Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Boo-yah! It’s Autism Awareness Day

For those of us living with autism, EVERY day is autism awareness day...

Today is Autism Awareness Day…forgive me if I don’t seem excited, but I am aware of autism EVERY DAY.  I don’t need a blue light to remind me.  In fact, I’m more than just aware of it.  It seeps from every pore every minute of every day.  And if you read my blog, or any others, or also live with autism, you’re more than aware of it, too.   

Not that I don’t support any effort to increase awareness.  It’s a primary reason why I blog, but there are so many issues associated with autism, I am sometimes challenged to decide what I want to write about.  It’s a fluid and dynamic topic.  This week I want to write about something that’s stuck in my proverbial crawl—the conflation of autism with mental illness.

Last week law enforcement released the results of the search warrants executed on the Newtown shooter’s home.  Certainly I was disturbed about the arsenal of weapons, but that it has been widely reported the family were gun aficionados.  I was shocked at how clueless, even reckless his mother appeared to be.  Investigators found a holiday card containing a check made out from her to her son for the purchase of a firearm. 

The article went on to say Newtown has shone a light on autism.  Okay.  But what stood out to me as if it had been written in bold italics with an underline was the identification of autism as a mental illness. 

Whoa…Autism is a neurodevelopmental disability.  It causes communication problems and social difficulties, the extent of which depend on the severity of the disorder.  It is not a form of mental illness.  Again…IT IS NOT A FORM OF MENTAL ILLNESS. 
Mental illness is not a dirty word, but autism isn't mental illness...
While it appears the shooter had Asperger’s Syndrome, on the high-functioning end of the spectrum, it was not his autism that caused him to commit an act of pure evil.  People with autism can and do feel empathy.  They do know right from wrong.  This young man was clearly seriously mentally ill.  Having autism had zero to do with his murderous rampage.  It’s not like having autism immunizes you to other types of illness.  Just as it is possible to have autism and diabetes, autism and psychosis can co-exist in the same individual and are completely unrelated conditions.

Autism did not cause Newtown.  Mental illness and easy access to assault weapons were a toxic combination. 

Assault weapons and insanity...a match made in hell.
Our kids have to deal with enough because of lack of understanding, including by so-called medical experts.  Let’s not mischaracterize autism as something society needs to fear.  In reality, society is far more of a threat to our children than they are to anyone. Our children are bullied, neglected, dehumanized and victimized across many segments of society.

Let’s be aware of that.

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