Despite the fact that it is incredibly offensive to people on the autism spectrum and the disability community to use the word “Aspergery,” no one on the right or left has criticized the Obama administration for reportedly using the term. While pundits scramble to analyze international implications, no one seems especially perturbed that the highest executive office allegedly throws around a “disability diagnosis as a pejorative,” as Ari Ne’eman, president of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, puts it.
No major figure from either party has mustered such seemingly obvious denouncement. Ne’eman is not surprised by the relative radio silence on both sides of the aisle, nor does he specifically blame Obama or the Democrats. “Unfortunately, inappropriate statements about disability are not the province of any party, faction, or political affiliation,” he says. He cited Niall Ferguson’s 2004 Daily Telegraph op-ed called “America Has Asperger’s,” in which he critiqued U.S. foreign policy. He used Asperger’s syndrome as a way to describe America’s “own bad behavior,” arguing that “a Bush re-election will look to the rest of the world like evidence that Asperger’s is no longer a treatable condition in America but has become the national norm.” So much is inaccurate about Ferguson’s analogy that it reveals how deeply ignorant he is about the autism spectrum.
Unfortunately, while we’ve discovered so much more about autism in the 10 years since Ferguson’s column, the latest political use of “Aspergery” shows we are apparently just as insensitive. Regardless of whether you’re red or blue, that lack of criticism is revealing a massive problem with how Americans perceive people with autism “It reflects a broader lack of acknowledgement that autistic people are hurt when the way our brain works is used as a political insult,” says Ne’eman.