I wonder if it’s kosher to publicly refer to a public figure as “on the spectrum” — on the autism spectrum?
Greta Thunberg, the young and eloquent climate activist, was treated nastily on twitter by the most powerful American alive, and she responded, on twitter, with cutting irony. But as I watched an MSNBC account, full of sympathy for her, and outraged by the attack by the President, the morning commentator repeated a dozen times, to evoke sympathy for her, that she was 16 and “on the spectrum.”
If she’s “on the spectrum,” doesn’t that undercut the reliability of her message? What if we referred to her as “on medication” or “in a remedial reading class” or a “recovering juvenile delinquent”?
I suppose the commentator was claiming you shouldn’t kick someone disabled. But why divert attention from the nastiness of an attack by focusing on disability? And really!?! What do we know about “the spectrum” — apart from it’s recent entry into casual conversation? Is it like stuttering or having a limp?
Among professional psychologists, “on the spectrum” may have a spot along with “bipolar,” or “manic-depressive.” But we don’t throw these terms around in public discourse — though they may be whispered by non-professionals under their breath. But in my experience, this whisper is mostly in a derogatory or pitying vein.
Can’t journalists be a bit more sensitive here? Doesn’t the label throw her message under the bus?