Just like the rest of you, I was completely taken aback and distressed by the Sandy Hook tragedy this past Friday. I grieved for the families, cried, and hugged my own children.
After a couple of days, though, something else was added to my sadness for the victims and their families. Almost immediately the media began to latch on to the fact that someone said that the shooter had Asperger's Syndrome and suddenly the talk was all about autism and mental illness. People began to almost demonize children and adults who are on the autism spectrum - specifically who have Asperger's. I even read comments where children like this should be locked away and that people with this type of mental illness should never be trusted. Autism, by the way, is classified as a neurological disorder, NOT a mental illness.
People also began to demonize the mother because she supposedly took her son out of school to homeschool him for a little while and she taught her son to shoot. Well, I guess that means that Sarah and I are horrible parents. Not only do we homeschool our two autism spectrum children (along with their older brother) but we also teach them to shoot! Many of you know that my two oldest children, John Allen and Joshua (our Asperger's Syndrome child) are excellent marksmen and have done very well at shooting competitions. John Allen won an award for being the best shooter at a state competition a couple of years ago and Joshua is probably just as good as John Allen was (if not better) at his age.
I hurt for my children and other autistic children and their parents when I hear people say how terrible this mother was and what terrible choices she made for her son. It seems like whenever they say this the terms "Asperger's Syndrome" and "mental illness" are used almost interchangeably. Let me just state that there have also been many experts that have said that Asperger's Syndrome is not a mental illness and that their is absolutely nothing in the definition of an Asperger's child that talks about violence of this nature. Asperger's Syndrome DID NOT cause Adam Lanza to do the things that he did! By continuing to perpetuate this notion, the media and others are causing unwanted fear toward our children. As on of my friends who also has an Asperger's child put it, "Years of work on the part of so many to educate the general population about autism, and then such careless and ignorant statements from the press take us 100 steps back for the 10 taken forward."
I pray that folks are now not going to look down on my children and other autistic children. Are they going to be allowed to participate in the things that they love to do? Are people going to include them in activities? Or, are they going to be shunned because some individuals will think, "heaven forbid, we don't want those type children mixing with our children. They could snap, become violent at any moment, and hurt someone."
Just the other day my wife posted on Facebook about a conversation that she had with Joshua. It went something like this...
I was watching the news last night and it was talking about the shooter of the Newtown, CT shooting and how he had autism/Aspergers. Joshua, my 12 yr old Aspergers son, said "Mom I am afraid. I have Aspergers and I hope my Aspergers doesn't make me do something like that." My heart broke. I tried to explain to him Aspergers didn't make the young man shoot others. He had other problems and issues. I wished the media would become better informed before they started stereotyping certain groups. This causes more harm than good when you don't know what you are talking about!! There are a lot of precious, loving and compassionate Aspergers children and adults who don't deserve to be stereotyped because of one persons senseless act. After we talked I prayed over Joshua and told him that he was fearfully and wonderfully made and that mommy and daddy loved him and would do all that they could to help him to be what God has created him to be...an Aspergers young man after God's own heart.
My heart goes out to the victims and their families as well as the other children and teachers that were involved in this terrible tragedy. As each day goes by and they hold each funeral, I pray for those dear parents, relatives and friends who will never see their loved ones again this side of Heaven. I can't imagine losing a child. The grief must be unfathomable.
I pray, also, that the recent media coverage doesn't, indeed, stereotype children and adults who are on the autism spectrum. I pray that people will look at them and realize that, just as God is working in every one's life, God is working in their lives to make them everything that He has created them to be...young men and women after His own heart.