Written by Joslyn Gray for Babble.com
In the hours and days that followed the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, one detail about Adam Lanza was made public again and again: the young man who killed 27 people that day had Asperger's syndrome, an autism spectrum disorder.
While many news media outlets relayed that detail, very few initially offered any perspective. Later, experts and researchers pointed out that people with Asperger's syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders are actually less likely than neurotypical (non-autistic) people to direct aggression at people outside the family or immediate caregivers. This aggression is almost never planned, and almost never involves weapons, said Dr. Catherine Lord, director of the Center for Autism and the Developing Brain at New York-Presbyterian Hospital.
Also, people with disabilities are far more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, as noted by Ari Ne'Eman, President of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and member of the National Council on Disability.
In the initial news reports, what came across was the idea that autism is somehow scary. And it's just not.
Think I'm over-reacting? Facebook pages started cropping up, including one called "Cure Asperger's, Save Children from Psycho Killers." Despite repeated notifications to Facebook and a petition asking Facebook to remove it, the page continues, although its name has been changed, bizarrely, to "Cure Asperger's, Save Children from Ari Ne'Eman." The psycho killers part is still in the page's URL, however, and the page owner offers posts that start off with "Message to Psycho Killers with Asperger's syndrome."
Fact: I'm far more skeptical about this dude's sanity than I am of my two kids with Asperger's syndrome. This guy is spreading hate in general, and specifically committing libel against Ari Ne'Eman, appointed by President Barack Obama as the first person with a disability to serve on the National Council for Disability.
The worst thing my kids are going to do to you, on the other hand, is entangle you in a detailed discussion of the similarities between Lord Vader and Lord Voldemort.
When mom Alexis Magnusson commented on that page that her son, who has autism, doesn't need to be cured, the page owner told her she was a negligent mother.
"I felt so helpless," said Magnusson, who blogs at Mostly True Stuff. "Working to fight every jerk was draining and making me super-depressed. It's why I made the picture of Casey. It got shared 100 times in the first hour. Then people started posting them to my page. I showed Casey the pictures and he was so excited to see a bunch of people who had what he has. Too see that they are awesome, too. It was an amazing turnabout to a cruddy day."
Many other parents of kids on the spectrum were also concerned about the way Asperger's syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders were being portrayed in the media. Tim Tucker, who writes Both Hands and a Flashlight, set up a Facebook page called Autism Shines as a way to share the positive images.
"We wanted to celebrate autism and the people we love through photos and positive messages," Mr. Tucker wrote recently. "We wanted the world to see the faces of autism and to hear the stories we had to tell. We wanted to do something to change the world for the people we love, particularly because it felt more and more unsafe for them in the wake of this massacre and the media stories."
Autism Shines' website and Facebook page are co-administered by six bloggers. In addition to Mr. Tucker and Ms. Magnusson, the administrators include Jessica Watson of Four Plus an Angel, Flannery Sullivan of Living on the Spectrum: The Connor Chronicles, Jill Smo of Yeah. Good Times., and Danielle A. of ProfMomEsq.
Autism Shines kindly allowed me to share some of those positive images, with express permission of the families and individuals who submitted the photos. I'm struck by how many of the photos' captions include things like "gives the best hugs in the world" or "loves to cuddle." Before my own son was diagnosed with Asperger's, I thought that people with autism were cold, without expression, emotion, or affection.
I was so wrong. I love how these photos bust that myth. Enjoy.
All photos courtesy of Autism Shines with permission of the families.