Electronic music pioneer Gary Numan (real name Gary Anthony James Webb) has a new album out. During the course of promoting it, he’s been talking about having Asperger’s syndrome, diagnosed in the UK as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). But Camilla Long, a columnist at the Sunday Times, did not believe him.
“There is absolutely nothing about Gary Numan and his stupid facepaint that is “autistic”. An insult to real sufferers“
The autistic community called her out immediately. In Long’s defence, Numan is self-diagnosed. Having said that, her tweet was unbelievably obnoxious and she deserved the pillorying she got.
If someone mentioned to me that he or she believes he or she is on the spectrum, my first response would be to ask “why do you believe that?” I certainly would not call him or her a liar, unless I had good reason to suspect dishonesty (e.g. if I knew the person in question is a known fabulist). Long, instead, jumped straight to the conclusion that Numan was lying. And the fact is, Numan’s description of his symptoms closely match autism.
There are a few lessons to be learnt here:
1. Don’t arrogate to yourself the role of spokesperson for the entire autistic community, especially if you yourself are not on the spectrum. If you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic.
2. Don’t jump to the conclusion that someone is lying or bullshitting about being on the spectrum unless you have an exceptionally good reason to doubt him/her, and even then, be extremely careful about levelling an accusation of dishonesty.
3. Do not call us “sufferers”. We suffer from society’s prejudices more than from our condition.
Long has fallen silent. Hopefully she has learnt from her misstep and won’t make it again.