Monday, January 27, 2014

Thank You Tyler Gildin {Comedian Apologies for using "Autistic" as a Joke}

This morning, I quickly scrolled through my FB feed and saw a link to The Most Awkward Dance Moments of The 2014 Grammy Awards. I didn't watch the Grammy's so I was interested in seeing some of the write ups. And Tyler Gildin's article was pretty hilarious. 

Then I saw the caption: Autistic Bear Bounce. And I stopped laughing. 

Because the singer's (I'm old and have no idea who the woman is) dance movements looked like The Boy's stim - eyes half closed, arms moving up and down stiffly. And it pained me. The Boy cannot help his stim. He does it when he's excited or frustrated or scared. 

And lately, The Boy's been interested in dancing. He's always talking about having a "dance party." His dancing, is usually just jumping up and down or moving stiffly from side to side. Dancing doesn't come naturally to him. It's only in the last year that he's acquired the motor planning to dress himself. 

I took the joke of "Autistic Bear Bounce"personally. I couldn't just let it go. So I left a comment. And then I sent Tyler Gildin a tweet.

And you know what happened? He not only changed the caption but he apologized. 

Tyler Gildin could have been a jerk (ahem, DL Hughley). Gildin could have easily turned against me on Twitter and made me a target of his ridicule. And he didn't have to change his article. But he did. And I appreciate it. 

Someone replied to my comment, saying I should "chill out." But I just can't chill when it comes to autism or any other special need being the punchline to a joke. It's not okay to make fun of autism. Ever. I have written about use of the 'r-word' and I worry that autism will soon replace it as a derogatory term. I don't want to be the word police. But people must be held accountable. People need to understand why their words matter. I hope Gildin understands the power and impact of his words. And I hope that he'll think before using autism as the punchline.   

When I think of how hard The Boy has worked to do all the things that come so easily for other kids like point his finger, wave, jump or speak. I am so proud and I cherish every one of those milestones (they are often the things that keep me going). It’s incredibly painful when people use autism as a term of ridicule. 

The Boy is growing up. One day, he may like a girl or want to play basketball with the neighborhood kids or apply for a job. I don't want to think about him being left out or made fun of because he's different. All I want is for him to be given a chance and to be understood.

I'm just one mom. I can't change the world. But today, I changed one person's mind.  And it's a small victory.  

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AutismWonderland - written by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez - is a personal blog chronicling a NYC family's journey with autism, while also sharing local resources for children/families with special needs.