped to his death from the George Washington Bridge on September 22nd of that same year, just 8 days prior and gay suicide was topping all the headlines. Dan Savage started the beautiful It Gets Better Project on September 21st in response to the suicide of Billy Lucas and that was also getting a lot of publicity. In his defense, 50 Cent cited his mother’s bisexuality as proof that he was not homophobic. So I suppose you should not take into account the April 2004 issue of Playboy in which 50 Cent says, “I ain’t into faggots.”

So let us just say that Mr. Jackson has a history of bad tweeting and being insensitive to differences in people... like his series of joke tweets after the Japanese tsunami.

The problem for 50 Cent if he was kidding and where I and so many others take offense is that Mr. Jackson is not a noted insult comic, and the tweet was not part of a greater stand-up routine. This was not a line written for a character that 50 Cent is playing in a movie. This is not a rhyme in one of his songs that address a different time in his life in which he felt differently about the world, or is speaking for a character. There was no underlying warmth. These are 50’s words and his alone.

As I monitor autism news, I have a column in my TweetDeck with the keyword “autism”. Any time a person tweets out something with the word “autism” it appears in that column. This helps bring to my attention important news stories on autism, or parents in need of advice that I may be able to offer. What I also see in that column is a direct reflection of 50 Cent’s mindset; people from all walks of life using autism as the punch line of a joke. It manifests itself in the real world as well.

Take this past 4th of July which also happened to be the last day of the carnival that we had been promising Sofie for MONTHS that she would get to go to. It also happened to be the hottest day of the year (to that point) but since we finally had a window to take the kids we went. We got them the unlimited ride bracelets and off we went; the wife and me, Sofie, Luis, and Bianca with her little teddy bear backpack with the leash that keeps “Flo-Jo” from getting away from us in crowded places.

Bianca LOVES the carnival. She goes crazy with laughter on the Hurl-a-Whirl, smiles from ear to ear on the little dragon rollercoaster, beams on the little train and usually cries when we have to leave. This was also the first time Luis could honestly enjoy the rides, which took him a while to get comfortable on and not be scared.

We braved the heat for an hour and a half, and it was brutal. As we were wrapping things up, the girls (now just big balls of sweat and hair) wanted to take one last ride on the dragon rollercoaster. It was on the way to the car so as my wife took Luis to hit the cars one more time, I walked with Bianca and Sofie to the coaster. It was just about ready to go, but the operator was kind enough to wait as he saw us walking towards the ride. Usually they ride together, this time Bianca wanted her own car. As I secured her in the ride I undid the clip-on leash and reminded her to hold on. Sofie was already cheering wildly and throwing her arms in the air.

As I exited the platform and walked to the front of the ride, I smiled as I saw Bianca’s big grin. Sofie was still going crazy, but then when I glanced at the two early teenage girls sitting at the front of the roller coaster, my smile faded. There was something about the blonde girl’s look that indicated to me that she was a rather ugly person inside. Her brunette friend was clearly the minion. If you have a kid with special needs, you tend to develop a kind of “Jerk Radar”.

My ears perked up just in time to hear her say, “Did you see that man has his kid on a f***ing leash? I mean if you can’t take care of your f***ing kids, then maybe you shouldn’t have them” followed by a bunch of snickering.

50 Cent… this is the advantage and disadvantage of autism. Autism doesn’t LOOK like anything. It helps because when things are going well, you don’t have to deal with stares. But when things are going badly, the stares are even more intense and hurtful because they are judging eyes. The look itself says, “This person is a bad parent and can’t control his/her horrible, spoiled child.”

All this vile little girl sees is a kid on a leash. She didn’t see autism. It doesn’t excuse her. She is still in the wrong for judging somebody before she knows the circumstances. But she wasn’t making fun of me or my child because of her autism. She is ignorant, uneducated, young… and impressionable.

That is why I took the time after the ride to walk up to her and her friend and introduce myself and Bianca and inform her that if she would notice I have two other kids that I don’t have “on a leash” so one might deduct that there is an underlying issue with Bianca. I told her that Bianca had autism and she was prone to run away as many kids on the spectrum do, and that she has little to no sense of self endangerment. So for her safety, as I explained, it is better for her to be attached to me at the hip… literally. “So”, I said. “You might want to watch what you say and how you judge people.”

I wished her a safe 4th of July and walked towards my wife. I didn’t mention the incident to her because I didn’t want it to ruin her holiday. My wife is Latina… need I say more? I thought it was best for all parties to keep mum… at least until the girls were out of range.

Sometimes I wish autism did look like SOMETHING. It might make things easier on parents and those with autism. I don’t know what the guy that 50 Cent lashed out at looks like, but my guess is he looks nothing like this…

And THAT is what autism looks like.

So I say to Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, you could use your popularity and fame to show that this kind of humor is hurtful to many and helps to perpetuate negative stereotypes and bullying. Maybe you could take some time to educate your fans and close to 8 million followers what autism is and how it touches the lives of so many. Maybe you could use your fame, wealth and influence to help decrease the disparity in the average age of diagnosis between Caucasian kids and children of color.

In the meantime, I know that many have been tweeting to @50cent pictures of their children on the spectrum with the hashtag #whatautismlookslike… I encourage my readers to do the same.

UPDATE: 50 Cent has since issued a public apology. You may read my response and reflection here.

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  1. Lou, as a parent of an ASD child, I really do understand the reaction of the ASD community to Mr. Jackson's tweet. It was ignorant and insensitive. I completely agree with this. Where I tend to veer from the 'norm' in my reaction is villification. It serves no purpose for my child, and, in fact, gives power to Mr. Jackson's statement. What I have learned in my journey is NT's need educating. Statements such as these come from a simple lack of knowing and understanding. I do like and applaud Mrs. Peete's letter. I think it's appropriate in tone, and makes the point that his words come from a personal lack of experience.

    Just my '2 cents'.

    Thank you,


  2. Excellent posting Lou! I passed it on. As a parent of a child with autism, I am deeply offended by this comment. I vividly remember the stares and cold looks when I would take Caleb into a place he had never been before.. like a new Walmart, McDonald's, grocery store, and a tantrum would erupt. Sometimes it would happen at a local restaurant in the middle of dinner.

    It amazes me with as much education and awareness that such ignorance and cruelty is so rampant. He should use this as an educational opportunity and cough up some money to help the cause if he finds such offense to it!

  3. Lou thank you-I too used to have a "leash" for my boy. I too have had the looks, the comments, and the unkind words-you handled yourself with grace and style-too bad Mr Jackson has not the same.