Disability is not an excuse for bad behaviour

Friday, 23 March 2018

Don Burke blaming Asperger’s syndrome as his excuse for his behaviour is just that. An excuse.

TV personality Burke recently appeared on national television claiming he has self-diagnosed Asperger’s syndrome and attributes this as one of his terrible ‘failings’.

Whether or not Burke actually has Asperger’s is not the issue here.

In one weak moment, he may have undone all of the hard work that people on the autism spectrum, their families, and advocates, have done in changing society’s perceptions.

Burke blames his actions as being symptomatic of having Asperger’s:

“I have difficulty looking anyone in the eye. I can look in the lens, but I have real difficulty looking anyone in the eye … it’s a typical thing. And I miss all their body language and often the subtle signs that people give to you like, ‘Back off, that’s enough’, I don’t see that.”

Whilst social communication differences such as displaying and responding to non-verbal communicative behaviours (eye contact, body language, facial expression and gestures) are general characteristics of those with autism, Burke using this as an excuse to hide behind is appalling. It’s also important to note that no two individuals on the autism spectrum are the same.

As CEO of an organisation that is working to change the lives of people with disability through personalised support and understanding, this sort of commentary by a well-known Australian under the national media spotlight is destructive and harmful, not only to people on the autism spectrum but all people with disability.

Saying that having Asperger’s is a failing, like an affliction, sends a message that having a disability is an excuse for unacceptable behaviour.

Please don’t plaster the disability sector as having failings, Mr Burke. People with disability already have many challenges.

At EPIC, we focus on a strength based approach to employment. Regardless of disability, whether it be physical, mental or health based, our focus is on the individual abilities of our participants.

Employers are beginning to see the benefit of employing people with autism. Those on the spectrum are intelligent individuals, with a great level of focus, commitment and attention to detail. These attributes are highly valued in the workplace and I have seen firsthand the opportunities widening through education and understanding.

In recent years, Australia has come far in opening doors for people with disability. To think that society’s opinions of those with autism could be tarnished by the words of one individual is enraging.

We must continue to focus on the strengths and abilities of people with disability, and educate society on the value they bring to our communities.