Matt Gaetz posted a photo of my son alone at our booth at a Health Expo Saturday, falsely claiming that more people show up to his events, and calling my son “low energy.”
That boy in the photo with his head down is my son.
My 12-year-old son is autistic and has struggled with his combined autism/ADD/ADHD his entire life.
My husband and I have spent years trying to help him become comfortable with being out around other people, going to events and concerts, and getting comfortable in his own skin.
Often kids with combined autism/ADD/ADHD and anxiety become over-stimulated and overwhelmed at public events, and we always make sure that he can step away, find a quiet area, listen to his headphones, or find a healthy way to be at peace and recenter.
In a moment of stress while I stepped away, Gaetz had one of his local “fixers” wait until my son was alone to take pictures of him, which Gaetz and his goons shared online.
Even after nearly 1,000 outraged parents and disability advocates demanded Gaetz take down the photo and apologize, he left it up.
Even after the organizer of the event called him out for lying, he kept it up.
Even after being told hundreds of times that the photo he was sharing was of a child with disabilities, he kept it up.
Since the raid on our home in 2020, my son has been reclusive and has struggled with major anxiety. He didn’t smile for months after the raid. I didn’t hear him laugh for months after that. It’s taken time and work to get him to feel safe again.
Getting him to join me at a campaign event around other people marked a huge step forward for him.
And Gaetz - a sitting US Congressman - took pictures of him and shared them online.
But to post photographs of my son - who has NO social media accounts for this very reason - when he was overwhelmed with the crowd and needed to put his head down and rest because that’s one of his coping methods… should anger every parent, whether your child has disabilities or not.
Matt Gaetz has never advocated for children or families. He is not and will never be a moral or family man.
Even after he eloped to “lockdown California” during COVID-19, his new sister-in-law publicly called him a pedophile.
Disability advocates have rallied around us for support since Saturday, speaking out against this behavior and demanding an apology.
But even an apology won’t undo the damage. Apologizing won’t make Gaetz understand why what he did was wrong, or make him change his perspective. He is a broken, mean-spirited man-child who thinks attacking children with disabilities is ok if it scores him political points.
When a Gaetz supporter called and threatened to kill me and my family, Gaetz didn’t condemn the behavior, even though I spoke out against the same sorts of threats that were directed at him a year ago.
Instead of speaking out against the death threats against my children, he’s openly attacking them online.
By mocking my son on Twitter and Facebook, Gaetz has shined a light on how anti-family, anti-children and ableist he is, and given us the opportunity to discuss disabilities, especially in children.
My husband and I were young and still in college when my son was born. We didn’t know what the signs of autism were. We had Medicaid, so our doctor’s office was always overwhelmed, rushing to get as many people in and out as possible.
When we moved to Tallahassee in 2016, I hoped to get him screened for autism, but the only facility at the time who offered the testing was Florida State, and although I was a student and TA, the cost was prohibitively expensive.
We didn’t get the official screening for another few years, but once we did it opened up protections and resources he would have benefited tremendously from years before.
Autism testing should be free and accessible to all. As soon as the signs were explained to us, everything made sense.
The way he lined up all of his toys in categorical order, the way he fidgeted, his inability to make or hold eye contact, the apparent monotone way he spoke, all of the things we thought were sweet little quirks were actually symptoms.
My son is brilliant. He’s gifted in math and science much in the way my husband and I are. But he still struggles with social cues and limits, and being in public is not something he’s entirely comfortable with just yet.
He finally came out for once, and Matt Gaetz attacked him.
Help me beat him this November.
Help me not just because I’m a woman or mother, because I’m better educated, because I cannot be bought, I speak my mind, fight for workers, fight for families, fight for our community, and refuse to toe anyone’s line, but because men like Gaetz have no place deciding policy that impacts children, families or those with disabilities when he casually shows such contempt for each.