The brouhaha began when 50 Cent tweeted at a fan, "Yeah, just saw your picture fool you look autistic." He followed up with "I don't want no special ed kids on my time line follow some body else."And then, attempting to make light of the situation, he added "Just kidding about da special ed kids man, i was in special ed day said i had anger issues lol."
Last week activist actress Holly Robinson Peete, mom to a teen boy with autism, RJ, wrote an open letter to the rapper that she posted on the HollyRod Foundation site. As she said,
"When I read (the tweet) my heart sank. I thought maybe your account had been hacked. No such luck. You went on to joke about not wanting 'special ed kids' on your timeline. Seriously, THIS is how you use your platform of 8 million plus followers??" She proceeded to lay out the stats—1 in 88 kids have autism, 1 in 54 boys do. And then she said she hoped he saw just how "hurtful, immature and misinformed" his comments were. "He has to deal with so much trying to fit in," she wrote about RJ. "This isn't helping."
Over the weekend, 50 cent tweeted "I realize my autism comments were insensitive, however it is not my intention to offend anyone and for this I apologize." He took down the offensive comments from Twitter.
This follows a familiar pattern: a celeb says something insensitive about disabilities in the media, outrage ensues, said celeb apologizes (well, usually).
Really, though, this isn't about celebs, or using your power for good (and 50 Cent does; a campaign behind his Street King energy drink has so far provided 3.5 million meals to hungry kids).
This isn't just about the hurtful words people sling around about those with disabilities, though parents will continue to speak out when others insult our kids.
The issue here—the one that haunts me and many other parents, I know—is how we can help open people's minds toward children and adults with disabilities. I've thought about this a lot in recent years, as I've seen slurs like "retard" hurled around along with general nastiness slung toward kids like Max. I think about it every time I read about an incident like this, or whenever I see an adult staring blatantly at Max.
Part of me hopes that because of the awareness being raised now—by bloggers, by activists like Holly, by groups like Autism Speaks—kids will grow up with more open-minded attitudes toward those with disabilities. Still, it starts with parents: parents helping their "typical" children understand that children with special needs aren't so different from they are. It starts with parents helping kids see that every child has unique abilities and challenges, too. It starts with parents helping kids see the ability in the disability.
More inclusion would also help—not just at schools but in sports, rec programs and camps. In our state, there is one day camp that has an inclusionary program for kids with special needs. This is far too important for it to be so rare.
I'd like to see more inclusion in media, too. The majority of shows for kids, sitcom or cartoon, don't feature children or adults with special needs (excluding Sesame Street). The people who cast actors and models for TV programs, movies, magazines and ads are concerned about having cultural diversity; why not physical and cognitive diversity, too?
I ache for Max to live in world that accepts him for who he is. And so, I'll keep doing my part to spread awareness. I'd love to hear your thoughts on what might help people be more accepting of kids with special needs—and stop hating on them.