Autism is the new term for psychotic behavior? I THINK NOT.
There are posts buzzing about the autism lists that the media is saying the murderer at Virginia Tech was autistic. Perhaps a relative in S. Korea uttered the word and it got into a press report? Not one individual who has worked with or taught the man has mentioned autism as far as I know. That doesn't mean the rumors aren't already flying.
Sure, we've heard he was a loner, had no friends, was weird, and was virtually mute as a child. None of which automatically implies or worse diagnoses autism. Have we learned nothing from the Terry Schiavo video proclamation"She's not (brain) dead yet!" debacle courtesy of Dr. Frist?
Here's an example for you. Yes, I realize I am the queen of analogies. I have three girls with autism and I too am a visual thinker, OK? You walk down the street and meet an old friend. He used to have shiny dark brown hair that he wore in a ponytail. He is now bald. You politely hide your shock at his glabrous head. You chat. You go home to your wife and say "I ran into Bill Ponytailman today. He has cancer." Your wife says "He told you he has cancer?" You reply, "Well, no, but he's bald and he always loved that damn ponytail so I assume his hair fell out from chemo." To which your ever so smart wife replies, "No, darling, Bill has alopecia, that ponytail was a wig he wore when we were young to hide his embarrassment." Not all bald people have cancer. Not all loners who do not speak and disavow themselves from social situations have autism. Capece?
Are people with autism sometimes non-verbal? Let me ask my six year old. "Bella, love? Bella? (Pause, wait, file nails, grab coffee, still waiting.) No answer. Yes. People with autism can be non verbal.
Are people with autism sometimes very much alone? Let me ask my 12 year old. "Mia, have you ever been invited to a friend's house for a play date or a sleep over? When was the last time a friend called you on the phone, sweetie?" (Pause again, pluck eyebrows, refresh coffee, read email, clean a toilet.) Yes. People with autism can have few if any real friends in the social, reciprocal sense of the word. I suppose that's being a loner by default, not by choice.
Are people with autism sometimes weird? Let me ask my Gianna. "Miss G., do you ever get frustrated or overwhelmed and lie down on the floor to calm yourself? In public?" Yes. Other fourth graders would surely call this "weird." I read my Judy Blume a looooong time ago, but I'm guessing not much has changed. Kids would call Miss G. weird. Miss G is not weird, I assure you. She's a terrific kid who has developed a coping mechanism for herself.
If the media really begins to call this murderous, evil man autistic, or if the general public simply assumes if they heard the word once it must be true, I will blow my stack. It will insult every person on the planet with autism. And every parent of a child with autism. I guess I get a triple insult.
Ask anyone in the autism world if they know kid with the diagnosis who is genuinely mean or nasty. They may have behaviors that appear to be mean - but there's a difference between a fight or flight response that results in hitting or biting out of self-preservation and just hauling off and hitting someone because you feel like it. And the chasm between bad behavior and mass murder is wider than the space between Madonna's central incisors.
Please don't insult my daughters or anyone else's autistic kids by giving this thug the label "autistic." I have many friends with sons with autism. They will grow up into tall, muscular men. Some already are full grown. Their size intimidates people to begin with. They do NOT need to have people equating autism with dangerous sociopath.
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