A Modern Day Fairy Tale: On Autism & Violence

Monday, December 17, 2012

On Autism & Violence

If you've been watching the news, you've probably heard the rumors that the Newtown shooter (whose name I am purposely refusing to repost), may have had some form of Autism. Sound familiar? It was just earlier this year when the same was said of the Colorado shootings.  As a mom, my heart breaks for those children killed, and those loved ones left behind. As an Autism mom, my heart also breaks again for our children who are once again being placed under a category of mass murderers.

Children and adults with Autism already have to fight so much harder than anyone in this world should have to. They have to fight to live in the world that can be overwhelming and sometimes hard for them to understand. They have to fight to prove that they are capable of accomplishing amazing things. They have to fight to gain the understanding and respect that they deserve. They have to fight against bullies. They have to fight against false stereotypes that tell us they lack intelligence. As parents, we have to fight for the services they need and to gain that understanding and respect they deserve as well. And now we have to fight against the fear that such stories cause- that Autism is somehow associated with mass murder!? It's complete nonsense.

In the past, I have shared our struggles dealing with Shaun's aggression. I have to be entirely honest when I say I had debated long and hard before making any of those posts in fear that I would somehow give the idea that individuals with Autism were violent in nature. In the end, I decided to share because the truth is, for some within the spectrum, aggression is the reality that we have to deal with. Aggression and these acts of violence like what occurred on Friday are two entirely different matters, and something I felt the need to address today.

When my son gets into these aggressive behaviors, it is in the moment. His schedule changed, or something did not go as he believed in his mind that it should go. His Lego creation fell apart. The iPhone died in the middle of his game. Sometimes the cause cannot be determined- sensory overload perhaps? Regardless, when things go wrong, he gets upset. Most of us know how to deal with our frustrations, or at the very least, know how to express them. For many with Autism, even those like my son who ARE verbal, that is not nearly so easy, which leads to meltdowns, and yes, even aggression. It is a matter of not knowing what else to do, in that very moment. He does not meticulously plan every meltdown, every bite, every thrown toy. He doesn't contemplate in his mind how he is going to hit mommy or himself. He does whatever he can to get that frustration out, in THAT moment. When these moments pass, he is back to his sweet, loveable self. Most moms who have a child on the spectrum that deal with similar issues will tell you the same thing.

Events like what happened Friday in Newtown, or in July in Colorado are not acts that took place in the moment. Obviously, we know in Colorado, it was a well thought out plan. We're still learning the details from Newtown of course, but we can at least see that there was forethought given to get into a vehicle and make his way to that school. He was dressed for battle. That is not the mind of someone who is acting in that moment.

Could the shooter have had Autism? Honestly, I don't know. What I do know is that we cannot blame Autism for his actions. The reality is that individuals with Autism and other developmental disabilities are far more likely to be the victims of horrible crimes than the one carrying them out. Bullying, abuse, sexual abuse...all are far too common, and all committed by 'normal' individuals.Why isn't the media going crazy with that? 'Normal' people commit violent crimes far more often, so why is it even a factor? To make it so is unfair to my son and millions of others like him. Let's take a look at this from another perspective...if they had reported that the shooter were of a specific racial background and stated this was likely a factor, would we stand back and take that? Absolutely not! We'd be up in arms! How is this any different? You don't choose your race, you don't choose to have Autism. All people who are of any race are not the same, and all individuals who may or may not have Autism are not the same. Let us instead place the blame where the blame is due- solely on the individual who walked into that school with the mission of taking those lives. Autism or not, HE is the only one to blame, period.

I am going to close this out with some words from the official release from the Autism Society of America on the subject because they truly say it better than I ever could:

This morning, many national media outlets are rep
orting that the shooter was autistic. While as of yet, this has not been officially documents, many newspapers and television outlets are stating that the individual who shot the children and teachers was autistic. And, in such reports, there is an implication that autism might have had an impact on the person's mindset in leading to the shootings.

There is absolutely no evidence or any reliable research that suggests a linkage between autism and planned violence. To imply or suggest, as some are doing, that some linkage exists is wrong and harmful to the over 1.5 million law abiding, non-violent and wonderful individuals who live with autism each and every day. Stereotyping an entire group of individuals because of the actions of one is something is wrong and can't be accepted.

We ask that people not judge any autistic person based on what is being said about the killer of the innocent children and teachers. Rather, we ask that we continue to put our nation's attention on being there for the children and teachers who were killed yesterday.

1 comment:

  1. I am an Aunt to an autistic man. I'm sad about the incident and I'm sad you have to deal with an added stigma.


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