RFK Jr.’s popularity worries me as someone with autism

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. is running as a third-party candidate for president of the United States. I vividly recall a hot and humid summer day in 2008 in Louisville, Kentucky, where I found myself looking at an advertisement for a Democratic Party gathering featuring Robert F. Kennedy Jr. as a speaker, rallying support and funds for Barack Obama’s presidential campaign. Kennedy’s presence was marked not only by his family legacy but also by his distinct views on certain topics, particularly those concerning vaccines, which often clashed with the established stance of the Democratic Party.

With the political landscape now dominated by the controversial figures of President Joe Biden and former President Donald Trump, it’s conceivable that Kennedy may garner support as an “anti-system” candidate, leveraging his iconic family name and the respect his father commanded as a political luminary. However, the problem with his popularity lies in the questionable nature of Kennedy’s perspectives, particularly his stance on autism, a topic that hits close to home for me.

Kennedy’s assertion in a July 2023 Fox News interview that “autism comes from vaccines” is not only unsubstantiated by empirical evidence but also deeply disappointing, particularly for someone such as myself who is on the autism spectrum. While people are entitled to their beliefs in the political arena, the manner in which Kennedy seemingly exploits those with autism as mere rhetorical tools or objects of spectacle is troubling. It raises concerns about his priorities and whether he genuinely seeks to improve the lives of those affected by neurological conditions such as autism.

Living with autism presents myriad challenges, both minor and monumental, on a daily basis. For me, navigating social dynamics and sensory sensitivities can be arduous. The oversimplification of autism’s complexities by attributing it solely to vaccines not only perpetuates misinformation but also undermines the experiences of those with autism such as myself.

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If Kennedy believes that linking autism to vaccines somehow demonstrates his concern for the autism community, he is sorely mistaken. Such assertions not only lack factual basis but also risk further marginalizing and stigmatizing people with autism. What people with autism require are genuine support and understanding, not to be unwitting pawns in a political vendetta.

Knowing that people are capable of evolving their perspectives over time, I earnestly hope that Kennedy exhibits greater humility and introspection in the future. The journey toward meaningful advocacy for those with autism demands empathy, nuance, and a commitment to evidence-based discourse, qualities that should transcend partisan agendas. Ultimately, the well-being of those with autism should never be sacrificed at the altar of political expediency.

Mathieu Vaillancourt is a writer with a degree in international development and globalization from the University of Ottawa.

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