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Opinion: Our Polarized Society is More Disabled Than My Autistic Son
My son tells me he's in the "killin' Natzis bidness ... and bidness is goooood."
That's nice. Every boy should have a hobby -- not to mention career goals. And if it must involve killing, well, I'd rather it be Nazis than members of the Red Hat Society.
As a parent, you pick your battles.
But it does bother me a little, I must confess, that he is channeling dialogue from a Quentin Tarantino movie. He has never seen "Inglorious Basterds," but he desperately wants to. Too bad. I have no intention of letting him watch that bloodbath until he's 30. Maybe 40.
The dialogue he keeps quoting comes from the previews, which alone are enough to carbonate his testosterone. People blowing up Nazis? Bashing their skulls in with baseball bats? Slowly carving them up like jack-o'-lanterns?
Pass the popcorn.
What 14-year-old boy could resist? And this particular 14-year-old boy has autism. Children with autism often have very specific obsessions. One of his is Nazi Germany. I thought this was odd until a friend told me her son, another 14-year-old boy with autism, has the same obsession.
After we talked about it, it made perfect sense.
World War II is an ideal obsession for autistic children. The Nazis provide perhaps the starkest historical example of clear and absolute evil. Autistic children are often given to thinking in absolutes. Everything must be broken down to night and day, black and white, good and evil -- all in extreme terms. Shades of gray confuse and rattle them.
This, in turn, can confuse and rattle their teachers. One of my son's teachers complained that he refused to stop referring to former President Bush as "Hitler." I explained to her his disability, how he is in special education for a reason.
He's not like the rest of us, I said. He lacks the ability to see the world in all its complexities.
That conversation drifted back to me while I watched so-called "tea party" activists respond to health care reform. They alternately called President Obama a Nazi and a Communist. They waved photos of him with a Hitler mustache. Tea party gurus such as Glenn Beck claimed nothing short of the existence of America itself was at stake, and suggested people prepare themselves for the coming Apocalypse.
Similar extremism, of course, played out during the previous administration. My son was not the only one comparing the president of the United States to Hitler. However, my son has a developmental disability.
What's everyone else's excuse?
There are many reasons to both support and oppose health care reform. The legislation raises genuine concern. So did Bush's decision to invade Iraq and his more extreme attempts to bolster national security.
These are honest differences of opinion arising from political decisions being freely and openly debated in a representative democracy. Casually applying references to Hitler and fascism to modern American politics dishonors the victims of real fascism. (As if Anne Frank and her family hid in fear of universal health care.)
I tell my son he should choose his words more carefully. There is a big difference between a constitutionally elected president -- no matter what you think of him -- and a genocidal mad man like Hitler.
But you know what? Deep in his heart, he knows that. Tea party activists have hurled threats, bricks and names too disgusting to repeat at lawmakers who dared to disagree with them. My son, even at his most extreme, would never do that.
He may talk about "killin' Natzis," but if you talk with him for more than two minutes, he admits violence is tragic. It may be necessary at times, but it is never something to revel in -- even if it is against Nazis.
(Are you listening, Mr. Tarantino?)
My son may have a problem with thinking beyond black and white, but it's a common problem. He would never express it with bricks or death threats.
Yet he and children like him are the ones society considers "disabled."
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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.