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The tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut is on all our minds, as it should be. Many reports have come out about this event. The conversations have ranged from what set off the 20-year-old shooter to school security to gun control.
One report in particular disturbed me the most. It discussed the shooter’s mental state and said - in the media - that perhaps this young man had autism. Furthermore, the report then implied that people on the spectrum may have a greater tendency toward violence.
Is this true?
This statement was issued by Autism Speaks:
“Our hearts go out to the families and town of Newtown, Conn. in the wake of this heartbreaking event. Several media outlets are reporting that the shooter might have had an autism spectrum disorder. Some have also inaccurately reported that there is a linkage between autism and planned violence. We ask that blame not be placed on people with disabilities or disorders in the midst of these types of tragedies and that everyone keep the families of Newtown in their prayers.”
I wrote this on my social websites:
“Please disregard anything you hear that says IF the shooter was on the autism spectrum, then it means people on the autism spectrum are prone to violence. It is complete nonsense. Any person on the spectrum is no more likely to commit random violence than a typical person. PLEASE DO NOT ADVOCATE THIS TYPE OF THINKING!”
Within all of the conflicting reports, some people have suggested that we should not worry about this report because there have been numerous reports and many reports have been wrong. These people feel we should just let it go away - quietly.
Autism Speaks felt strongly enough about responding, however, and so do I.
I cannot discuss any individual case, but I do need to address how the general public views people on the autism spectrum and how a report like this may affect not only our community as a whole but every individual.
Everyone in this country - and around the world - will have people on the autism spectrum somehow impacting their lives. A person on the spectrum could have been the waiter who waited on you last night at a restaurant. They could be the person delivering your mail. They could be the person riding next to you on the bus. Or, they could be the person handing out flyers in the front of your local movie theater.
People on the autism spectrum live with us and among us. They go out to run errands just like us. They eat in restaurants just like us. They are - just like us.
Here’s what a report like this one says: Let’s say you’re sitting next to someone you suspect is on the autism spectrum or is just “acting weird.” You don’t know this person and you don’t really know much about autism. You’ve heard things in the past about people who may act awkwardly within social situations, but you’ve had no concrete information on autism or no real connection to autism.
Then, you remember something that was said about a shooter who recently killed children in an elementary school. In response to what you remember - that the shooter possibly had autism and that autistic people may be “prone to violence” - you grab your child and walk away.
What has that person done to you and what proof do you have that that person will ever harm you in any way? All you have is fear based on a report that was false.
Let’s say that person was flapping their arms a bit because they are uncomfortable in unfamiliar environments. Still, are they doing anything wrong and are they going to hurt you?
You heard one report that came out after a horrific tragedy - a careless report that had absolutely no validity to it - and now you react to a stranger. You do this because, well, because you’re unsure and you want to be safe.
Am I blaming you? No. But, I would like to educate you so that you’d know more facts about my child and wouldn’t have to guess.
Am I blaming the autistic person who has to sing softly to himself because he’s uncomfortable in a crowd? Absolutely not.
I am blaming the thoughtless and idiotic media who issued this report.
How dare the media put anyone in such a potential situation?
Am I over-exaggerating? Possibly, but I’m not entirely convinced that I am. I have a child with autism and he does sometimes “act weird.” So, I’m more sensitive, I suppose. But, should I remain quiet about it? I think not.
My point is there is no proof that any person on the spectrum is any more likely to commit any crime, let alone a violent and tragic one.
I am so saddened by the events that took place at Sandy Hook. I have cried several times and my husband and I picked up our child early from his school because, well, we just wanted to see him. We don’t have a fear that someone will walk onto his campus and commit a horrific crime. We just had an urge to hug and talk to our child. Events like these will do that to you.
But, please, do not overreact to a person who just happens to be on the autism spectrum. It is absurd to link the shooter at Sandy Hook to all people on the autism spectrum.
It is more absurd that a report like this can make its way into the mainstream media. The media has a responsibility to help people understand tragedies and not to create fear. They should never carelessly throw out ideas that are baseless. They have potentially injured a large group of people, and they need to cop to it.
Think about this, please, I urge you. I want my child to have just as many rights to walk among you as any other typical child. And, he has that right. He is blameless as are thousands of others. People on the autism spectrum are going to be in your life, one way or another. Consider how to treat them as equals without fearing them. They may be different than you, but just because they’re different does not mean they’re going to pull out a gun and shoot you.
And, finally, tell your children about this tragedy. Tell them it was random, and they should not fear to go outside. Hug your children and tell them you love them.
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