History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people. ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.
Following the horrific shooting in an Aurora Colorado movie theater in July, Joe Scarborough made the outrageous assumption, with absolutely no information to confirm it, that the shooter must be ‘on the autism scale.’
That day, I wrote the following to Joe.
Dear Joe Scarborough,
Autism is not dangerous.
THIS, however, is.
Ignorance is dangerous.
Television newscasters diagnosing people they’ve never met is dangerous.
A father of a child with Asperger’s who would jump to the conclusion that (an obviously gravely disturbed) mass murderer is autistic is not only dangerous, but appalling.
Assuming that a young man whom you have never met (whom you presume to be autistic because he’s been described by other people who also have never met him as a loner) would become murderous because he doesn’t have (your definition of) a “loving family to support him” is dangerous.
Lack of support, understanding and compassion for autistic people – all of which are eclipsed in a heartbeat by the kind of fear that you have just recklessly promoted – are dangerous.
Autistic people are not any more nor any less dangerous than their neurotypical peers.
Jumping to conclusions which insinuate that they are can be lethal.
Autism is not dangerous. But words can be. Please, Joe, think before you speak.
– May the families of the victims of this horrific crime somehow find peace in the days and weeks ahead. My prayers are with them. –
A few readers questioned why I would focus on Joe’s remarks and asked if giving them attention could actually exacerbate, rather than mitigate, their effect. This, in part, was my response.
Mr Scarborough made a gross generalization that hurts my child. And yours. And all of us. My girl fights an uphill battle every day just to live in this world that isn’t designed for her. She does it with grace and poise and humor and unadulterated, unbridled love and by God, how dare he saddle her with society’s fear that she might just come unglued and kill us all?
How dare he?
This story was not just on the news, it now IS the news. It’s out there. This idea that autism and social isolation equal violence is out there. And someone has to explain, from a platform as big as Morning Joe’s that it’s simply not true.
ASAN Statement on Media Reports Regarding Newtown, CT Shooting
December 14, 2012
In response to recent media reports that the perpetrator of today’s shooting in Newton, Connecticut may have been diagnosed on the autism spectrum or with a psychiatric disability, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) issued the following statement today:
“Our hearts go out to the victims of today’s shooting massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, 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
Thank you, ASAN, for once again being a voice of reason and a true advocate for my girl amid the chaos.
Edited to add:
I am very pleased to say that we have begun to see some actual journalists stepping into to the void to report the TRUTH, dispel the myths about autism and educate their audiences. Particular thanks to Anderson Cooper, Dr Sanjay Gupta and Soledad O’Brien for leading the way, along with ABC News and USA Today. Thank you also to Autism Speaks and GRASP for issuing statements as well.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. ~ Dr Martin Luther King