Three times over, Presidential candidate François Fillon told television viewers during an interview on France 2 last Sunday that he was not autistic. "Je ne suis pas autiste," he insisted. "I see the problems. I'm not autistic!"
Inappropriate, offensive and clichéd, his remarks have caused considerable backlash on the internet.
The Minister for Disability, Ségolène Neuville, tweeted that Fillon had made a "serious mistake" ("faute lourde") but others were not so restrained.
"We deplore his comments. We're angry and shocked, especially as in the past Fillon has been very helpful to us," said a spokeswoman from Vaincre l'Autisme association. "There is no excuse for resorting to such a stupid cliché under stress. Our president has responded via Facebook, and we are waiting for Fillon's apology!"
Other associations are also outraged. "We realise that he wasn't deliberately setting out to upset the 650,000 people in France living with this disorder," said Danièle Langloys, from Autism France. "But he associated autism with being blind to problems and oblivious to criticism."
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His comments, she continued, reveal a complete incomprehension of autism, which is exactly what has led to the scandal of autism services in France: incorrect diagnoses, inadequate treatment options, lack of educational opportunities, lack of jobs, restricted access to social life, and a very negative image of autism throughout French society. (For more information see Connexion April 2016)
"We expect a presidential candidates to set an example, not to use words at random. We expect them all to commit to improving services for ASD children and adults, starting with a massive public information campaign, and including research into ASD discrimination, and the abandonment and general indifference suffered by autistic people and their families," said Ms Langloys.
The internet is furious, but embattled presidential candidate Fillon remains silent.