Like many Americans in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting, I’ve been looking for answers. Initially I was eager for any kind of explanation. I wanted the shooter to have something wrong with him, something off, something I could point at and say “Ah ha! That explains it!” But as time passed, the truth sunk in. There is never going to be an explanation sufficient to explain away such a wanton loss of life.
In the days since the shooting many writers, reporters, and broadcasters have thrown around the idea that the shooter had some form of autism and that may be at least in part to blame for his actions. Theories ranged from “Friends of the family said he suffered from Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism” to headlines that read “…shooter, may have had form of autism“, as if this explained everything or anything. Thankfully, since similar theories were espoused in the aftermath of the Denver theater shooting, many parents, professionals, and even some writers themselves were ready to come out to say that these theories of autism have no relationship to the shooting at Sandy Hook.
From a Yahoo news article that explores the many topics Americans are placing the blame on:
“People want immediate or simple answers when an unimaginable tragedy like this occurs,” Bob and Suzanne Write of Autism Speaks said in a statement on Monday. “Autism did not cause this horror. The profound tragedy of these senseless murders will only be compounded if it results in unwarranted discrimination against people with autism.”
But where does that leave us? Autism Speaks and parents like myself are forced to come out with statements like this every time something tragically violent occurs at the hands of a disturbed citizen.
The shooter was odd, friendless and awkward. He may have had a form of autism. His home was filled with weapons capable of mass murder. He had trouble in school. His parents were divorced. He was very smart.
None of these facts alone will ever explain why this tragedy occurred. I’m not convinced that these facts combined can explain the tragedy either.
One thing that does not explain this violence or violence like it in Oregon, Colorado, Virginia, California, or any of the other sites of tragic mass murders, is autism. Autism is not the enemy. And we need to do a better job of educating the public about this disorder.
Let me begin here, today.
Autism is a disorder that makes life more difficult for the child and their families. Connor is three and a half years old. My son lacks the ability to self-calm, to self-regulate, or differentiate between needs and wants. His language development is at least one year delayed. His emotional development is also at least one year delayed. He can be violent. He pushes or shoves when he is angry or frustrated. He cannot be reasoned with when angry.
Connor is also capable of both intense joy and sadness. If he hears our dogs whimper, he asks them if they are ok. He engages with other children on the playground but cannot communicate. He longs to play baseball. He watches the same movies over and over again. He loves trains, trucks, and playing in the dirt. My son loves making art and snuggling on the couch. He cries if we wait in line for more than five minutes. He will throw a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store because I didn’t get the right kind of bread. He helps me unload the washer and dryer. He puts his clothes in the hamper when directed. He plays too rough with the dogs. He ends up in time out at least once a day. He tries to convince me he should have ice cream for dinner and cookies for breakfast. He wants to go to the beach every day.
Connor is all these things and many more. He is autistic. He also a typical little boy in many ways.
Autism is not the enemy.
Please visit Autism Speaks for more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder and how you can help.