For the last week or so, our family has been on vacation. So when the tragedy in Newtown, CT took place, I followed the aftermath through my phone on Facebook, and occasional news headlines that made it through to South Africa. I wasn’t able to blog, and refrained from a brief statues update when that couldn’t possibly convey the range of emotions I was experiencing- both upon hearing the news, and then observing the media reactions.
When you live a life like ours, this feeling of distance is always present. I’ve been a US citizen for five years now, which is often deemed not American enough by some to comment on news or politics- even when, as a federal employee, it affects me more directly than most. And then again, if I mention something happening in my native UK, I’m dismissed as someone who hasn’t lived there for years. If I try to explore what is happening in South Africa, the country where I now live, I’m told I can’t possibly understand.
I don’t belong anywhere. I feel for everywhere.
Like so many on hearing of the shooting at Sandy Hook, I thought of my own children. Pudding is also in kindergarten. It could have been her.
We don’t know why Adam Lanza killed the children and staff of Sandy Hook, but this hasn’t stopped intense speculation. The media suggested that the shooter had Asperger’s Syndrome, and within days this association of violence, murder, and ASD was disseminated through news networks and across social media. It didn’t matter of there was a formal diagnosis or not, here was a cause that people were willing to accept. Blog posts have sprung up with family members outing their autistic relatives as potential mass murderers, and before long we have something like witch trials. Facebook pages full of hate speech, designed to intimidate autistic individuals and those who love them.
Adam Lanza may have had Asperger’s Syndrome. We don’t know. But violence is not a criteria for that diagnosis. Autism was not the cause.
I read many interesting rebuttals during the last week, but they still didn’t always sit well with me. Many wrote that this didn’t happen because of autism, but rather mental illness. Long before I became the mother of a child with Asperger’s Syndrome, I worked as a carer for adults with various physical disabilities and mental health problems. I can honestly say that spending as much time as I did with people with such diagnoses as schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder, I felt no fear. As is the case with autistic individuals, those with psychiatric disorders are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime than the ones carrying them out. What’s more, both are far more likely to be the victims of violent crime than are neurotypicals.
On social media, I saw many parents who said they now feared to send their children to school, and were calling for armed guards. I live in a ‘critical crime threat’ country, where my children do go to schools protected by armed guards. Believe me, it doesn’t make me worry any less.
We do know that two of the child victims at Sandy Hook were diagnosed on the autism spectrum. I can only imagine their parents’ heartache trying to come to peace with their devastation as innocent individuals are demonized for their autism diagnosis. I’ve read several account of friends with autistic children fearing to send them to school- not because of the risk of gun crime, but the very real threat of bullying as a fall out from all of this. There is potential for so many more victims here if we aren’t careful.
While I don’t want to get into a gun control debate, I have lived in a country where they were banned following a similar incident, and one where shootings are commonplace. I know where I feel safer.
Perhaps having a more global perspective changes the way you view things. One thing is certain though- I’m completely unable to distance myself from what happened last week. I don’t know why this happened, but I know that unless we are careful with where we lay the blame, there is vast potential for many more innocent victims.
Sometimes you can only dispel myths with truth, hate with love, and the ugly with natural beauty. Some friends created the Autism Shines Facebook Page as a way to challenge these misconceptions of autism. I urge everyone to check it out, and perhaps contribute as an autism advocate or ally.