Autism and discriminatory stereotypes

 

Sir, – I felt compelled to write regarding Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone’s comments about her party leader Leo Varadkar as being “autistic” and “on the spectrum” (“Catherine Noone’s apology over autism comment ‘good enough’, Taoiseach says”, News, January 28th).

I am a family member to autistic adults and young people, and I work as coordinator of the charity Galway Autism Partnership.

Every day, this organisation hears of the strain and stress that autistic people and their families experience under the current Government, so to hear of a Fine Gael senator making these comments in such a flippant and disrespectful manner is extremely concerning.

We know, as a society that values kindness and respect, that using a diagnosis as an insult or a critique is wrong.

We know, as a society that places importance in evidence and expertise, that casually stating an opinion as a “diagnosis” is wrong, even if someone does not mean those words “literally”.

So why are public representative not being held to these same simple standards?

The terrible irony in all of this is that over 460 children in Galway-Roscommon are currently awaiting diagnostic assessment and a total of over 600 children are languishing on waiting lists for three to four years under the current Government.

Are these comments surprising, considering the current Government’s track record of supporting autistic people, their families and carers? No, unfortunately, they are all too telling.

Contrary to Senator Noone’s remarks, autism is not an “illness”. Autistic people are not “a bit wooden” or “lacking in empathy”. These are infuriating and discriminatory stereotypes that autistic people have been exposed to for years; reinforcing these ideas is truly harmful and can lead to the exclusion and mistreatment of autistic people in schools, workplaces and the community.

Autistic people experience challenges on a daily basis, one of the most difficult being the prejudice of others.

I would implore Senator Noone to revise her apology and to better inform herself before casually using a diagnosis as critique.

Who is really deserving of an apology? Her party leader and colleague Leo Varadkar, or the disabled minority group that she chose to use as an insult?

I would also urge Senator Catherine Noone and her party colleagues to meet with and learn about autism from autistic people, and those who love and care for them.

These comments would never have happened if Senator Noone had a personal relationship with a person on the spectrum.

If she loved a person with a disability, like I and so many others do, she would not have spoken with such blatant disregard and, it has to be said, a lack of empathy. – Yours, etc,

AISLING COLREAVY,

Coordinator,

Galway Autism Partnership

Galway.