Tuesday, December 18th, 2012
Sunday night at book club, six women—all of us mothers—could talk of nothing else but the Connecticut shootings. We discussed the senselessness, the fears we had, the whys. One woman mentioned that the killer may have had Asperger syndrome, along with another personality disorder. Another mother jumped in, wondering whether the social challenges the killer had faced as a child could have produced rage against children.
I was so agitated to hear this. “There is no connection between autism and this kind of violence,” I said, trying to keep my voice steady. “It has yet to emerge what was up with this guy, but if he did have Asperger’s, it wasn’t the reason.”
It’s been five days since the Connecticut shootings happened, and the massacre has weighed heavily on many parents’ hearts and minds. We have sobbed in front of our TV screens and huddled over our computers, feeling pain for the grieving families.
It’s also been five days since reporters started musing whether Adam Lanza had Asperger syndrome, and that’s weighed heavily on many parents hearts and minds, too. Parents of kids with autism have spoken out, including Lisa Quinones-Fontanez and Laura Shumaker, noting that autism is a neurodevlopmental disorder, not a form of mental illness—and that no studies show a link between autism and planned violence.
It’s almost as if it is easier to seize on that terribly wrong idea that autism could have played a role than to grapple with the real issues here. Sadly, so much is misunderstood about autism spectrum disorder and what it means to have it, as so much is not understood about having special needs in general. There is fear connected with special needs, fear of kids and adults who are different, fear and misunderstanding I regularly face with my son, who has cerebral palsy. Still, it was shocking that misconceptions about autism and violence shared headlines with debate about gun control.
The fact is, this tragedy of all tragedies could have never happened if Lanza didn’t have those guns. Maybe it will turn out that he wasn’t getting the support he needed for mental illness. Maybe he watched too much violent stuff on TV as a kid or played violent games. Maybe he was on drugs. Still, deaths by bullets cannot occur without guns. They are a weapon of mass destruction. Lanza used a particularly lethal semi-automatic rifle on those children and adults; investigators have linked him to a total of five weapons. The shooter’s mother had a stockpile of arms in her home, which may be where Lanza got his. She took her son to an area gun range on multiple occasions, reports say.
President Obama had strong words at the Sunday night memorial in Newton alluding to a potential crackdown on gun control. “No single law, no set of laws, can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society,” he said. “But that can’t be an excuse for inaction.”
It remains to be seen what sort of action the President will take. For now, instead of speculating whether or not one lone gunman had special needs, people could be supportive of ways to prevent heinous acts like this from happening again. I signed this petition asking President Obama to start a national conversation about gun control; I’ll be writing my congressional rep about that, too (there’s a form letter here). Meanwhile, this group of parents is hoping to meet with senators in Washington, D.C., to discuss their children’s mental illness and advocate for more support and care.
Pushing for gun control and more support for mental illness aren’t the only answers, but they could very well help; blaming autism does the opposite, hurting kids and adults who have it as well as those who love them. I hope in the coming days and weeks more people will honor the memory of the children and adults who perished by steering the conversation toward what could prevent another school shooting.
Image of hexagon with stop violence symbol via Shutterstock