Another mass shooting, this time in my own backyard. I can
be in Santa Barbara in under two hours. I have a writers’ retreat
there in June. It’s gorgeous, idyllic, peaceful, and a college town.
With mass shootings on our minds yet
again, families with people on the autism spectrum again have to ask the general population to not label our kids.
Here’s an example (post-the latest
One headline in particular angered
me. “Study: ‘Significant’ Statistical link between mass murder and
autism, brain injury.” The article was in the Washington Post.
It examined “links“ between autism and brain injuries and whether those issues relate to people who commit mass murders.
I posted the article on Facebook and
questioned the headline. I felt some of the content was suspect as
well, but I was really bothered by the headline.
A friend said, “After
reading the article…I think the headline fits.”
I responded, “Not if you have a
child with autism.” (This person does not.)
I suggested an alternate title, “IS
there a link between mass murder and autism, brain injury?”
Mine ended with a question mark.
To me, question marks suggest. Periods do not. A question says,
“The study is done, the results are in, we have some data, but
we’re still not sure.”
What’s the difference?
This is my opinion, of course, but I
believe people love headlines. Often, they only look at a headline,
or, at minimum the first paragraph or two of a story. Who has time to
read an entire newspaper story?
Headlines get imprinted easily into
the mind. Yes, they can be easily forgotten as well, but to me a headline like the above example allows the reader to walk away with the
thought, “Autism is the cause of all of those mass murders. Now, I
Too many of these headlines are
appearing lately and they directly affect our kids.
That headline pigeon holes my child into the stereotype that autism equals violence.
In my experience, the
opposite is true. Our children tend to shy away from social settings.
They don’t move toward them and (generally) do not plot violence in
their heads. They may wave their arms in “weird“ ways and not
look at you when speaking, but generally autistic people are
non-violent. They are the ones getting bullied at school, but they
don’t typically respond, ever. They crawl inside themselves even
deeper. They typically don’t act out in violent ways.
Older kids and adults, for example,
love rules. If the speed limit says, “55,“ they think, “That’s
a rule and I have to follow it.” They follow rules to the
They are scheduled, routine, time-conscious people. Not killers, which is what a headline like that can imply.
It’s hard enough for people with
autistics to get society to accept that our kids sometimes laugh at
inappropriate times or don’t respond when asked a question.
We don’t need the added task of
trying to remove a stigma that is completely unfair.
Overall, the Washington Post article had some reasonable
content and some that I questioned, but it was the headline, especially if taken out of context, that had the potential to do the most damage.
Just as I have to be responsible for
my content, I would hope that a journalist working for the Washington
Post would understand the consequences that his headline may have on
people with autism.