We don't like being reminded of our vulnerability. It's too frightening. So when a tragedy happens, we look for reasons that the same thing won't happen to us. We look for things we wouldn't have done or differences between us and the ones who died. When someone is robbed, we say to ourselves, "Well, I would never be out that late at night." When someone dies in a car accident, we say, "She must have been driving too fast." Reasons for tragedies make it safe for us to send our children to school, to go to work or to sleep at night.
But the Connecticut tragedy happened at an elementary school, like the one we went to, like the one we send our children to, a place we would all feel safe. But we still must find a difference because feeling vulnerable is too dangerous. So we look to the shooter. When we hear he was autistic, we think, "Ah, so that's the problem."
Except that's not the problem. Autism does not create killers.
When my son was diagnosed with autism, I didn't know any autistic persons. I thought autism was a permanent lack of connection, a brain dysfunction that meant my child would never feel affection for me or for anyone else. I was so wrong. Autism is not a lack of connection. It is not a lack of affection or emotion. It's a communication disorder, sensory issues, a different schedule of development. Autistic persons have the same emotions, the same feelings of love and the same fears.
After my son was diagnosed, I was lucky. I found a psychologist with a foundation in child development who explained autism as a communication disorder, sensory problems and a different schedule of development. I found friends whose autistic children were loving, and anxious, and happy, and worried, with a different schedule of development. I found autistic adults who were thoughtful and reflective and anxious and outsiders and fearful and affectionate and joyful and wickedly smart and brilliantly funny and happy and supportive. They have the same emotions, the same worries, and the same attachments as everyone.
We don't know the circumstances that brought the Connecticut shooter to kill people. We don't know his home life, his network of support or lack of it, or his childhood experiences. We may never know. And that leaves us with the uncomfortable feeling of vulnerability.
But it is better for us to struggle with our uncomfortable feeling, better for us to consider the possibility that we might never know, rather than make an entire class of persons out to be scapegoats, simply because they have a communication disorder.
You don't want to live in fear for your children. I don't either. I don't want to live in fear for my child, my friends' children, or my autistic friends, who will be put at risk for discrimination, bullying, teasing, or abuse, merely for having a communication disorder and sensory issues.
We all want our children and our schools to be safe, to feel like safe places to be. Let's look at other reasons, factual reasons that put us in danger. But don't blame autism.
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