Autism Without Fear: Asperger's, Shootings, Healing, Guns

Almost three years have gone by since the horrific Newtown, CT shootings, and here we are again: Ten dead, and 20 injured in Oregon. Yes, there have been school shootings in between (approximately one per week), but the similarities between Chris Harper Mercer, Elliot Rodger in 2014, and Adam Lanza, revolve around suspected autism spectrum conditions.
10/06/2015 06:33 pm ET Updated Oct 06, 2016
ROSEBURG, OR - OCTOBER 05:  A sign at the edge of campus welcomes students and staff back to Umpqua Community College on Octo
ROSEBURG, OR - OCTOBER 05: A sign at the edge of campus welcomes students and staff back to Umpqua Community College on October 5, 2015 in Roseburg, Oregon. Despite crime scene tape still being stretched around large areas of the school, the campus was open to staff and students today for the first time since last Thursday when 26-year-old Chris Harper-Mercer went on a shooting rampage killing nine people and wounding another nine before he was killed. Classes are not scheduled to resume until next week. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Almost three years have gone by since the horrific Newtown, CT shootings, and here we are again: Ten dead, and 20 injured in Oregon. Yes, there have been school shootings in between (approximately one per week), but the similarities between Chris Harper Mercer, Elliot Rodger in 2014, and Adam Lanza, revolve around suspected autism spectrum conditions.

Whether they were on the spectrum or not... doesn't matter. It doesn't matter to the families of the victims.

Even if the diagnostic makeup did (matter), it would seem that larger diagnoses were at play with all three. Yet the true "labels" were not sought out. Living in a world that confused them was one thing -- having no explanation for why they were different, other than the inevitable assumption of second-class citizenship... was another. We can't force anyone to understand how important identity is, not even those parents who can afford the discovery of the true "labels" (i.e. Lanza, Rodgers); how important it is for the labelee to know, and how unimportant the parents' real or imagined shame may be.

We can't control the media interpretations either. We can't get an apology from CNN for how they demonized Asperger's immediately following the Newtown shootings, and we can't bestow Presidential medals on the L. A. Times for how humanely they intervened after a shooting in 2005. In the next few weeks, we won't be able to force broadcast journalists to ask "How can we help people heal?," rather than "Who's to blame here? GET the bad guy!" be it diagnostic, or human (But so far so good).

As a New Yorker during 9/11, I felt so proud. The rest of America wanted revenge in the days that followed. And in our own words, we told those countrymen, "Not now, please. We're going to bury our loved ones, and mourn them, thank you." Still, we couldn't stop said country. No time for mourning, they said.

We will never have that control over others, just as we can't turn back the clock.

"Having Asperger's or the autism spectrum in your life -- as an individual, a parent, etc. -- does not carry any bearing with whether or not you will become (for lack of a better term) "a good person" in this life. While the majority of statistics prove that we are infinitely more prone to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence, we are not immune from becoming people capable of making terrible, horrible choices. No one is."

Back in 2012, or way before that -- during Columbine perhaps -- maybe we underestimated how many of us make those "horrible" choices? Politicians tell us, "these things happen." Well... sure...Now they do...

But they didn't happen before Columbine. And they don't happen in frequency or intensity in most other parts of the developed world. Yes, I know, "liberal goes after the 2nd amendment"...Too easy. Violent video games? Same. So maybe we go in the direction of "No guns for the mentally ill!!!" Also too easy, and impossible standards to negotiate -- where's the drawing line between "sane enough" to own 37 assault rifles, and not sane enough to own 37 assault rifles? Europeans look at the NRA and shake their heads. "Now there's a depiction of mental illness," they infer. Australian comics can riff brilliantly for an astounding fifteen minutes on our gun culture. Yet we're the ones who allow it...

The shootings happen, Obama's speech is always beautiful, there's talk of change, maybe even some momentum, then we get it out of our systems and we're content to go back to "normal," or move onto the next story, like the horrific bombing of an Afghani hospital run by Doctors Without Borders . . . Donald Trump, a guy I went after two columns ago, was right: This is business as usual.

Who's mentally ill?

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Michael John Carley is the Founder of GRASP, a School Consultant, and the author of "Asperger's From the Inside-Out" (Penguin/Perigee 2008), "Unemployed on the Autism Spectrum," (Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2016), "'Why Am I Afraid of Sex?' Building Sexual Confidence in the Autism Spectrum...and Beyond!" (also Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2016), and "The Last Memoir of Asperger's Syndrome" (unpublished). In 2000, he and one of his two sons were diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome. Re-evaluated in 2014, he was diagnosed with ASD. More information can be found at www.michaeljohncarley.com