PF Personal 2
Defending Autism as We Mourn

Defending Autism as We Mourn

I entered the building and noticed metal detectors looming before me and a security guard seated nearby. I was immediately turned off. No, I was not at the airport; I was at a public school in the Bronx.

This was a school that the New York City Department of Education selected for Angel to begin his Kindergarten year. This is the school that I rejected. I could not imagine sending my son to a school with a metal detector. To me, that school was not safe. In the wake of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut yesterday, parents like me may have to rethink what we consider a safe school for our children. I could not help but think: My son is in kindergarten. My son is five. My son has autism.

When Angel came home from school yesterday, he was oblivious to the violence that had been committed against innocent children just like him. Because of his autism, he does not have the ability to comprehend what happened or to ask us questions about it. I know that if he did ask, I would not know where to begin.

The autism factor in this case has brought up a lot of debate and discussion. The autism factor angers me because it should not be a factor. We have not heard that the shooter, Adam Lanza, had autism from an official source. Even if we had, it should not be what we cling to as the reason for these heinous acts.

I am heartbroken for all the families who have lost loved ones. I am also defensive of autism. I am defensive because the inference that autism is the reason for these horrific killings is misleading and erroneous. Parents like me cringe every time a news reporter reports this as a known fact. Our children already live in a world where they are stigmatized. This is not helping.

I was grateful to hear Soledad O’Brien raise this issue on CNN this morning. This was personal for O’Brien because she shared that her nephew is autistic. I was also grateful to hear Dr. Sanjay Gupta say: “Autism is not a mental illness. It is a neuro-developmental disorder.” He later tweeted the following: “There is no evidence of a link between autism and planned violent behavior.”

Many autism organizations have released statements to further help the public understand why making this connection can do more harm than good. One that rang true for me was from Areva Martin, Esq. Co-Founder and President of the Los Angeles based Special Needs Network. Here is an excerpt from a statement  that Martin released on her Special Needs Network Web site:

“Our extensive experiences in working with individuals with autism and related developmental disabilities and our consultation with our medical team allow us to state with confidence that there is no correlation between autism and the violent crimes committed against the students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Autism is a developmental not a mental health disorder.

Therefore it is irresponsible to disregard this important facts and engage in harmful speculation regarding the shooter’s reprehensible actions. As in similar tragedies, we are hopeful that the important mental health issues in this matter will be fully explored as more facts are revealed. We stand with other children advocates and call on every level of government to move expeditiously in ensuring the safety of our nation’s kids by any means necessary.”

Martin’s statement made me thankful that people like her are doing their part to spread truthful information in the wake of this tragedy.

On Monday, parents like me will put our children on the school bus and kiss them good bye. We will have faith that our babies will come back home to us safe and sound. There are parents of children just like Angel who will not be able to do that.  On behalf of myself and my family please accept my sympathy for your loss. No parent should have to bury a child.  We also grieve for the brave teachers and administrators who did all they could to protect their students and lost their lives in the process.

I sincerely hope that our nation can finally do something to pass some meaningful legislation to reduce the chances of something like this happening again.

Please share your thoughts. I look forward to hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Miz Kp

Miz Kp
Written by Miz Kp

10 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
  2. Avatar
    December 15, 2012

    What an awful tragedy. I cried with the parents that lost their children and pray for them. I understand that the school had an excellent security plan and had practice drills on a regular basis which is why thankfully so many children were saved.

    I agree that the media must be careful in linking autism to this horrible crime. People are quick to believe anything they hear on the news so i wont be surprised if many believe that ridiculous theory.

    Unfortunately, this man is dead now and I fear that we may never know WHY he would do something like this.

    Reply

    • Avatar
      December 15, 2012

      It is very very sad. I grieve for those wonderful teachers who went above and beyond to protect their students. I hope that as the days go by we will get to learn why this happened. It will not bring the victims back but it can help the living get some kind of understanding.

      Reply

  3. Avatar
    December 15, 2012

    Thank you for both quotes. I have not had time to review how the press has handled the issue, and your quotes are helpful. I am the mother of a 12 year old with Asperger syndrome and a licensed clinical social worker who sees many clients on the Autism Spectrum. While the distinction between a neurodevelopmental and mental health disorder needs to be made, the incident also brings to light the fact that individuals with autism can also have mental health issues, and studies have shown that those with HFA and Asperger’s actually have a higher incidents of “comorbidity” than others on the spectrum. I am so worried about the backlash for my son and others, since, of course, there is no direct correlation between autism and these tragic events. Yet, I hope that a positive that may come is a deeper understanding of the often untreated “comorbid” mental health conditions that so many on the spectrum suffer from… many of them suffering in silence…

    Reply

    • Avatar
      December 15, 2012

      Thanks. It is good to hear from someone with the experience that you have. The sad thing is that in this case, the media is only reporting the autism diagnosis and not much mention is being made of the mental health issue that Lanza had. Not many people will take the time to research and come up with a logical conclusion. They hear autism and they think, “Oh, that is why.” I also hope that we can all gain a deeper understanding and realize that mental health conditions are real.

      Reply

  4. Avatar
    December 16, 2012

    I pray we can learn to love each other enough to support, rather than stigmatize the things that make each of us unique.
    Looking….acting…thinking differently, being DIFFERENT IS NOT synonymous with violence/crime.
    Praying for healing, understanding and ACTION!!!!

    Reply

  5. Avatar
    December 16, 2012

    Thank you for this post which is very timely and appropriate. This tragedy should bind us all together in love. Even as we mourn this loss and salute the heroes of the day, our ability to love and demonstrate our love must continue to grow and defeat evil.

    Reply

  6. Avatar
  7. Avatar
    December 19, 2012

    I thought about you while some of us were processing/dealing/hashing this on Twitter today. Thought this blog entry may help you. The author explained certain aspects of empathy very well and pointed out one of the distinctions people usually leave out – Autistics are not “understood” by NT’s either.

    http://www.emilywillinghamphd.com/2012/12/autism-empathy-and-violence-one-of.html

    Reply

  8. Avatar
    January 08, 2013

    I couldnt really put the words together when I heard about the incident. It’s a shame how these tragedies keep recurring over and over again. Thought the holidays would have been marred with Hurricane Sandy but now this! I bear a heavy heart. May they all rest in peace.

    Reply

Leave a comment