Like most of the world, I have been utterly devastated by the horrific acts in Newtown, Connecticut. But as much as we collectively ache, we can never experience what the families are going through. We can only empathize, let them know they are in our thoughts and prayers, and keep the memory of those children and heroic adults close to our hearts.
Yet as the media rushes to answer the question of "why," blame gets tossed around from one topic to another. I happen to think the media has a responsibility to be careful in reporting, especially as some begin to link the shooter to autism. Even in saying in passing that he lands on the autism spectrum is enough to get society talking. Reporters need to learn the difference between mental illness and a disability. Autism is a developmental disability that affects verbal and nonverbal communication and social interactions. But due to quick journalistic reporting, my sadness for those small children whose faces I cannot get from my mind has doubled with fear for all those children in the world with autism. It wasn't enough they were already stared at when in public -- now they will be faced with fear as fingers point at them and blame is laid at their feet. As if one person's actions speak for an entire group.
I've spent the past year on social media and traveling to schools, bookstores and libraries to share the message to not fear someone simply because they are different. My godson has autism and last fall I entered a contest for a children's book I had written based on him. The autism community was amazing in taking to this comic-book type story where a little boy with autism pretends to be a superhero. The country was able to vote online and the book won the People's Choice Award from the MeeGenius Author Challenge. Even though I have authored other books, this particular book changed the trajectory of my life and I was on a mission to share this story with as many people as I could because I believe so strongly in the message of children not to be afraid of someone with autism.
I'm not an expert in the field. I'm not even a parent of a child with autism. I am one man that loves my godson as well as all of the children I come into contact with who deal with autism on a daily basis. Each of them is different. Autism may be one word, but it is not one way of acting. One in 88 children has been identified as having autism. Those are incredible numbers and make the odds of people coming in contact with someone on the spectrum very high. The last thing I would want to see happen is that people might fear that one in a group of 88. I would hate to see, too, that one child with autism seeing him or herself through the eyes of a news reporter who is making it seem as if autistic children are more prone to violence.
Parents have taken to blogs now for damage control and thankfully there have been other stories emerge the past few days to show it is not right for us to place blame for this horrendous event on autism. There will be plenty of time for the truth to be revealed to answer the question of "why" this gut-wrenching act occurred. So for now, let's not be quick to rush to judgment and in doing so, tear down many more loving children in the process.
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