Dear Toni Braxton,
Recently, you have announced in an interview with Access Hollywood that your youngest son, Diezel, “is no longer autistic,” giving credit to Suzanne Wright–in light of her death from pancreatic cancer–for his ability to “overcome his diagnosis.” I’m sorry to have to say this as a fan of your music, but…
To say that your son is “showing no signs of autism” is to say that he has been taught to mask every trait that comprises his neurology in order to pass as a normal, average person. In other words, you and the therapists Wright referred him to have taught him that being autistic is frowned upon by society–and it shouldn’t be. Diezel may be a social butterfly now thanks to the speech and language therapy he received in school, assuming he wasn’t referred to a therapist outside of an academic facility, but that does not stipulate that he’s transformed into a neurotypical person.
Oh, and the “my son Diezel suffered from autism” line? The word “suffered” should only apply to cancer patients, NEVER autistic kids. God only gifted Diezel with the ability to think differently from everyone else.
I know all of this from my experience as an autistic woman–or an Aspie, as I like to address myself. At 18 months old, I was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Translation: Autistic. Most boys are given a specific autism diagnosis, like Asperger’s syndrome or severe autism. Since I was a girl, the doctors didn’t know which end of the spectrum to place me, so they slapped PDD-NOS on my psychological record. I was enrolled in special education classes and mainstreamed from kindergarten until 3rd Grade, when the powers that be decided that I was intelligent enough to attend regular classes. However, I walked back and forth between my regular class and a special ed class for extra help in math until the 5th Grade. I maintained average to above-average grades, but I was forced to repeat the 3rd Grade based on my low scores on the standardized test formerly known as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). I even had to go to a speech and language therapist until the 8th Grade, although I didn’t attend a lot of sessions in 6th Grade. My teachers treated me with the utmost respect, but how my peers treated me was a different matter. While some kids were friendly with me, others just bullied and teased me for exhibiting some of the traits that came with my autistic brain, such as taking their jokes too literal, expressing interest in things that either everyone else has supposedly outgrown by the 5th Grade or earlier is strange to them, and attaining a higher GPA than most students in my class. To put it lightly, I was a glutton for verbal punishment. I even thought of being autistic as a curse because of everything I did–singing and listening to J-Pop songs, whispering to myself (both privately and publicly), expressing my love for the Sonic the Hedgehog video game franchise despite all the production problems some its games endured, and avoiding school dances (even prom, but that’s another story). Eventually, I learned that if other people don’t respect my interests, then that’s their loss.
I may have received help in learning to be sociable, but that doesn’t mean I’m “cured of autism.” Absolutely not. Society shouldn’t expect me to be less autistic, nor should they punish me for living my life differently. Just because I show some of the aforementioned quirks, doesn’t make me a bad person. My family and friends love me unconditionally for who I am. I expect you do the same for Diezel.
And for the love of God, stop supporting and working for Autism Speaks. Suzanne Wright may be gone, but the organization’s mission is still a gargantuan farce.