My daughter heard the news yesterday that the killer may have had autism or Aspergers or on the spectrum, and turned to me with horror in her face – “Don’t I have autism?” I cannot tell you how the pain of that cut the wound of yesterday’s events even deeper. I held her and rocked her through not just the horror of the day, but her terror at being lumped in the same category as this evil, evil man.
I never turned on the television last night. Reading the news online was bad enough. Had I turned on the television, I would have not been able to stop crying, terrified my children, and never stopped holding them. I knew I couldn’t handle it. And so, I turned away from it in order to save my own sense of stability, my own sense of strength and to send prayers to the families. Like so many others, we stayed quiet at home and treasured what we have: our health, our love, our future and our peace. I value those things and can realize how small the little irritants really are. There were few words that could be said.
But there are a few things that I can say that need to be understood as we become caught up in the deep call of WHY? that is resounding because the answer of “just because” is not good enough.
This is for the teachers out there- in the wake of yesterday’s horrible atrocities, there are many, many things being written. I hope that this finds but a few of my teaching colleagues- and the teachers to come.
First, it needs to be recognized that teaching puts us on the front lines. That a very sick, evil person who is seeking to create as much horror as possible, will seek out and hurt children because by killing the innocents, a statement is made about the loss of a future. There were numerous teachers and one very brave principal who tried to stop the massacre by literally throwing themselves in front of the madman, and who huddled children in closets and who tried to reassure and show children that there are people that you can count on. It needs to be recognized that teaching is about helping children- their minds, their hearts, and their lives. Can we please stop bashing teachers when they are the ones to whom we entrust our future and our children’s lives everyday?
The quote from Mr. Rogers is making the round: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ To this day, especially in times of ‘disaster,’ I remember my mother’s words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers – so many caring people in this world.” Teachers are some of the most caring people I know and they face great stress and pressure every single day. Teachers are helpers. Everyday.
The other issue is that while there are rumors that the gunman had autism, that is no more relevant to his warped state of mind than the fact that he was male, he was white, he was in the middle class, or he came from a divorced family. He may have had autism, but autism did not make him who he was.
Simply put: Autism does NOT make you a killer.
Teachers who are looking at the events of yesterday, and feeling the pain, not just of their own personal children, but of our colleagues, cannot be afraid of a child with autism more than they are afraid of any other child from any other background. Children with autism cannot handle the emotional intensities of others and so they walk away. NOT because they don’t care, but because they care too much. They look “unfeeling” but it is because they have fewer emotional walls than others and they choose to put the emotions “over there” rather than lose themselves to the emotional intensities around them. It’s a coping strategy- compartmentalizing. Dealing with something later. Scarlett O’Hara embodied it in her line “I’ll think about that tomorrow“.
Please read the following statement from the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) released today:
“Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newton, Connecticut and their families. Recent media reports have suggested that the perpetrator of this violence, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a diagnosis on the autism spectrum, or with another psychiatric disability. In either event, it is imperative that as we mourn the victims of this horrific tragedy that commentators and the media avoid drawing inappropriate and unfounded links between autism or other disabilities and violence. Autistic Americans and individuals with other disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crime than non-disabled people. In fact, people with disabilities of all kinds, including autism, are vastly more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the perpetrators. Should the shooter in today’s shooting prove to in fact be diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with another disability, the millions of Americans with disabilities should be no more implicated in his actions than the non-disabled population is responsible for those of non-disabled shooters.
Today’s violence was the act of an individual. We urge media, government and community leaders to speak out against any effort to spuriously link the Autistic or broader disability community with violent crime. Autistic Americans and other groups of people with disabilities persist in facing discrimination and segregation in school, the workplace and the general community. In this terrible time, our society should not further stigmatize our community. As our great nation has so many times in the past, let us come together to both mourn those killed by acts of heinous murder and defend all parts of our country from the scourge of stigma and prejudice.”
Media inquiries regarding this shooting may be directed to ASAN at firstname.lastname@example.org
I don’t know what caused Adam Lanza to take the lives of so many babies and brave ones. I don’t know why- I’m not sure we’ll ever know why.
But in that roar of “WHY?”, the answer is not “autism”.