The tragedy in Connecticut is utterly unfathomable and one where all the answers may never come. We understand the drive to “get to the bottom of it”, but in doing so, many of you are creating another class of victims. People who are already stigmatized. People who fight on a regular basis to be accepted and understood for who they are, but will live most of their lives being misunderstood much of the time. These people eat, sleep – and even have dreams and ambition – just like you and me. And they hurt when others speak wrongly of them – just like you and me.
And you did the same thing back in July, rushing to use the same label on that suspect, and I still can’t find any definitive proof that he has what you claim this new shooter to have.
But you’ve hurt a certain class of people – again.
These fellow human beings are those who just happen to have an Autism Spectrum Disorder. Most of these individuals will never harm anyone. Ever. And they have diverse personalities just like everyone else.
As a speaker and author on Asperger’s Syndrome, I am utterly disgusted that “autism” or “autistic” is one of the very first words many of you have chosen to use to describe who the shooter was. And that diagnosis is not even known at this point to be fact, am I right? And even if it becomes fact that he is on the autism spectrum, it does not mean that autism is the cause of his act. Not. One. Bit.
Let’s set one myth straight; that those with autism cannot empathize. In most circles it is better stated that many of these individuals appear to lack empathy. Leaving out the words “appear to” is irresponsible reporting. Ask any mom of a child with Asperger’s if they’ve ever cried or felt sad, and they’ll answer you. The fact that they may not communicate empathy in a way that you or I do does not mean they lack that very same capability. But many of your peers are wielding that sword to “prove” autism coupled with that purported autistic trait is part of a suspected motive for such atrocious behavior, no?
Look at empathy from another angle. The famous photo of a young woman in what has to be one of the most personal, gut wrenching, life altering moments of her life has now become emblematic of the ghastly event. Did you ask her permission to invade her privacy like that? Did you or your peers display an ounce of empathy in blasting that photo all over the world? If she gave permission, that is one thing, but my studies in Communications in college leave to believe you didn’t. That you hunted down an image of raw emotion to represent and induce the same in the reader.
And you were anything but empathetic in doing so.
Please, let these hurting families have space and time to grieve and attempt to heal.
But regarding linking autism and violence, the damage is done. “The horse is out of the barn.” And I had the unpleasant experience of watching my daughter suddenly melt into a million tears yesterday afternoon, worried that “they” will be coming after everyone with Asperger’s, now. And, no, we did not plant that idea in her. Hardly. How dare you even think such an atrocious thought! We have barely discussed with her this incident and the media’s reckless connection to autism. All we did was mention to her that you were linking the two, and that she needed to be aware of what others will be saying as a result. Nothing more, nothing less. She is old enough to search out and read your news anytime she wishes.
Still, her emotions are raw and she’s rather unsettled. And she does hurt for those children, those educators, and their families. She’s a smart kid, and nominated for one of the most prestigious summer schools in the country. She didn’t get the nomination just by being highly intelligent. She received it because of that intelligence coupled with who she is as a person.
And she will make such a positive impact on the world that we will all be better off.
And so will countless other individuals on the Autism Spectrum.
And so have countless individuals on the Autism Spectrum.
Dear Media, you owe the Autism Community an apology. We’re a diverse bunch, and we are forgiving, yet we refuse to be the new scapegoat.
It’s up to you.
Published Author, Speaker and mom of a daughter with Asperger's
For those who are reporting responsibly - thank you from the bottom of our hearts.