With this month’s horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, the town of almost 30,000 citizens mourned and grieved the loss of 26 people; 20 of whom were children around the ages of seven to ten. During the brief time frame of the tragedy, one victim (a substitute teacher) was declared a hero for saving the lives of her students while President Barack Obama spoke twice; holding onto emotions and fighting tears at the White House and encouraging the stricken community of Newtown to persevere while pushing the government for stronger child protection laws two nights later.
The gunman was 20-year old Adam Lanza. As investigators continue to uncover the details of the massacre and learn more about Lanza’s life, this 10-minute tragedy will continue rigorous and controversial debates over gun control and, in our case, any new professional treatments of the mentally ill, which can include those on the autism spectrum. Bob and Suzanne Wright of Autism Speaks posted on Facebook quoting “People want immediate or simple answers when an unimaginable tragedy like this occurs. Autism did not cause this horror. The profound tragedy of these senseless murders will only be compounded if it results in unwarranted discrimination against people with autism.”
Mr. and Mrs. Wright brought up an interesting point. As mentioned, new treatments for those on the autism spectrum will be brought into question. However, this potentially inhumane possibility should never be considered.
As of now, it is unfair to assume so early that Lanza’s autism was the main drive in his decision to commit the massacre. We knew that Lanza was physically and emotionally detached from social interaction and society, but these can be traced back to anybody; even those without autism. These are merely general signs of isolation, lack of interest in social interaction, and potential depression, and anybody is capable of experiencing it.
If the assumption that Lanza’s autism was the main reason for the massacre continues while it is yet to be proven, the stereotype of destructive degradation and mistreatment of those on the autism spectrum will affect other innocent children and adults; both physically and emotionally.
Take this from a writer who happens to be on the autism spectrum. As early as I can remember, I had to go through many rounds of physical and speech therapy, and had plenty of assistance through school because it was predicted that I would never gain the potential nor the independence to lead a regular social and productive life. I am both fortunate and grateful to be able to move beyond my personal barriers and earn the independent life I have today.
However, the same can not be said for others, such as Lanza. Because of the possibility that certain people may be unable to move beyond certain barriers, such as proper social or communication skills, they can be misjudged and treated inhumanely by further disconnecting them from the real world when they have the same rights and privileges just as regular people do. In reality, we could very well be jumping to conclusions on the capabilities of people on the spectrum under this investigation. The problems and challenges they face are no different from others.
I strongly urge people to think of the possibility that Lanza’s autism did not cause this horrific tragedy, and that many innocent young children and adults on the autism spectrum could, and should never be treated as potential criminals under this negative stereotype. Perhaps if we were to give everyone a fighting chance in to proving themselves to society the people they truly are, this would never be an issue to even think about.
About The Author
This is a guest blog post by Alec MacKenzie. Alec is a student at Oakton Community College, and an occasional contributor to JJ’s List. He hopes to finish his Associate’s Degree in the summer of 2013, and pursue an occupation in either Human Services or Social Sciences. Alec is also a member of the JJ’s List Disability Awareness Players.
- Autism Rights Group: Asperger’s Does Not Explain Newtown School Massacre (newyork.cbslocal.com)
- Alex Plank at CNN.com: Leave autism out of mass shootings (leftbrainrightbrain.co.uk)