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Think long and hard, then speak
The Public's perception of Asperger Syndrome and Autism
This past weekend, our country suffered through a tragedy. The violence was enough to make us stop, hug our children tighter and mourn alongside a community even if we have no physical connection to them. The initial shock has passed, a suspect is in custody, now the media circus has begun.
The day after the murders in Colorado at the midnight showing of The Dark Knight, my husband and I were reading the description of the killer. We were concerned because the he is listed as extremely intelligent academically and one who tended to spend his days isolated. He spent hours shut in, alone and on his computer. We immediately knew that at one point, the media would label him as Aspergers, whether he was diagnosed properly or not. This put a knife in our hearts because we are the parents of an Asperger teenager who in one year will be out in the world when he graduates High School.
Our son would rather be inside the house, on his computer, reading his magazines about video games or sports. He often does not engage in conversations unless prompted. He is very intelligent and excels academically. He fits the description of a "geek". So when we read about this killer and what type of person he was described as, our anxieties started to work overtime. We knew that it was only a matter of time before someone decided it was a good idea to bring autism into this situation.
Yesterday, Joe Scarborough was that person. Joe has a son with Aspergers, he obviously saw what we saw. However, he did not stop and think before he spoke on National Television. Many people do indeed walk around on the spectrum as he observed, living normal lives, just socially awkward. This does not make them any more prone to be mass murders than those who are not on the spectrum. That is the part he forgot to mention. The other half of this is that most diagnosis are duel. Many of those who are on the spectrum also have one or more additional diagnosis. My son has Aspergers and Obsessive compulsive disorder, I know other Aspies who have ADHD and other diagnosis. If this man does indeed have Asperger traits, that is fine but we must make sure that the general public realizes that this is just a piece of the puzzle and not the answer.
I was very upset when I read what had been said and shot from the hip. I was seeking to protect my son and his friends from the stigma that was now going to be attached to their way of life. Many people are uniformed and unaware. This type of comment could be quite detrimental to our community. Then I stopped, took a breath and thought about it. I did agree somewhat with Joe's assessment. I do agree that the more support someone with Aspergers receives, the better their chances are at a full and successful life. My husband, in his attempt to make lemonade from these lemons, remarked that if this is what the media is going to focus on, then perhaps they also need to remind our government that this is a major reason why funding for those with mental illness and developmental disabilities should not face the drastic cuts that they are currently threatened with. I agree, we can take this comment, that Joe did not stop and think about before he let it slide out of his mouth like a gumball, and make it positive for our kids instead of negative.
Disabled people have always been the media's scapegoats when it comes to terribly senseless tragedies. It is far easier to place blame on mental illness or the innocence of a disability than to face the harsh reality that there are just cruel people who take pleasure in violence and the pain of others. They feel elated when they watch someone else suffer. Why else would we have so many movies which feature this exact thing as part of the "action".
I asked my son, who has Aspergers and is almost 17 what he thought about Mr Scarborough's comments. He was quite insulted. He told me, that if he got upset, he would go to someone and tell them. He said he knows that hurting people is not the right way to handle problems. He is one of the Asperger teenagers that has had lifelong support, as Joe mentions when speaking of his own son. Joe suggests that those who have no support could indeed go off the deep end. I cannot say that he is wrong on that point, however, what he needs to remember that, like my son, most Autistic and Asperger people are simply working way too hard to get through the day to orchestrate such a plan as Mr Holmes did. The world is filled with over stimulating, noisy situations and places that are way too over stimulating for them. My son gives all his energy into walking through the crowds without bumping into anyone and making it safely to his destination.
I will also go as far as to say that all of the Asperger children, teens and adults that I have met thus far tend to have a very innocent, honest quality to them that you rarely find in those who are neurotypical. They believe, they have faith that something good will happen, that what they are working on will get better. They get bullied and they fail, but they just seem to be able to pick themselves up and try again even if they are unsuccessful the next time around.
I went to the see the Dark Knight Rises with my family. My sons and my husband liked it because they follow the comic books closely and they felt it was well done. I could not wait for it to be over. I found it violent and disturbing, as I found the Dark Knight which featured Heath Ledger and the joker, the prior Batman movie. There was so much sorrow, misery and killing. I do not enjoy seeing this. There was a part where the police were trapped and the bridges damaged. Having lived in the city that suffered the worst terrorist attack 10 years ago, I was very uncomfortable with these images. If there was a person whose brain had decided to let go of reality watching this or reading this in the comic books, I can definitely see how this would inspire them to commit evil. We have no Batman here in real life, there is no one to stop them if they were to trap the police as in the movie. NoBat Signal to light up.
Our real enemy here is the media. The media has the ability to educate and spread awareness. What Joe should have done with his thoughts was to take a minute and let people know that although these traits are common among Aspies, this is not behavior associated with this disorder for the majority. That this could be a small piece of the puzzle that is this murderer. He could have also used his forum to implore those who are cutting the funds to those who desperately need it, to think twice, to remember how those with no support could end up if this was indeed his point.
My major concern is that we have spent so many years sending our messages of awareness. opening up doors for our Asperger kids who are now Asperger teens, soon to be Asperger adults. They are not only accepted but many people have come to respect their intelligence and special abilities. This type of comment could negate all of the positive strides that have been made with Autism awareness. Autistic people could be thought of by the general public as "time bombs" or "loose cannons" simply because they think differently or have difficulty expressing themselves.
I call on the media to recognize that majority of violent crimes are NOT committed by those with developmental disabilities. In fact, statistics show that disabled people are more often the VICTIMS than the perpetrators. I feel that unless the media takes these comments and spins them toward the positive, then they will once again be innocent victims. We must always think long and hard before we speak out in a public forum. So many people will form their own opinions from those words. We are working so hard to teach those with disabilities to give back, get an education and be lucrative members of society. How can they do that if the general public is in fear that they are the next mass murderers? How will my son be able to sit in a college classroom when his peers think that at any moment he will take out explosives that he created or brandish a gun and take them all out? The simple fact is that ANYONE could do that. The mom with her four kids on the soccer field, the man behind the counter at the deli, the gas station attendant or the clean cut medical student. We cannot allow the media to once again put this on the developmentally disabled or those with mental illness as well. This was an act of evil committed by someone who had lost his grip on what is right and what is wrong. There is no way to change what happened, so way to dissolve the pain and loss. Whatever his issues, this person has proved that he cannot live among the general public. Labeling him without utilizing it to bring more awareness to what has to be done to help people will do nothing but cause pain for more innocents. Those who would never do such a thing, but must now suffer at the hands of those who think they will because of one poorly stated comment.