An Open Letter to Senator Noynoy Aquino from a Mother of an Autistic Child
(Originally published in Herword.com on November 16, 2009)
Dear Senator Noynoy,
Up until you announced your candidacy, I had given up hope in the election process of 2010. While I have exercised my voting rights judiciously in every election since I turned eighteen, years of ineffective, dishonest governing have made me jaded and worn me out of any shred of hope.
And then you came along, and for the first time in many, many years, I felt I had something to look forward to. This child of the Marcos era, who slept through much of her adolescence in an apolitical and apathetic slumber, who resisted the call for the revolution in 1986 because she was too busy studying, is putting her hopes for honest change squarely on your shoulders. I pray for a change that will come in my lifetime and continue in my children’s and their children’s lifetimes.
Your popularity does not surprise me. I share the sentiments of many people who have felt indignant yet helpless at the shameless and callous displays of behavior of our present government. But while your popularity may help you in the course of the campaign, it has also opened you to vicious attacks from your opponents.
Your critics claim that you are autistic, and as any neurotypical person is wont to react, you have vehemently denied it, calling it “malicious and baseless.”
Allow me to say outright that I do not believe you have autism. I may not be a diagnostician, but having lived with autism every single day for the last fifteen years of my life, I know what autism is firsthand. I have witnessed it up close, lived with all its blessings, and survived almost all its challenges. What I know of it, I know not only from books, from the Net, or from research and published papers. What I know of it comes from real life. As an advocate for autism, I am proud to be part of the large community of families of Filipinos with autism, which at last count, numbers close to half a million affected individuals. That being said, let me posit a question: If you were one, what is absolutely wrong with it?
Autism is a spectrum of conditions ranging from the mildly affected to the most severely impaired. Common to this spectrum, however, are varying degrees of deficits in social relatedness, behavior, and communication. My son Alphonse, at 15, remains on the far end of the bell curve of “normal.” He is nonverbal, continues to require assistance for many of the activities of daily living, and has the cognitive understanding of a five-year-old child. You, on the other hand, are well-educated, highly conversant and intelligent; your cognitive abilities are certainly not in question. While these two pictures comprise the polar ends of the extent and breadth of a highly complicated spectrum (again, I reiterate, we are simply assuming for the sake of argument that you belong to this spectrum), they are not totally incompatible. (To wit, there are individuals with different degrees of autism already enrolled in some of our country’s best universities.)
Autism is difficult and challenging, and to those of us who love persons with autism, it is a rollercoaster ride every single day. Is it a disability? It is, but it also is not; it depends on how you look at it. And yet, when you really think about it, ravenous greed is a much harder disorder to treat, as are immorality, shamelessness, corruption, and vice. I have heard of recovery in autism, but diseases of the soul are almost always incurable.
If being autistic means not being able to lie, then by all means, I should be proud to say I am autistic.
If being autistic means not being able to cheat and rig elections, then call me autistic.
It being autistic means not being able to steal, to use public funds for personal gain while the country wallows in poverty, then I am staunchly autistic.
If being autistic means satisfaction with what one has, if it means a characteristic lack of greed and materialism, then I count myself autistic.
If it means not being envious and not judging people based on looks, money, connections, or pogi points, then, yes, I am autistic.
So the next time someone calls you autistic and you feel slighted, perhaps you may wish to reply to them this way instead: “Thank you for calling me autistic. To me, autism does not make one more or less of a person. It does not make one more or less of a man. It just makes one autistic. I am sorry to disappoint you that I am not, but I hope to be able to live up to the honesty people with autism expect every day. I would much rather be autistic than be corrupt. Better autistic than be unable to understand what it means to be a public servant. Thank you very much.”
The day you do, you have championed the cause of the least able of our people. And for what it’s worth, you still have my vote.