OK, three blog entries in one day is a bit profilic by my usual standards. But the Osborne-Brown-autism thing has only a short shelf-life, so I feel the need to comment now. To recap - Tory George Osborne made some quip suggesting that Gordon Brown might be 'faintly autistic'.
First off, it's a typical example of politicians having a go at other politicians' personalities. It's pathetic, it's apolitical, it's the sort of thing that alienates people from politics. But hey, when there is so little difference between their politics, maybe personal comments are the only way to distinguish yourselves.
As the National Autistic Society said yesterday, the term 'autistic' should not be used as an insult. But Gordon Brown's defenders should also note that it should not be taken as an insult either.
I think that responses of the "How dare you suggest such a thing?" type are very unhelpful, as they set up a gulf between autistic people and other people that is not justified. My knowledge of the subject is recent and limited, but it seems to me that most of the manifestations of Autistic Spectrum Disorders are actually exaggerations of behaviours commonly found amongst "ordinary", neuro-typical (NT) people. So yes, lots of people who do not have a diagnosis regularly behave in a way that could be called "faintly autistic", and perhaps if that were more widely accepted, rather than used or taken as an insult, autism would be better understood and less stigmatised.
I sometimes don't like it when people talk in jargon or imagery rather than in straightforward, literal terms. That's faintly autistic. Perhaps you have to arrange your tins in an exact pattern or order? Or you sometimes avoid social gatherings? Or changes to your routine distress you? Or you collect lots of facts about a particular subject? Or sometimes you like talking about what you want to talk about but can't really get into talking about other people's pet subjects? Faintly autistic.
Indeed, there is an entire cultural genre - slapstick - based on the 'inappropriate emotional response' of laughing at others' misfortunes. And that's more than faintly autistic - it's one of the main current manifestations of my son's Asperger Syndrome (an Autistic Spectrum Disorder).
What really bothers me about this New Labour-Tory spat, though, is that while each side says that "autism is a very serious condition", their record in government does not suggest that they take it very seriously at all.
Nine years into a New Labour government, the Children's Commissioner says that schools are failing autistic kids. In fact, he went so far as to say "It's appalling and it's shameful for our country, the fifth richest economy in the world, to have so many children that are not being looked after and given the resources they need to develop to their full potential. It is shocking and appalling." For more details of children's and parents' experience of schooling for autistic kids, have a look at this report from the National Autistic Society.
52% of those on David Cameron's A-List - the list of candidates intended to make the Tory Party more representative - went to a private school, compared to 7% of all children nationally.
It has been widely publicised that 15 out of 82 Tory frontbenchers went to Eton, including three shadow cabinet members, shadow higher education minister Boris Johnson and Oliver Letwin, who chairs the Tories' policy review . So did George Bridges, the Tories' head of campaigns, Edward Llewellyn, Cameron's chief of staff and his new special adviser Danny Kruger.
According to a report published by the Sutton Trust educational charity in December last year, 59% of Tory MPs and 62% of Tory frontbenchers went to a private school. No doubt the percentage is higher for the shadow cabinet, though that information is not easily available. 20% of Tory MPs went to a comprehensive, compared to 88% nationally.
32% of all MPs, 29% of all backbenchers and 42% of all frontbenchers from the three main parties went to a private school, as against the 25%, 27% and 22% who went to a comprehensive. 39% of Lib Dem MPs and 18% of Labour MPs went to a private school, and 25% of the Labour frontbench, including Tony Blair, Tessa Jowell and former Education Secretary Ruth Kelly.