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Monday, December 17, 2012

It's NOT Autism

Recently an article was written by a mother claiming to have a child similar to the Newtown shooter.  The article doesn't flat out claim a formal diagnosis for her son, but instead "throws out some terms", one of which is "autism", and then describes behavior that, because of the reference, essentially implies that autistics are violent and disturbed.  The post went viral.  So of course every idiot with access to the internet now has at least SOME inkling in his head that autism is bad and leads to mass murder.  A blogging friend of mine, Jillsmo, had the idea of writing to her school district and just sort of laying it on the line to clarify or do damage control.  Much of this has been borrowed from Jillsmo's "template" and modified to better reflect my voice.  I sent this to the administrators and teachers of my daughter's school district.  It's more important than my usual schlock, you're free to use it or share it if you wish.
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To Whom it May Concern,

There has been much discussion online and in the news about the connection between the Connecticut school shooting and early reports that the shooter may have been diagnosed with autism. As our families and our community discuss this issue and try to find a reason for this heartbreaking tragedy, it is important to remember the following: There is no connection between planned, violent behavior and an autism spectrum diagnosis of any kind.

Autism is not a mental illness; it is a developmental disability. Autistic people may sometimes have emotional regulation problems, which are impulsive expressions of frustration and anger that are immediate and disorganized. They may lash out with threatening statements or behaviors, but these behaviors are impulsive reactions, they are not deliberate or organized plans. Once the situation has been defused, the behaviors cease. What happened in Connecticut suggests methodical planning of a deliberate and violent nature; this is not behavior associated with an autistic person.

As we grapple with the unknowable ‘whys’ of this tragedy we can speculate about the mental state of the shooter, gun control laws, the current state of our country’s mental health system, God in schools or whatever else might lend context to something so horrifyingly far outside the scope of our reason, but please know, and please share with the community and the children in your care, that even if the shooter was autistic, autism is not the explanation for this tragedy.  Autism is not a violent mental illness.  Autism is not a mental illness at all.

The stigma of autism’s association with this act does the special needs community a huge injustice and forces our community's children on the spectrum to pay the price for media misinformation in the form of fear, isolation, and bullying.  Please help our community get a clear message to the people of (Redacted).

Thank you very much for your time,

Jim,
Father of a daughter on the autism spectrum

25 comments:

  1. I'm glad you wrote this. My heart flew into my throat when I heard the newscaster say "The boy who shot these children had autism..." and then I got to relax a little when I heard him continue "...though that of course is not what caused him to do this." But it scared me to think that there are people unaware enough out there in the world who *could* think that. :(

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    1. I just feel like there's going to be a correlation anytime these people say autism, every tom dick and harry is going to be saying, "Scarsborough said the LAST one was on the spectrum...ALL THE KILLERS ARE!!! GET EM!!!"

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    2. I agree. I've been watching coverage closely to see if it comes up again. Ugh ugh ugh.

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  2. This is a good start. I have been focused so much on our immediate needs with impending school changes that I haven't directed much energy to this issue. I may have to use your template here for my own letter in the future. Thanks for stating it so clearly.

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    1. It's really Jillsmo's template, I just changed the words around a little bit. I linked her above.

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  3. This is very well written. I need to get back to my draft. The advocating is always important, but most especially right now. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. THANK YOU. Short, blunt, eloquent, desperately necessary.

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    1. Thanks, Jericha. Honestly, MOST of the news I've heard has been very quick to pick up the fact that it is NOT typical of autism...but any newscast that does not will automatically place doubt in the heads of the folks who don't know any better.

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  5. Oh, these comments are bothering me so bad and it's making me very angry...our Autistic children are loving, fun and happy. There is no way our babies could EVER do something like that...impossible. My son has Aspergers and he is loving, kind and humorous...it bothers him to see anyone who is crying and hurting, and will say how sorry he is..even if he had nothing to do with it..Our kids are not mentally ill..not psychotic..not sociopaths..people need to know the difference! God Bless you and your family and have a very Merry Christmas!!

    Thank You! Carol T.

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  6. I heard the newscaster too. (Shakes head.)Ignorance breeds more ignorance.

    Worth noting re: mental illness, not autism: there are several different types and degrees of mental illnesses, most of which do not lead to violent behaviour. People will never get help when they need it and will become more isolated if the stigma is exacerbated by horrific events such as this.

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  7. Jim - shared your letter and Jill's with H's principal so she could use them to guide her own writing to parents. She was grateful, as am I. ~Danielle

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    1. Thanks, Danielle. Jillsmo's was great to start out with. The ONLY reason I changed it at all was because it was't MY voice. I wanted the message to be the same though. It was well done on her part.

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  8. Jim,
    Thank you so much for sharing this. It has been so heavy on my heart since I first heard the shooter might have been on the spectrum. Thank you to Jill and to you for writing this. I am fairly new to the whole world of Autsim/Asperger's, my son was diagnosed in April. He is 11. I am learning from you and from other parents who have "been in the trenches" so to speak for a bit longer than I have. Again many thanks from me to the both of you!
    -Kim

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    1. Thanks, Kim. The blogging community is a great way to learn the ropes without experiencing the pain of learning the hard way...

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  9. Thank you! As the mother of a 25 year old son with a diagnosis of Aspergers, my husband and I have been struggling to help our son work through his frustration and fears of being labelled a "monster". So much misinformation was thrown out there so quickly and attempts to correct false reporting will most probably receive little or no press. Our daughter is a Special Education/Psychology major in college and these students are going to start a series of meetings to help get the message out that autism spectrum disorders do NOT equal violence. During his hormonal, school-bullied teenage years, the only threat of violence our son displayed was toward himself and was impulsive, not planned.

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    1. This time through I feel like the news has been a little more responsible with its reporting of an autism connection. Last time...not so much.

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  10. Unfortunately James my friend, the news media isnt interested in the truth, just exploiting the drama.

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    1. Yeah...hence the letter. Actually I heard many reporters qualify the information.

      But then there was a Facebook page started (and banned) that said if they got 50 likes they'd find an autistic kid and "burn it". What a world man.

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