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.
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.