Content Warning for ableist rhetoric related to eye contact, stimming, ABA, Autism causes and so on.
People are often surprised that I don’t play Steve Earle songs. I guess that’s understandable given that I draw from a lot of the same musical styles and also share many of Mr. Earle’s political views. At one time I did perform a number of Steve Earle songs and owned most of his albums. The last Steve Earle record I bought was The Low Highway, released in 2013. It was around this time that I became aware of his son John Henry being Autistic. As I recall I bought the album already knowing this and giving Steve the benefit of the doubt, assuming that because of his commitment to good causes he would manage to avoid being a horrible ableist shitstain like so many “Autism parents”. I think it took a couple of weeks for me to come across this video and realized that I had given Steve too much credit.
“It’s an epidemic, it’s one in fifty kids, that’s the latest number. And that’s real, and it’s world wide, and it’s something environmental. It’s something we’re eating, drinking, walking through, it’s something we’re all exposed to and we have to solve it. It’s the greatest epidemic in history as far as I know. Nothing close to this exists.” Steve says, after going on about how John Henry “makes eye contact and he’s socially connected, so we don’t have that battle to fight, thank god” and “he has some self-stimulating behavior that you might have seen if you know anybody who has a child with autism”. Yes, thank God your kid can make eye contact because that’s so important and oh, the horror, he still stims.
So thanks for that, Steve, it feels great to know that a songwriter who can find the humanity in a murderer awaiting execution can’t manage to do the same for people like me, who’s only “crime” is being born different. It’s so awesome knowing that I can’t even feel safe among so called progressives because even if someone is against racism, misogyny, homophobia, transphobia and so on, there’s a good chance they still think people like me don’t deserve to exist. This problem of completely overlooking discrimination against disabled people is one that needs to be confronted by people who are active within progressive communities.
In the years since I became aware of Steve Earle’s views on Autism I have sold or traded all of my Steve Earle records and stopped playing his songs. Steve has gone on to perform at Autism Speaks benefits and has begun writing his memoirs so he can fund his son’s eight hour ABA sessions.