As a parent of an autistic child, you go through a lot. You have a lot of bad days, wondering why no one is helping. You wonder why a lot of your friends have made themselves scarce. You wonder simply, “Why me? I never signed up for any of this.” You expect to be raising a child for 21 years or so, not the rest of your life. You wonder what future holds for your child, if anything, after you die.
In the absence of the ability or willingness to help, you’d think people would at least tread lightly around us on the subject. And most do. You know. Ask how we're doing. Show a little sympathy. Carry on with the day. Maybe just let us work through this without using us a comedy or promotional fodder.
But no. Apparently, attacking heartbroken families has become all the rage, quite the little marketing tool. First there was radio host Michael Savage. He referred to autistic kids as brats and idiots who haven’t been told to cut the act out. He’s still on the air and probably got a raise for calling so much attention to himself and his network.
Now a bigger, previously more likeable name has jumped into the fray. Comedian Denis Leary has a new book, Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid". He thought he'd take a run at the autism epidemic. The chapter is thoughtfully titled “Autism Schmautism”. In it, he writes the following:
“There is a huge boom in autism right now because inattentive mothers and competitive dads want an explanation for why their dumb-ass kids can't compete academically, so they throw money into the happy laps of shrinks . . . to get back diagnoses that help explain away the deficiencies of their junior morons. I don't give a [bleep] what these crackerjack whack jobs tell you - yer kid is NOT autistic. He's just stupid. Or lazy. Or both.”
Obviously the autism community has exploded. As for Leary, he's in full scale spin control. He released this:
The people who are criticizing the "Autism Schmautism" chapter in my new book "Why We Suck: A Feel Good Guide to Staying Fat, Loud, Lazy and Stupid" clearly have not read it. They missed the sections I thought made my feelings about autism very clear: that I not only support the current rational approaches to the diagnoses and treatment of real autism but have witnessed it first hand while watching very dear old friends raise a functioning autistic child.
I won't say there aren't any parents who have ever behaved this way but I'm knee deep in the autism community and I've never met a single one. Maybe Denis is conducting secret autism focus groups. I wish he were. It's not that I need proof that the autism problem exists. I'd just be glad for him that he has an excuse for why he's not funny anymore. Who has time to write jokes when there are so many autism pie charts to be made?
Let's consider Denis' "dear old friends" who are dealing with autism. They would probably know or have befriended at least a dozen other families dealing with it. It's just what you do with autism. You seek out other families who truly understand what you're going through.
Think about how that couple would react to this: Their child is having some kind of classic autism melt down during a dinner party and Leary pipes up with, “Bah. Autism Schmautism. You should know that most of these kids aren't really autistic. They're just lazy and stupid.”
Go ahead and try to spin that. Try to clarify to your dear old friends that your comments were only directed at the fakers, the ones causing the autism increase. Not their kid. Try it. But speak loudly because you'll already be out on your ass in their front yard, never to return.
Some will suggest I should just turn the other cheek. There is something to that. He is a comedian. Or at least he fancies himself as one. His album, Lock n' Load contains other clever streams of consciousness like F--- the Pope, F--- the Kennedys, Deaf Mute Cocktail Party, F--- Santa and other bits of thoughtful comedy.
But what sets me off is how many Denis Leary fans will hear on CNN about the epidemic of autism. Instead of angering them, they'll think, Oh yeah. Leary talked about that. I heard it's not really a big issue after all. Just a bunch of rich folks buying a fake diagnosis to explain away the problems of their stupid, lazy kids. Change the channel, will ya?
At best, Leary’s writing and assertions are stupid, lazy and as funny as dead puppies. At worst, he has consciously made a decision to sell books through controversial headlines no matter who it hurts.
Clearly, Leary’s most accurate writing to date comes from his song, I’m an a-hole.