Tuesday, May 27th, 2014
God gave Toni Braxton’s youngest son autism as punishment for an abortion she had: That’s what she believed, as revealed in her new memoir Unbreak My Heart. I was distracted and dismayed all Memorial Day weekend by the news reports. As Braxton tells it, per eonline, “In my heart, I believed I had taken a life—an action that I thought God might one day punish me for…. My initial rage was quickly followed by another strong emotion: guilt. I knew I’d taken a life…. I believe God’s payback was to give my son autism.” Her son Diezel is 11 years old.
Autism? A payback? In a few sentences that have spread around the world, Braxton is setting back the autism awareness that has been created in the last decade. This from a woman who Redbook magazine dubbed one of 10 Moms Who Are Changing the Face of Autism for the work she’s done through Autism Speaks. Braxton later told US magazine, “When my youngest son was diagnosed with autism I feared I was being punished for my earlier actions. I have since realized that my son is special and learns in a different way.” But the damage has been done. Braxton also mused over a connection between autism and the childhood vaccines her son received. Coincidentally, last week a meta-analysis of major studies came out that found no association between vaccine and autism.
Some bloggers responded to the abortion-autism connection; as Sara McGinnis said on BabyCenter, “I’m pretty sure revenge is not how the whole God thing is supposed to work.” At some Christian websites, they noted that Braxton’s use of Accutane may have been the cause for Diezel’s autism, not God. Other writers applauded her for speaking out on the “highly-debated topics” of autism, religion, and abortion. Yet many had the same reaction as I did: How could you claim autism is a punishment? As one Twitter user said, “What’s the punishment going to be for Toni Braxton’s stupidity?” Another site proclaimed, “Unbreak her brain.”
My son has cerebral palsy but it makes no difference: this kind of thing hurts all our kids. When I scanned the book, I couldn’t see anywhere where she refuted that punishment idea or explained why her son is awesome. So many people already pity my son and others like him with disabilities; Braxton’s words perpetuate the idea that children with special needs are tragedies—or, worse, lesser human beings. Some of us struggled with our children’s diagnoses early on, as I did. Even in my darkest hours, though, I would have never said that the beautiful boy with brain damage lying in my arms was “payback” for anything dubious I had ever done.
As parents of kids with special needs, we know they are anything but tragedies. We admire their successes, we swoon over their cuteness, we respect them, we see their abilities. You know, like any parents of any kids. We also do our best to instill confidence in them, bolstering their spirits to rise above their challenges and the prejudice they may face from others. To be sure, I completely understand what it’s like to want to share your feelings through writing, as I regularly do through blogging and as Braxton did in her book. Still: We owe it to our children, and their future, to help people see past dated, demeaning and hurtful perceptions of kids with special needs.
One of the commentors on Autism Speaks’ Facebook page says it best: “Are people like us (with autism) something to feel sorry about or cry for? Are our parents? Are we that bad, that behavioral or personal disasters? Are we not people? Aren’t we crying when people behave bad against us or the system fails to help us? I have Aspergers, a University education, and a complete life…am I not a human?”
From my other blog:
Image of Toni Braxton via ShutterstockAdd a Comment