Asking "Is Barron Trump OK?" Underscores The Danger Of The "Armchair Diagnosis"
I could pull out plenty of awful quotes intended to be “funny” about Barron Trump in articles, joke roundups, and comments (good lord, the comments) all over the internet. Saying them the first time around didn’t do anyone any good, so I know repeating them would be no better. Based on a few video clips of Trump’s son at the presidential inauguration just six short days ago, viewers are making the very bold claim that Barron may have (or should be tested for) Autism or Asperger’s. This dangerous and unfair assumption, founded on nothing more than the footage of a 10-year-old boy who appeared less than interested in his father’s political moment, is further proof that asking "is Barron Trump OK?" underscores the danger of “armchair diagnosing” Barron as a child with special needs, Asperger’s Syndrome, or Autism.
According to Melouhkia.net, the “armchair diagnosis” refers to people making judgments about another’s mental health status on the basis of their behavior, often with very limited information about the person they're diagnosing. Following the inauguration, tweets asking “is Barron Trump OK?” and “what’s wrong with Barron Trump?” abounded on social media — and that’s without getting started on all of the tweets that suggested that the youngest Trump child may have Asperger’s or Autism.
Whatever is “happening” to Barron Trump (be it overwhelming excitement, overwhelming nervousness, a general ambivalence to the entire situation, or compounding fear for all the ways he maybe doesn’t yet realize his life is changing), it's no one’s business but his parents, least of all the general public’s.
First and foremost, an Autism diagnosis cannot be given based on an eye roll or a yawn; it requires a team of doctors often consisting of a pediatrician, psychologist, speech pathologist, and occupational therapist working in tandem over a period of time. Thinking that any observer can give such a diagnosis isn’t only inaccurate, it’s dangerous in terms of mental health. Doing so opens up the floor to the belief that differences are “diagnosable.” It simplifies the complexities of mental illness and the treatment they require. Also, given that these “armchair diagnoses” often take the form of an insult, they remove the beauty that exists in different ways of thinking.
People spent the past year appalled by President Donald J. Trump’s behavior, including the time he mocked a reporter with a disability, only for those same people to do the exact same thing to his youngest child. We are not an eye-for-an-eye society, nor should we strive to be. Barron did not choose to be his father’s son. He did not choose to be flung into the spotlight so young. The mean-spirited hypocrisy is not justified. And to those who claim their comments came from a place of “concern,” unfortunately, no one believes that. Masking the vicarious thrill people get over gossiping about a 10-year-old boy’s behavior only further illuminates the danger of doing so. And whatever is “happening” to Barron Trump (be it overwhelming excitement, overwhelming nervousness, a general ambivalence to the entire situation, or compounding fear for all the ways he maybe doesn’t yet realize his life is changing), it's no one’s business but his parents, least of all the general public’s.
Unfortunately, as we’ve seen time and time again throughout the entire election cycle (and even long before the candidates emerged toting their respective party’s platforms), the anonymity of the internet has emboldened too many to feel privy to the private lives of strangers, doing so without any education or background. Of course, as were the cases of President Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, it’s one thing to have every element of your private and public persona thrust under a microscope for analysis when you’re vying for the presidency. By choosing this, they, in a way, also chose the never-ending scrutiny and need to know more. Ten-year-old Barron didn’t make that choice. He wasn’t running for president. His dad was. Now that Trump has assumed the highest office in the US, “joking” about his youngest son’s behaviors only reinforces that right now, Barron is paying the highest price for his dad’s job.
Would you go up to a parent at the grocery story to diagnose their child unprompted and without an MD at the end of your name?
In order to really understand the issue with trying to “diagnosis” Barron, ask yourself this: If your friend posted a video of their child, whom you thought wasn’t acting perfectly normal, would you comment about their kid’s well-being publicly while mocking their alleged differences? Or would you go up to a parent at the grocery story to diagnose their child unprompted and without an MD at the end of your name? To take it one step further, ask yourself how you’d feel if someone did that very same thing to your traditionally developing kid.
When the trolls took to the internet to bash Barron, they weren’t just claiming him as a target for being a Trump. They were claiming everyone who falls on the spectrum as a target as well. Before he took office eight years ago, a Fox News host asked the president of his daughter Malia: “Are they gonna put her on birth control?” With a public show of support on Facebook, former first kid Chelsea Clinton (whom Rush Limbaugh compared to a dog — twice) wrote, “Barron Trump deserves the chance every child does-to be a kid. Standing up for every kid also means opposing POTUS policies that hurt kids.” If anyone knows what it’s like to be a first kid, it’s all the first kids who’ve come before Barron and his siblings. It’s just further proof that it’s never OK to bash someone for acting a certain way — plus, given that no one knows whether Barron actually struggles with anything other than being a 10-year-old kid in the national spotlight, insinuating that looking or even behaving differently should be a source of shame is disgusting.
Barron Trump’s father has proven himself to be a threat to every single person who falls outside his teeny, tiny inner circle — the list of those at risk in Trump’s White House includes, but is of course not limited to, people of color, women, mothers, the LGBTQIA+ community, immigrants, refugees, and people with disabilities. These are groups who now, more than ever, need the support of their peers. In the past, Trump has been open about his belief that vaccines cause Autism. In doing so, he’s perpetuating dangerous stereotypes and “alternative facts” about the syndromes and those living with it. But by going after Trump’s youngest son using that same destructive, stereotypical rhetoric, we’re proving to be no better — no more inclusive — than our current Commander-in-Chief.
There are much bigger and much more dangerous things to worry about than asking whether or not Barron Trump is “OK” following his behavior at his father’s inauguration. There are children whose very livelihoods are at risk because of Betsy DeVos’ nomination as secretary of education. DeVos has publicly stated children with special needs aren’t “entitled” to equal education. DeVos also believes that upholding Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) should be a matter left up to states, not realizing that IDEA is a federally funded civil rights program. There is much more at stake than diagnosing a kid none of us know personally.
When former First Lady Michelle Obama’s encouraged us to “go high” no matter how many times they “go low,” she was, of course, also talking about this moment right here. Barron Trump is a child. He has the freedom to be as silly, as strange, as funny, as different, as excited, as wholly confused by these new life changes as any other kid in his shoes would be. In a time where our differences are threatened, it’d do us all well to remember that it’s those same differences that make us stronger. This shouldn't be the thing that divides us.