Autism DOES NOT Create Mass Murderers

Today

Autism does NOT equal mass shooter. However, the media often includes information in their stories that may lead the general public to make that assumption. Right now the tragic and senseless shooting at Umpqua Community College in Oregon is all over the news, as well as the subject of Autism. For example, the Today show ran a news clip on 10/6/2015 (the day of this post), with the description that “Information about the gunman in last week’s mass shooting in Oregon is emerging, indicating that his mother may have had an impact on his fascination with guns.” Then the first part of the piece proceeded to discuss not guns, but Autism. Here is a link to the clip:

http://www.today.com/video/new-details-emerge-about-oregon-shooters-mother-539317827583

The reporter Miguel Amaguer says, “Starling new revelations about the mother of Chris Harper-Mercer, a shooter who killed nine people at Umpqua Community College last week. For over a decade Laurel Harper, a registered nurse, offered online advice on various medical issues like Asperger’s Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum disorder that she wrote both she and her son struggled with.”

The story also mentioned that Harper wrote of dealing with a “screaming autistic head banger.” Why was that necessary? It then without explanation segued into the portion that was actually related to the story’s description: that the mother’s involvement with guns and the way she exposed her son to them may have possibly helped contribute to her son’s obsession with firearms.

So what was the link that viewers were supposed to make between the “new information” about Autism within the family, and the new information about their involvement with guns? What was Today trying to imply? Why was Autism even relevant to a story that seemed to be about the fact that the mother taught her son how to shoot guns?

It seemed to me to be to be a sensationalistic treatment of Autism, NOT relevant to the story, and disrespectful to Autistic people in general.

Stories like these are potentially damaging and can help foster the fear and stigma that is so often faced by Autistic individuals.

(Update: I did not address the gun issue in this post because this is a discussion about Autism. My point is that the news report purported to be about guns, but then also included seemingly unrelated information about Autism. I am not making any sort of commentary about guns one way or another. While it is an important discussion, that was not my focus here.)

Years ago, while the world was reeling from what transpired at Sandy Hook, best-selling Author John Elder Robison wrote an article for Psychology Today called “Asperger’s, Autism, and Mass Murder.” Speculation had arisen then, as now, that the shooter may have had Asperger’s. Robison is himself Autistic (he describes himself using both terms Asperger’s and Autistic), and warned, “Let’s stop the rush to judgment.” He also stated plainly, “Correlation does not imply causation.”  Continue reading

Autism and the Theater: THANK YOU Kelvin Moon Loh!

Kelvin1

Kelvin Moon Loh is a performer who is currently in ‘The King and I’ at Lincoln Center. The day prior to this post there was an incident with an Autistic* person during one of his shows. His response was amazing, and he actually began a discussion about it on his personal Facebook page. Since some of you don’t have Facebook, and also because THIS IS IMPORTANT, I copied his responses and posted some screenshots here. Shared with his permission.

(*Yes, I said Autistic, not with Autism. I am not being disrespectful, I am simply reflecting the way that an increasing majority of Autistic individuals wish to be identified. If you are not familiar with the identity-first movement I encourage you to learn more.)

Here is what Kelvin’s Facebook post said (screenshot is at the top of the post):

“I am angry and sad.

Just got off stage from today’s matinee and yes, something happened. Someone brought their autistic child to the theater.

That being said- this post won’t go the way you think it will.

You think I will admonish that mother for bringing a child who yelped during a quiet moment in the show. You think I will herald an audience that yelled at this mother for bringing their child to the theater. You think that I will have sympathy for my own company whose performances were disturbed from a foreign sound coming from in front of them.

No.

Instead, I ask you- when did we as theater people, performers and audience members become so concerned with our own experience that we lose compassion for others?  Continue reading

Autism & Empathy (A LOT of it)

27180_385227093874_6282718_n

There is a common misconception that people who have Autism lack empathy. I beg to differ. Autistic people may have difficulty at times understanding the emotions of others around them (honestly, don’t we all?), but that does not mean that they lack empathy. They may just respond to the feelings of others in an unconventional way, and we need to work harder to understand and appreciate those reactions.

My youngest son is Autistic and cares very much about his family and friends. Hugs might be a little too tight or knock you down, but they are meant with every inch of his body. The intensity of his Big Feelings can also cause him to act out at times, and the Little Ninja has needed coaching over the years to learn how to more properly express his empathy. For example, when he was four years old we needed to do some allergy testing on his big brother. It took all the strength of both the nurse and me to hold the Big Ninja down for the blood draw, and he cried and was very upset. That was too much for my tiny vigilante to handle. When we were done my youngest rushed at the legs of the nurse and started swinging, yelling, “You leave my brother alone!” Luckily she was a good sport about it, and was impressed at the passionate way he defended his big brother. I had a talk with him later about finding less physical ways to stand up for people. This is an especially important lesson for the times that he misinterprets a situation.

There are other times that my son feels so intensely for other people that he is overwhelmed by his emotions and doesn’t know what to do with it. Continue reading