Explaining the Unexplainable

The recent school shooting in Connecticut has raised a huge furor in the autism community.  The shooter was reported to have Asperger's Syndrome.  Somehow the media felt this explained his inexplicable actions.  A thing that sickens humanity is capable because he has a mild form of autism?


We who live with autism every day know this cannot be true.  Actually, our kids seem to feel their and others' emotions at a higher level than others do.  When they don't appear to react, or they react inappropriately, to others' emotions, the reason is not that they do not feel.  Many times they are overwhelmed with the emotion and their ability to cope shuts down.  Other times they don't understand the emotion.  My sons cannot understand how you would laugh through tears.  Their understanding of emotions is simplified.  When they are angry, they are angry,  When they are sad, they are sad.  So many times I have seen my sons pick up and amplify my emotions.  When my first son was diagnosed with autism, I started crying.  He was nonverbal at the time, but he was so concerned.  He came over and hugged me and started signing 'Happy.'  Now, when I am laughing about things he does not understand, he tries to tickle me.  He wants to feel that he understands the emotion, and he knows that tickling leads to laughter.  My oldest cannot understand how someone like Hitler could be so evil.  And I admit that I cannot explain it to him.  Some people just are evil.

I have mixed feelings about the universal discussion that has been forced on us from the media reports.

What I am (somewhat) pleased about it that the wider discussion affords us the chance to correct misperception, educate others and make it known that we need better access to care and better payment for mental health care.  All my specialized knowledge did me little good last year when my severely autistic son went off the deep end and raged with aggression and self injurious behaviors for 17 hours a day for almost 9 months.  We were never told there was any hospitalization that would have been appropriate for him.  We found out months later that the nearest place is 3 hours away.

What I have, obviously, been dismayed about is the suggestion that autism causes mass murder.

My sons have been aggressive, to a degree.  However, the aggression that my children are capable of is a self-protective, reactive kind of aggression.  It is like every nerve is raw and they are trying to make the pain stop.  It is immediate.  I have been bitten by my most affected son.  I have been kicked by my little Aspie when the anger takes over.  They have all hit and bit each other.  But less, I suspect, than some siblings!

We have children that present us with unusual challenges.  Preoccupations with concepts like death are common, and sometimes worry us.  Aggressive behaviors worry us.  It is important that we address these on multiple fronts.  Educating ourselves and our children at their developmental level, continuing to help our children communicate, medicating if necessary.  Sometimes it will be necessary to confine them in a hospital setting or group home to ensure their safety and ours.  This is never simple or straightforward.  We must continually rethink our plans to make sure these plans are right for our changing children and changing environments.

We must support the decisions that other parents make, even if we think we could never make them.  Nothing is worse than making a very difficult decision like medicating or putting your child in a group home than having another parent, who could someday be in that very position, criticize the decision.  Just as no two children are alike, no two families are alike.  There are so many different pressures, levels of social support, troubled marriages, other emotional or health related issues that could impact a decision.

We must have community supports.  Understanding that our kids have challenges, but are amazing and enrich the lives of everyone they come in contact with.  Many people are speaking up on these issues because they know my kids or have read my reports on them.  I am proud that my cousin nearly got into a fist fight with a jerk who had an erroneous opinion on this topic!  Before we friended each other on Facebook, he had little knowledge of autism.  Now he speaks up for my kids and kids like them.  So we must continually educate our communities about our successes and our challenges.  As we educate others, the truth will spread.

And we must have governmental supports in place to make sure that adequate medical care is available.  And paid for.  No insurance company is going to want to pay for the therapies and educations that will help our children grow into healthy productive adults.

But the future of all our children depends on it.

Our kids are far more likely to be the victims of crimes and abuse than the source.


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