Empathy lacking in online comments for autistic children

Parents of children suffering from autism have come out strongly to appeal for more empathy and compassion from the general public, following shared experiences they published on social media through which they explained how they have had to suffer from a general lack of understanding and education many have on these children's behaviours.

Parents of children suffering from autism have come out strongly to appeal for more empathy and compassion from the general public, following shared experiences they published on social media through which they explained how they have had to suffer from a general lack of understanding and education many have on these children’s behaviours.

Following a number of insensitive comments which were posted on Facebook against children with autism, even the Autism Advisory Council’s chairman, Dr Alistair De Gaetano, has called for more compassion and empathy. In comments he made during a ONE Tv-news interview, De Gaetano said condemned this kind of abuse which in itself is hate speech and for which there was no excuse. He reminded that such online comments also carry legal consequences.

This comes after a change last year in hate speech legislation. “If somebody, with what they write on Facebook or with inciting hate against somebody else, or if there is a simple possibility of hate against some group, and in this regard those on the autism spectrum, then they are liable to incur criminal proceedings against them,” Dr De Gaetano explained.

Dr Alistair De Gaetano,
Autism Advisory Council’s chairman

For instance, one mother of an autistic child wrote on social media that while she and her husband were accompanied by their son in a cafe’, her child was being noisy whilst being happy. One patron sitting some five tables away from her told her to control and silence the boy, to which she explained her son’s condition. On hearing that, the man on the other table (who had his own 3-year old child with him) said he didn’t care about that and only cared about was that her son would behave.

No sooner her story went shared and viral on social media, many have called for better public education on this condition, especially when considering that some online comments went as far as saying that autistic children are “dangerous”.

Dr De Gaetano points out that “If there is a lot of clutter and stuff around you, then you can get tired faster and express yourself differently. We often see examples of ‘tantrums’ and for some people, they say this is difficult behaviour, while that is a person trying to live in an inaccessible environment, so more awareness and more compassion is needed. ”

He appealed to the public to always keep in mind that a person with autism will not be able to control what he is doing, and also called for reporting of any abuse.

He said, “But if you see abuse, don’t restrain yourselves from report it to either the Commission for the Rights of Persons with Disability (CRPD) or the Police. We have a duty not only to learn, but to protect others.”