Autism Advocates Starting to Dread 2024 Election

Steve Bannon's line that DeSantis is 'on the spectrum' raises concerns about stigma
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 4, 2023 9:10 AM CDT
Autism Advocates Starting to Dread 2024 Election
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a campaign event, Friday, June 2, 2023, in Lexington, S.C.   (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is frequently described as "awkward" when it comes to schmoozing with voters—see this New York Times story describing him in Iowa—so much so that it seems to have become an accepted truth on the 2024 campaign trail. In fact, wife Casey DeSantis is seen as an important counterbalance to her husband in this way. But Politico reports that the governor's critics have begun expanding on this by tossing around a flippant new shorthand about him: He's "a little on the spectrum" is how Donald Trump ally Steve Bannon put it on his podcast, per Newsweek. The suggestion that DeSantis isn't merely socially awkward but is autistic to some degree has "echoed across the MAGA ecosystem," writes Politico's Michael Schaffer.

All of which has autism advocates worried. “My reaction is that, 'Oh, here we go again, perpetuating false myths and negativity about the concept of autism and being on the spectrum,'" says Barry Prizant, a University of Rhode Island professor and author of the autism book Uniquely Human. It's not that being autistic in and of itself is a negative thing, it's that the governor's critics are using it as a form of mockery, writes Schaffer. DeSantis has not commented on the matter. Schaffer writes that a candidate coming forward to acknowledge having a degree of autism could in theory be a positive "teaching moment" for the nation, given that the CDC estimates one in 36 US children is on the spectrum. But in this case, the unsubstantiated comments about DeSantis make it an ugly situation, writes Schaffer. Read the full piece. (More Ron DeSantis stories.)

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