In 2009, at the height of the campaign for the Philippine Presidential Elections, the word that critics used to disparage then-senator-turned-presidential aspirant Benigno Aquino III was “autistic.” You see, Filipinos don’t like using the R word as much as the A word. Call it a cultural difference, but here in the Pearl of the Orient Sea, we like to insult people with the A word.
As a result, I wrote “To Senator Noynoy (An Open Letter to Senator Noynoy Aquino from a Mother of an Autistic Child)” in 2009. This was my answer to the people who liked to abuse the word “autistic’ and I quote:
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.
Three years later, not much has changed, I think.
Whether it be R, A, or M (as in “stop molesting me (sic), you mongoloids,” a line borrowed by a well known Filipino politican from Ignatius Reilly, John Kennedy Toole’s protagonist in the the Pulitzer Prize winning book, A Confederacy of Dunces), I wonder what it is that makes intellectually challenged individuals the flashpoint for disrespect, mockery, and villification. We like to believe we are a compassionate people, yet we are often the first to excuse and condone insolent behavior that targets the most vulnerable members of our society. Shame on us all.
I cede the rest of this post to one whose word should have more weight and power than the bigots that treat people with disabilities with contempt. Here is an individual whose daily struggles overshadow our often trivial ones, and yet, he has more humanity than many of us combined.
What do you say to people who equate R, A, and M with hate and derision? You give them Jodi DiPiazzo. You give them John Franklin Stephens. They are so much stronger than people’s hate.
Dear Ann Coulter,
Come on Ms. Coulter, you aren’t dumb and you aren’t shallow. So why are you continually using a word like the R-word as an insult?
I’m a 30 year old man with Down syndrome who has struggled with the public’s perception that an intellectual disability means that I am dumb and shallow. I am not either of those things, but I do process information more slowly than the rest of you. In fact it has taken me all day to figure out how to respond to your use of the R-word last night.
I thought first of asking whether you meant to describe the President as someone who was bullied as a child by people like you, but rose above it to find a way to succeed in life as many of my fellow Special Olympians have.
Then I wondered if you meant to describe him as someone who has to struggle to be thoughtful about everything he says, as everyone else races from one snarkey sound bite to the next.
Finally, I wondered if you meant to degrade him as someone who is likely to receive bad health care, live in low grade housing with very little income and still manages to see life as a wonderful gift.
Because, Ms. Coulter, that is who we are – and much, much more.
After I saw your tweet, I realized you just wanted to belittle the President by linking him to people like me. You assumed that people would understand and accept that being linked to someone like me is an insult and you assumed you could get away with it and still appear on TV.
I have to wonder if you considered other hateful words but recoiled from the backlash.
Well, Ms. Coulter, you, and society, need to learn that being compared to people like me should be considered a badge of honor.
No one overcomes more than we do and still loves life so much.
Come join us someday at Special Olympics. See if you can walk away with your heart unchanged.
A friend you haven’t made yet,
John Franklin Stephens
Special Olympics Virginia
1Pangako (1Promise) is the local version of Spread the Word. Initiated by the Autism Society Philippines, you can pledge your support to stopping the indiscrimate use of the A as an insult on their Facebook page here and on Twittter (@1pangako) .