One of the great joys of teaching is learning to see the unique beauty in every child. Teaching children with special needs makes it even more gratifying to see how children grow and thrive in their own unique ways.
Some of the most touching and sweetest moments in my long teaching career have come in my interactions with students who fall on the autism spectrum. As the support group “Autism Speaks” says on its website, “Each individual with autism is unique.”
Recently comedian Rosie O’Donnell created an internet furor with a tweet asking the question of whether Barron Trump, the son of the President-elect, has a form of autism.
The rage reactions that the tweet got from Trump supporters was unsurprising given the well-known feud between Donald Trump and Rosie. This time, though, even some on the left were uncomfortable at first.
When the tweet first appeared, it seemed distasteful at best and cruel at worst to be publicly discussing a child. Barron, who is the future president’s fifth and youngest child, is only ten years old. Many progressives have been saying for the past eight years that children of public figures should be off-limits.
We hated the awful things that were printed, tweeted and shared about the Obama girls. Why should we applaud Rosie for asking about Barron Trump’s possible disability?
After some thought and discussion on social media and around family tables, though, it has become clear why Rosie’s tweet was acceptable and even laudable.
First of all, she is far from the first person to be asking about whether Barron is autistic. Rumors have been around for some time. They started after footage was aired of the young boy on stage at the RNC. He was stiff, appeared awkward, and showed very little expression at all.
Fuel was added to the fire of speculation after Trump’s stance on vaccines was brought up. He has repeatedly linked the onset of autism to childhood vaccines, saying at one of the debates, “I’ve seen it.”
Interviews with both Donald and Melania Trump have also released facts about Barron that would make any parent or teacher realize that his habits are unusual. He likes to keep his room “clean and white.” He loves to play alone for hours with Legos and other building toys. He loves math and science. He excels with computers. His mother describes him as “opinionated” and says that he “knows his own mind.”
Those of us who know and love autistic children might begin to wonder if Barron’s need for neatness and order, his rigidity, his preference for playing alone, his math and science skills, might in fact be the same qualities that we see in our autistic kids.
Add in the YouTube video that Rosie was referencing, which notes many physical characteristics common to autism spectrum kids, and you can see how the rumors began.
More importantly, though, and what makes Rosie’s tweet perfectly acceptable, is that she used Barron’s possible autism to advocate for raising awareness of the disorder. Both she and Trump have referred to it as an epidemic.
And here is something else to consider.
Rosie was not making fun of Barron in the way that his father mocked the physical disability of a news reporter during the campaign. There is nothing shameful in being autistic. There is nothing shameful in parenting a child with autism.
The video that was included in the tweet was, in fact, an anti-bullying video.
Then there is this fact: Donald Trump is about to become the person who will directly affect the education, health care, and family support services for America’s autistic children.
It matters whether or not his own son of one of those children. It matters a lot.
Watch the video below to see what Rosie was referencing.
Featured image via YouTube screengrab.