So it’s been mooted Barron Trump may be autistic. So what? He also may not be. Ten-year-olds can be goofy, fidgety and tired. It’s impossible to tell from the barrage of gifs that have flooded the Twattersphere, as the angry mob look for novel ways to poke fun at his father by taking aim at the son. In some ways, if Barron is autistic, it may at least, in some ways, protect him from the hurt this may cause; though perhaps it may also give Trump senior pause about the autistic man, who, thinking he might be doing the world a favour, lunged to shoot him on his campaign trail.
It’s brutal logic after all. Depending on what Trump goes on to ‘achieve’ in his reign, locking up this guy – barely more than a kid -, may be among the gravest miscarriage of justice of our generation – after all, it’s only with hindsight that we could see the benefit of a fatal bout of dysentery during Hitler’s Mein Kampf years. But, then power abhors a vacuum; and despite all the memes and the marching, I rather suspect what actually Trump gets up to during his time in office, save for a little recreational watersports, won’t be all that much, after all. That is, if you’re a white, middle-class European on the property ladder.
Of course, Barron Trump could be, like Richie Rich as played by that other hapless, over exposed youngster Macauley Culkin, about whom we now have the benefit of hindsight, a spoiled little shit, though I would counter that it’s rarely that simple. Being dragged around in your parents’ wake can’t be all that healthy for any kid, whatever their background. And it’s to Melania’s credit that she’s keeping him out of the public eye and away from the White House- albeit in the full lens of Trump Towers’ corporate obscenity – for all she could have saved herself the trouble by never having children with Donald Trump in the first place. But whatever Barron’s story -apparently he likes building stuff, is bi- even tri-lingual – and like many pre-teens, doesn’t want to hold his mother’s hand in public – he’s got quite a life ahead of him, for good or for ill, and so we should muster up whatever dignity we can afford him, and calm the speculation, because his autism status – and it has, frankly been denied – is basically none of our business until his parents, or even better, he himself, chooses to divulge it, if it is, in fact, the case.
There’s a good argument that even then, this information should be kept private – an argument I should perhaps occasionally heed, for all I’m not in the public eye. But then, having a conversation in public about the normality of autism is hard without speaking from experience – and as my son, who was diagnosed aged six, grows up, it continues to veer so much to the positive that it seems almost pointless to try and hide it from anyone – especially himself. In fact, we’ve always talked to Jonah openly about his autism, having cautioned him about using it as an excuse, and, as he has got older, encouraged him to read about the condition himself so he has greater understanding – and ammunition with which to explain the things he finds difficult to others.
Recently, looking new reading material for a boy who repeatedly reads Harry Potter and Rick Riordan to the exclusion of anything else, I gave him my old copy of Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, the first book I read, in my twenties, about the condition – and although it’s not specified what the main character suffers from, it tells the story from the point of view of a young man who meets many autistic spectrum criteria. Jonah raced through it, enjoying both the mystery aspect of the plot, and a perspective he could identify with – in fact, when he finished it, he said, “it’s very much how I see the world” – which made me feel both proud and sad.
When Jonah first got his diagnosis, this was the vision of autism that I feared was his prognosis. The fact he read the book at ten years old, and then came with me to watch the stage show at the theatre this last weekend, as part of his eleventh birthday treat, means this has not in any way, come to pass. In fact, watching the character, a 15-year-old boy called Christopher, some of the traits were familar from a few years ago – the meltdowns, the logic, the aloofness, the innate ability with maths. But sitting there with my son – holding his hand, taking selfies, enjoying his enthusiasm, his ability to sit still, and not just when plied and cajoled with treats, belied he has a problem at all. Except his analysis afterwards – “I found the bits where he has a meltdown stressful” -as with lights and noise the sensation of a sensory overload is replicated. And overall, “I really enjoyed that”, which he repeated again the next day. I found myself saying to him, after the show, “when you were first diagnosed, I worried you’d be like Christopher, the character.” Who, for all his engaging curiosity and tangential understanding of the world, really struggles to make sense of a lot if it.”Don’t be silly mum,” he said, eyebrows raised. “People on the spectrum are all different anyway.”
Afterwards, taking my cuesfrom the play, in with Christopher navigates his way, rather painfully, to London, and solves the mystery of the eponymous dog’s death, and the whereabout of his absentee mother, I made him practise some of the life skills that don’t always come intuitively – making him memorise my phone number, in case he ever needs it, and navigate us back through the underground home, to help him get to grips with the tube map – which no doubts he’s memorised too. It was one of those memorable evenings that every parent looks forward to, and every child looks back on – and marked another step toward independence that I once feared he’d struggle with.
One thing can be sure of poor Barron, is that he’ll never be afforded the same freedom to get it wrong. So we should at least give him his childhood in which to goof around, goof up and grow up, without fear or criticism, however much we may fear for his future – and perhaps, with his dad in charge, our own.