My heart goes out to the families who have suffered such tragic loss these last few days in Newtown Connecticut. As a school educator and a mother, I cannot fathom the shock or sadness that accompanies this devastation. The feelings of disbelief and loss are a heavy burden to bear and I hope that we as a community and a nation continue to rally around Newtown with prayful support.
In the wake of this tragedy, I have been encouraged by stories of redemption, hope and heroism from the Newtown community. However, I was deeply saddened upon reading that a commentator on a national television news station correlated Asperger’s syndrome and violent behavior as the reason for the event. It’s unfortunate that some individuals are misleading the public with incorrect information, which has the potential to cause devastating harm to another community–the autism one. In today’s blog, I hope to clarify the actual characteristics of person’s with Asperger’s syndrome and offer support to families whose children are asking questions.
It’s important to understand that Asperger’s syndrome/autism is a neurological disorder. Individuals with Asperger’s are often highly intelligent, creative and focused on details. Typically, individuals are socially naive and often have difficulty reading social cues in conversations (i.e. sarcasm). Although challenged expressing emotions verbally, an individual with Asperger’s has a strong desire to connect with others and can be tremendously empathetic. Some individuals may have an additional diagnosis such as ADHD, anxiety or depression. However, there is no link between Asperger’s syndrome and violence.
By associating Asperger’s/autism with this violent action with few facts and limited knowledge, we can only hurt the community of persons living with autism. Let’s not allow individuals with disabilities to experience a negative backlash because of the egregious reporting.
If your child has heard about this shooting, what should you do? Assure your child that he or she is safe and answer questions with brief simple explanations. Your child may become highly anxious if permitted to watch the seemingly continuous coverage on television. I decided to simply turn off the TV this weekend to limit Ryan’s exposure. Another possibility is to redirect your child’s increased awareness to a positive task. A simple activity such as creating a “thinking of you card” and mailing it to the designated Newtown PO Box (PO Box 3700, Newtown, CT 06470) gives your child an opportunity to refocus their worry to a positive show of support.
In the weeks and months ahead, let’s continue to support the people of Newtown and somehow turn this tragedy into an opportunity to celebrate each child and his or her unique talents.
Learn more about autism by clicking these links:
Talking to Children about Disasters