Sunday, December 16, 2012

Autism and the Recent Tragedy

I am an autistic adult woman. Autism experts such as Dr. Tony Attwood know that autistic kids are more likely to be bullied and to suffer more severe types of bullying than other children. On page 98 of his book The Complete Guide to Asperger's Syndrome, Attwood states that according to a survey in 2002, 90% of children with Aspergers were bullied in the past year. The rate of bullying for autistic kids aged 4 to 17 was four times the rate for other children.  Autistic children are more likely to be subjected to systematic shunning by their peers as a result of their social disabilities. 

Like most autistic people, I was mercilessly bullied and shunned by my peers as a kid. But the thought of committing mass murder never crossed my mind. And also the killer was apparently home-schooled and thus less vulnerable to bullying than I was. Autism did NOT cause this tragedy.  The killer was an evil human being who made a cruel choice to bring suffering, death, and hatred into the world. Ultimately, we all have freedom of choice, and we all need to take responsibility for our decisions and the effects of our actions upon others.

Today during my physical therapy session, one of my neighbors expressed compassionate ignorance about autism and Asperger's to me.  She said,"he's not normal.  He is autistic."  Apparently she thinks that autistic people are not 'normal' and that autism is some sort of defect.

In addition, she also believes that autism is incompatible with morality.  She said about the killer,"He is autistic.  He doesn't know the difference between right and wrong."  I found this comment incredibly hurtful, and yet I know that she spoke out of ignorance rather than malice.  She doesn't realize that autistic people have a very high sense of personal ethics and a very clear understanding of the difference between right and wrong.  Weak social skills do not imply an inability to grasp ethical principles. 

Further, I told her that I am autistic and I have Asperger's Syndrome.  But she told me that I wasn't a typical autistic person because, "You're walking, you're talking, you're able to interact socially."  Apparently she has a stereotypical and limited understanding of autistic people, whom she imagines as being like Rainman and not being capable of normal interaction with their fellow human beings.

I am rededicating myself to educating and informing people about autism because I have found from personal experience that educating people about autism makes a huge difference.  I have told my story to my physical therapist, who is moved by my experience and my desire to change things for other people.  She had no knowledge of autism before meeting me, and now she is beginning to understand it better.  People fear autism because they don't understand it.  Thus, the more informed people are about the subtle aspects of autism, the less they will fear autistic people. 

Also, after seeing these innocent children so brutally murdered, all of a sudden I am much less angry at society for destroying my career.  I stopped writing about autism publicly because I found reflection upon my personal experiences to be too painful and traumatic.  But in light of this tragedy, my career trauma seems much more bearable.  I am emotionally more prepared to begin coming to terms with and sharing my story.  I feel an enormous burden being lifted off the weight of my shoulders, and a sense of inner peace is starting to replace a prior feeling of despair and powerlessness about my destiny. 


  1. Most people think they know what autism/Aspergers is. However, unless they've actually walked in the shoes of someone with this difference, they have no clue what it really is. Besides, it's a spectrum varies from one individual to the next.

    Like you, I was bullied unmercifully. It happened at home, in the neighborhood, & at school. It happened in groups or sometimes my tormentor was a single person. Age wasn't a factor, as my bullies also happened to be my parents & educators, even bosses. Some guidance...verbal & physical abuse, accusations & even death threats resulted in my being terrified of most every other human being. I was an only child. I had no defense, & if I tried to defend myself, I was labeled as a troublemaker or worse. Yet, I never once considered the kind of carnage that happened last Friday. All I have ever wanted in life as a child & adult was to be accepted & respected by others. I am expected to be respectful...why is it that others cannot behave the same way? We wonder why a young man could do such a thing...I wonder too. In all my years, I have never once sought out to purposefully harm or take another life. Aspergers was not the reason why this happened. There is another underlying cause. Unfortunately, we cannot get into the head of another individual to know why something so terrible could happen. All we can do is try to prevent another instance of violence & death in our society in the future.

  2. I have recently started sharing my story as well...