Ever since Adam Lanza, the gunman in last week's tragic Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, was identified as having Asperger's syndrome, the community has been on the defensive.
Last Friday, autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks released a video called "My Name is David" on YouTube. The video features an animated boy delivering the actual words and voice of the author of the speech, David Shapiro Sharif, a 14-year-old with autism.
Sharif, of Los Angeles, speaks articulately and intelligently about what it is like living with autism. However, the video -- which has over 570,000 YouTube views -- received prompt criticism on autism blog AgeOfAutism.com.
The blog accuses Autism Speaks of misrepresenting autism by presenting a high-functioning person with autism and glossing over the difficulties of autism.
"David’s message is hardly a cause for alarm. He evokes images of Rain Man. He has excellent verbal skills and it’s easy to imagine that kids have always been like this," Anne Dachel wrote on the blog. "Autism doesn’t seem so bad. This kid sounds like he’s doing okay."
She speculated, "I wonder how this would go over if we were shown a boy flapping his hands, unable to speak, wearing a helmet."
In the video, David says he has difficulty with social cues, physical affection, dentist appointments, and reading comprehension, among other things. He also shares his keen ability to store facts and figures, including the capitols of every state and the coaches of every NBA basketball team.
Dachel suggests that the video should have included some of the darker sides of autism, like individuals on the spectrum who are nonverbal, sick often, hurt themselves, in diapers as teenagers, as well as the cost of caring for a generation of adults with autism after their parents have died.
Matthew Asner, Executive Director for Autism Speaks, responded that the video is meant to tell one young man's experience on the autistic spectrum, not everyone's experience.
"In the speech, David says himself that there are some of us who are more high functioning than others," Asner said to HuffPost. "I wanted to produce something that could aid me in teaching people what autism is, and by no means am I giving them a master's degree course in autism."
He clarified that the video was being made for weeks and was put up on Friday without connection to the later discovery that Lanza had Asperger's.
While individuals with Asperger's can become frustrated more easily, there is no evidence of a link between the diagnosis and violent behavior, experts say. And yet, some reporting has suggested a connection between Lanza's diagnosis and the massacre he committed in Newtown, Conn.
"I think it's preposterous that people are making a connection between Asperger's or autism and violence," Asner said to HuffPost. "To me, the media is doing a huge disservice and is hurting a lot of people with this misinformation. Life is hard enough for people with autism, and they don’t need this onus put on them."
Asner told HuffPost that people who knew David when he was a much lower-functioning child were brought to tears when they saw how far he had come in the "My Name Is David" video.
He said that David instills hope, and his video has "touched a lot of hearts."
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