A Response to the Tragedy In Newtown, Connecticut


With everyone in the autism community talking about and discussing the recent events in Newtown, Connecticut, I feel it is time for me to share a response. Like many others, I am saddened to hear about the events that happened in Connecticut. My heart goes out to the people who lost loved ones in the shooting. Equally saddening was how the mentioned that the shooter might be on the autism spectrum... before it was even validated.

This representation in the media has resulted in a large amount of misinformation about autism. The reality is that, as many people have already said, this was the action of one person and should not be used to stereotype autism. And let’s not forget what so many people say: “If you’ve seen one person with autism, you’ve only seen one person with autism.” We should also remember that in many cases, people with autism are not the instigators of crime, but the victims of it.

I am writing this to share my beliefs about violence and the importance of helping people find ways to express themselves, and how they relate to what has happened. This should not be taken as an attempt to justify what happened, however. Rather, I believe the following--although it is important to show our respect and concern for the shooting, we should also respond properly to it as well. And we should also be discussing—what went wrong? And what can we learn from this, even those of us who were not personally involved? That is why I am writing this.

One of the things that has always been important to me is not only my identity as a person with autism, but also having a strong social group. My social group, however, has never been specific to a certain community. The people that I associate with are parts of many different communities. It consists of people with and without autism, as well as people of many other varied disabilities. And there are people in virtually every community I have met that I get along with, as well as people I do not get along with. And I have come to terms with the fact that I will never be perfect, no matter how much wisdom or knowledge I have learned during my life. This does not upset me, as I have realized that no one in life gets along with everybody. Aesop himself said in one of his fables that no one can please everyone, no matter who they are.

But what binds us together are our shared beliefs and interests. The fact that we have shared value systems, and often can relate to one other based on those shared beliefs and interests. That regardless of whatever diagnosis we might have or who we are, we all can give each other support living in a world with beliefs and rules that we don’t always agree with. We respect, understand, and acknowledge the reasons for these rules and norms and the need to follow them in many social situations but we also enjoy being able to be ourselves when we are together. And overall, we are not bad people and would never imagine hurting others—we are just different. And we try to help other people with differences accept themselves either.

Like many others with autism, there are many social rules and societal norms that frustrate me and upset me. But rather than moaning in despair, what has helped me get through my frustrations and anger is having a strong support system of people who share similar beliefs I do, regardless of whether they have autism—and that we all can support each other. I am not alone in my life, and take pride that whenever I feel upset about something, there are people who I can trust to be there to understand me.

Don’t get me wrong—I have a high level of respect for people who try to teach us social norms and how to function in society. But I am also a firm believer that people with autism need places where they can be themselves. They need to be able to find people where they don’t always have to conform to the standards of neurotypicals. And if they want to be alone, they should be given time to be alone. And we also need to tell people with autism that not everything that goes wrong is their fault. That not every social error is their fault, and that no matter how hard they try to learn proper social skills, they will not be perfect or get along with everyone, no matter who they are.

I think that one of the reasons why people get upset and become violent is because they do not feel like people understand them. And because there are things that they go through that they feel they cannot be open about, whether it’s because people say it is inappropriate or because they feel like they can’t be open. They do not feel like anyone out there is listening to them. And as a traveler, I have met many people like this.

There are many people whom I will meet, sit down with, and let them tell me their frustrations without judging them, even to the point of letting them tell me things that others feel that I should not let them tell me. Sometimes I will encourage them to be open about their problems if they want to, even sometimes finding a better place or a situation where they can open up. I do this not because I am trying to be different or upset other people, but because I believe that there comes a time when people should talk. There is a time when a person has to be open, and a time when it is best to let a person be open about their problems rather than silencing them.

I believe that most of us have a need to be open to someone who will listen, regardless of whatever rules out there exist to tell people they can’t talk about certain things that might be impacting their lives. I have always believed that the key to helping people with their problems is giving them a place to communicate them openly. I have also believed that communication is the key to understanding, and the best way to prevent a person from becoming violent.

In Bridge to Terabithia, when the two main characters Jess and Leslie form a friendship together, Leslie says to Jess, “We need a place. Just for us.” I believe that if we give places for people to be themselves alongside teaching them the ways of the world, and places where they can feel comfortable expressing themselves, we can help prevent people from developing violent tendencies.

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