I’m experiencing a combination of anger and sadness as I write this and am working very hard to keep a level head. The fallout from the shooting in Newtown, CT just keeps coming.
In the past week I’ve seen a greater mobilization of the autism community than ever before. A community coming together with one voice to declare that their child on the spectrum is no killer. That their child is safe to play with and have in the classroom.
It is despicable that we as a community are having to have this conversation.
It is disgraceful that children who are shy, withdrawn and doing their best to be a part of their neighborhoods and learning communities are now on threat watch.
The day after the shooting I began receiving emails from mothers asking whether I thought their child might grow up to commit acts of violence.
The next day I received emails from parents whose children became aware of the shooting and asked whether they’d grow up to become violent. “You know I’d never hurt you, right Mom.”
The worst emails I received came yesterday. One was a report that fellow students were asking their peers with Asperger’s when they planned on bringing guns to school.
The one that made my jaw drop was the report that two teachers were overheard saying that the shooter did what he did because he had Asperger’s.
If this is true, and this is what these teachers and others believe then we have a bigger problem than the media’s recent portrayal of Asperger’s.
We have a systemic ignorance of what it means to be on the Autism Spectrum that is so profound, that parents and educators who have known their children for years would suddenly begin to question the destiny of their own children because of the act of one individual who isn’t their child.
If an adult male robs a bank would you look to your buddy and say, “Your turn.”
No, you wouldn’t, why, because you’d have to be an idiot to draw that conclusion.
I understand that fear is at play in a lot of these situations but I can’t believe that reason has been placed into an indefinite coma.
I hope we aren’t on the verge of a witch hunt in which any person with a spectrum label is now on threat watch.
As schools prepare their response to this tragedy in terms of how to support the larger student body, it is imperative that they also gauge the reactions of their own staff.
I’ve received email from teachers and school workers who conveyed their understanding that autism had NOTHING to do with the shooting in Newtown, CT. They now have the double duty of not only supporting their students but policing their colleagues as well.
It is critical to flush out such knee jerk reactions as the ones cited above. An educator who is drinking the media kool-aid and regurgitating that network propaganda on school grounds is a toxic hindrance to healing the wound this situation has created.
I love the educators of this country and the ones working with my own children over the years have been a godsend.
But as you know, it takes one, only one ignorant person who has credibility with their students to undo years of hard work and the social gains made by a student.
What are the lessons of the shooting in CT? Is it the need for better gun control, or mental health services? Is it an indictment of our public school system? Who knows.
As someone who lives with severe learning disabilities, is raising children with special needs and works with the special needs population, this is what I see.
One of the greatest catastrophes of modern society is how we have moved from being a tribe of loyal members to a disconnected collection of human doings who live according to the doctrine of us verses them.
There are the normal students then there are the special needs students.
The Democrats versus the Republicans and so on.
There are some that will say this isn’t so, that they treat everyone the same. Guess what, it isn’t trickling down. Our playgrounds tell a different story. They tell a story of bullying, segregation, and humiliation.
What’s the solution? I don’t know that I have any answers but I do have a suggestion. We as individuals need to look at our lives, at the interests we have and the organizations we belong to. If any of those affiliations lead us to conclude that others who don’t believe what we believe, who don’t live as we live are somehow a threat to us and need to be feared or hated – then THAT is the problem.
One of the greatest lessons of modern times is that there is more than one way to be human. The ever increasing pathologizing and stigmatizing of difference has made that hard to see.
But I want you to know that I see you. I don’t see a label, I see you, the human being. I don’t care about your sexuality, your religion or what sports team you root for, I care about you.
There isn’t one damn thing about me that is better than you because I can’t do this life without you. We are a community, we need one another, we depend on one another and NONE OF US can do this alone.
I don’t fear you because I have more important things to do, like care for you, support you and believe in you.
I am grateful for the unique contribution you bring to this world that does and will make the world a better place because of you.
We’ll get through this together, because frankly, there’s no other way.
Thanks for being you.
Photo Credit Rétrofuturs (Hulk4598) / Stéphane Massa-Bidal via FlickrABOUT THE AUTHOR: Brian R. King LCSW is a Relationship Breakthrough Specialist. His breakthrough strategies draw on his experience as a 24 year cancer survivor, adult with Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, A.D.D., the father of three sons on the autism spectrum as well as someone who lives on the autism spectrum himself. His books and seminars have garnered him worldwide attention for his innovative communication and relationship strategies.