In December 2012 I wrote a blog following the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary school, and the connection between the young man who carried out that atrocity and Aspergers. Over the weekend we have again seen yet another tragic, senseless mass shooting, and again connection to a young man apparently living with Aspergers
After the events of this weekend in Santa Barbara California, I wanted to share with you some further thoughts on the issue, and reshare words that made my heart break when my son said “Mum, that’s not how people with Asperger’s think”
Every time I hear of yet another ‘mass shooting’, my heart misses a beat and I hold my breath waiting for the words that will often follow.
“Carried out by a killer who was a loner; isolated; bullied, etc., etc.” Then followed by the words I dread but I just know are next…“and diagnosed with a ‘condition’; a ‘disease’; or ‘suffers from a form of Autism called Asperger’s .” It is then I exhale and my heart sinks.
First of all, let’s make one thing very clear. Asperger’s syndrome or Autism is not a mental health issue. It is a complex neurological difference where those diagnosed process information differently. It is not a disease nor do people suffer from it. It is true that some people with a mental illness can have Asperger’s or Autism, as they can also have ADD, Schizophrenia, Depression, ODD or numerous other conditions –but Asperger’s Syndrome and mental illness do not go hand in hand. They have nothing to do with each other!
My 29 year old son, who was diagnosed with Asperger’s in 1997 when he was 12 years old, is now a University graduate, holding down a wonderful job and in a loving relationship. He is understandably upset by the press and the public’s attempt to link Autism Spectrum in any way to so many of these tragic mass murders.
In December 2012, we sat together watching the tragedy of Sandy Hook unfold, he turned to me with tears in his eyes and said:
“We just get to a place where those of us with Asperger’s are beginning to be understood, then something like this happens and I wonder if people will judge and make assumptions about me?”
(In the case of the Sandy Hook tragedy) “I can understand how he might have lost his temper; I can understand how frustrated he could get if he was sad or angry because his parents were separated; and I can even understand that he may have lashed out at his mother because she didn’t understand that he was sad or angry about something. I can understand that thinking. What I can’t understand is why he would take a gun and do such a terrible thing, not only to his mother but also to innocent people and little children. That is not how people with Asperger’s think!”
I know many parents of a child on the autism spectrum lie in bed at night worrying about their child’s future… Will they graduate from school? Will they get a job? Will they get married and have children? Will they one day snap and do something unbelievably terrible? I can reassure you that no, your ASD child will not one day pick up a gun and do something so terrible…Why? Because that is not how people with Asperger’s think.
There are no random thoughts in the mind of a person on the Autism spectrum. Every single action and behavior has a reason behind it. A person living with Autism often has a very high code of moral ethics; does not break rules; has a heightened sense of compassion and empathy and are also more likely to be the victims of violence, not the perpetrators.
If our AS child is upset, angry, frustrated or stressed it is our role as parents and teachers to help understand their frustration and then help them to create strategies to deal with those issues. Once they learn that strategy, and become comfortable with it, they will use that strategy over and over again when needed.
More importantly, the environment a person living with Autism grows up in has a major impact on their actions, their anxiety and stress levels and the choices they make in life. They must, absolutely must be surrounded by love and compassion, so they learn that love and compassion are normal.
No matter what, they must feel safe within the walls of their home. They must know that no matter how difficult life becomes for them, that anchor of love, compassion, understanding and support will always be there!
It is our role as parents to hold the boundaries however that keep them safe. The boundaries that are about acceptable behaviour, right and wrong, age appropriateness and respect.
They will, as adolescents try to push those boundaries – as any adolescent does. Our role as parents is to hold those boundaries, allowing them to push up against them as hard as they can, but to never waiver from the boundaries that create security and safety around them. The boundaries that are more important during adolescence and puberty than at any other time in a child’s life. (As challenging as they are for parents!)
These acts of unspeakable violence have been brought about by a series of incidents that together have resulted in the actions of young people who are mentally ill. There is way more to their individual stories than we know.
What happened in these tragedies, including the most recent, is just so incredibly heartbreaking, I am not sure we will ever truly understand the reasons why these young people carried out these most horrendous acts. However, I am 100% sure of one thing – being diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome is not one of those reasons
Speaker |Author |EFT Practitioner