Every time I see the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, CT associated with autism I feel sick to my stomach. I have heard over the past two days so many misconceptions and false truths that I am shocked. And here I thought we were making progress on the autism awareness front. The most common thing I have heard is the discussion regarding ‘violent outbursts’ and autism.
These ‘violent outbursts’, or meltdowns as we call them, are not (at least in my experience) something an autistic child can control. When the brain becomes too overloaded with sensory input it goes into self-preservation mode. My son for instance – when the input becomes too much, when there is too much competing noise; or smells; or the instructions we are giving him go against what his brain says to do; a meltdown occurs. Sometimes he just drops on the floor like a sack of flour and refuses to move, sometimes he reacts more violently.
This is not his fault. This is how he was made. And he is beautiful for it, meltdowns and all. The act of sickening, heartbreaking violence that occurred at that school will haunt us all forever. But it was not an act to be associated with autism. Whether the shooter was diagnosed or not – an act that heinous requires premeditation. Simply acquiring the weapons was, in itself, a form of premeditation. A meltdown does not cause the person having it to have horrible thoughts, or premeditate unspeakable tragedies. The parts of the mind that control that kind of logical, planned thought process (again, in my experience) are not functioning well enough to even consider that a possibility.
Watching my son have a meltdown is like watching a light switch get turned off. The parts of him that I love the most, the most alive, beautiful, inspirational parts, are turned off, because he is too overloaded to handle them. Once he is able to regain control of himself, one of two things most often occurs: he starts crying, and apologizing profusely for anything he did because “I didn’t mean to do it, my heart is broken”; or he has no real cognitive awareness of what he has done, or why it was bad, and he moves on like nothing happened.
When your vivacious five year old pulls his shirt up, points to his chest, and says “Look mommy, my heart is broken”, how does your heart not break a little as well? I know this world, this autism world. I have been immersed in it’s culture, it’s dark alleys and bright streets for years. Sometimes I have a map, and sometimes I wander around lost and looking for direction. But it is the world my child lives in – so it is my world now too.
The horrible events that took place in Newtown, CT will scar our society forever. Do not let it scar our autistic children too. They have a difficult enough time getting the help and understanding they need and deserve as it is. Do not stigmatize them. Do not let the media stigmatize them. It is our job to protect the innocent – and while we were not able to do that at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, we can surely try to protect our autistic community.
Please, do not let the ignorance of a few damage the lives of many. Stand up, speak up, and make some noise for the Monsters, and all the other kids like them.