What Autism Parents Want You To Know About Autism And Violence

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

I held his hand a little bit tighter this weekend.

Friday night I rushed home from work and hugged and kissed my six-year-old son, Norrin. Later that evening, I held him close as I read him a bedtime story. About halfway through, tears started streaming down my face. I thought of all the parents in Newtown, Connecticut who couldn’t read their baby a bedtime story.

The last few days have been heartbreaking. Our nation is grieving. Like many of you, I have been glued to the news. Watching, crying, aching, praying. I cannot imagine the pain and the grief of the families in Newtown. We live in a world with so much senseless violence. And I cannot help but wonder: Is there no safe place for a child?

And in the wake of this horrific unspeakable tragedy, many autism parents are coming forward defending autism, defending their children. Miz Kp of Sailing Autistic Seas writes, “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.“ The shooter has been described as possibly having “some form of autism.” And as a community, we are wondering how do we explain this horror to our children and how do we explain to everyone else that autism has nothing to do with such violence?

This isn’t the first time autism has been linked to mass murder. Back in July, a well known journalist made a statement about the Aurora killer being somewhere on the autism spectrum. Autism is a word so many parents fear to hear. And these statements perpetuate that fear.

Hearing reporters once again state that the shooter may be somewhere on the autism spectrum, followed by the words, mental illness and/or personality disorder – implies that one has to do with the other. It implies that autism is a factor. There are still so many people who have no idea what autism is. To have it associated with individuals responsible for such heinous crimes against innocent people—children…I want people to be aware of autism. But this is not the awareness I want.

Autism is neurological developmental disorder. Autism is not a mental illness, nor is it a personality disorder. There is no link between autism and premeditated violence I am grateful to the journalists who are taking the time to clarify this.

I keep hearing on the news that individuals with autism lack empathy. As a mother to a young son with autism – I do not believe this to be true. It’s not empathy they lack, they lack the ability to read facial cues. So they may not understand when/if someone is sad, angry or hurt. Norrin understands these things, on the occasions he sees me crying – he’ll bring me a tissue to wipe my tears.

Monday morning, I will pack Norrin’s backpack, help him put on coat, kiss him goodbye before putting him on the bus to his school more than twenty miles away. I will hope he has a good day and that he returns home to tell me about it. I am grateful that Norrin goes to school where the staff, students and parents of students understand autism.

But not all children with autism go to schools where everyone understands. Kids with autism are often misunderstood by their typical peers and are often left out. There are many young men and women with autism in college. Please do not ostracize them more because you fear them.

Norrin is unaware of the tragedy. I am grateful he can hold on to his innocence a little bit longer. One mom on my Facebook page said she was going to write a social story for her sons on the importance of  ”follow[ing] the teachers instructions during events like this for their safety.

But there are so many children who are aware. And they will have questions. Please assure them that autism had nothing to do with it. Please assure them that autism is nothing to fear.

One mother (Jill of Yeah. Good Times) was prompted to write a letter to her school district explaining what autism is and isn’t. In her letter she writes: “What happened in Connecticut required methodical planning of a deliberate and tremendously violent act; this is not typical behavior of an autistic person.” Jill closed her letter encouraging parents to contact her if they have questions. She also welcomes other parents to share her letter with their school districts.

My heart goes out to all the families and friends of Sandy Hook Elementary. It is a tragic loss none of us will forget. We will always remember the faces and names of the sweet children and brave teachers taken away too soon.

And I hope that we remember this horrific act of violence was not a result of autism.

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  1. by Stimey

    On December 17, 2012 at 8:02 am

    Thank you so much for this.

  2. by Miz Kp

    On December 17, 2012 at 12:26 pm

    Thanks for helping to spread awareness and enlighten others during this sad and emotional time. As emotions run high, it is important to process what happened in Newtown. At the same time, it is important to process it with the correct information. As the mom of a five-yr old on the autism spectrum, this is important to me.

  3. by Jenny Saul-Avila

    On December 17, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    I have also thought about the part of Autism that does not line up with that kind of calculated, premeditated murder. People with Autism may have meltdowns that include some injurious behavior – but they’re on the spot, sudden & local. Yes, there are people with Autism who may ALSO have a personality disorder that would lead to this kind of horrific act – but it’s that personality disorder NOT the Autism that is to blame.

  4. by kathleen

    On December 18, 2012 at 4:48 pm

    my son has autism!!! And I HATE this blaming people with autism. Do they really know if he had this or not? My son is 8 years old and nonverbal he goes to a public school which he is in classes with other kids with autism. He is a caring boy who can melt your heart. As he cant tell us what is going on with words he does just by looking at you and he seems to know just when you need a hug or a kiss. Please dont blame autism. This guy had this planned out he knew what he was doing. And my heart breaks everytime I read about this story I pray that the parents find peace and comfort. I have a daughter who doesnt have autism and when we told them what had happe I saw fear in their eyes. Kids and grown ups with autism are GREAT please dont blame this terrible thing on autism. Maybe we should start getting help for people and families that have mental illnesses and maybe this wont happen again.

  5. by Amy Dyer (The Parent Patch)

    On December 18, 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Thank you so much for writing this. My hope is that this article finds many people and brings about a greater awareness of Austism. As a high school teacher, I was part of the lives of many children on the autistic spectrum and found them to be beautiful in so many ways.

  6. by Ella

    On December 19, 2012 at 4:10 am

    While it is definitely incorrect to blame this tragic event on autism, it is important to note the link that can be made between both neurological disorders such as autism and extreme mental illness and the unhealthy state of the gut. By healing the gut and changing their diet to a natural, unprocessed one, people with all kinds of neurological and mental illnesses can be helped dramatically and if caught young enough, the illnesses can often be reversed entirely. I have been watching this happen with my cousin’s two year old son – he has been following Natasha Campbell McBride’s Gut and Psychology Syndrome for two months and has improved massively already. He is almost back to the happy smiling kid he was before his first vaccination around his first birthday.

    It’s important to remember that autism and mental illness aren’t usually conditions people are born with. Yes, there may be predisposing genetic factors but there is always a trigger – diet, vaccines, trauma etc.

    I live in hope for the day where as well as gun control we see more awareness of the causes (primarily digestive) of mental and neurological illness so we can start helping people to heal these issues rather than just managing them with medication or behavioural aids.