Along with the rest of the country, our hearts are broken for the victims of the unimaginable tragedy that took place last Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. As parents, we’ve been paralyzed with disbelief, sorrow, and fear for our children. As advocates, we now face the additional fear that children and adults with Autism may become collateral damage of irresponsible media coverage.
Several media reports have indicated that the Sandy Hook shooter had an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). While this remains speculative and unconfirmed, the manner in which the information was delivered left no room for doubt among readers and viewers across the country. Not only was ASD suggested as the reasoning behind this planned attack, it was singled out in national and local headlines.
Over the last few days, the leadership of the National Autism Association has had thoughtful and heartfelt discussions as to whether acknowledging and giving credence to these reports could ultimately do more harm than good. Perception is powerful, and as we saw with the Virginia Tech shootings, a Review Panel later dismissed the wrongful claim of a diagnosis of Autism. The public was unnecessarily exposed to the initial information, but not the latter, leaving society to connect an additional dot that never existed. A similar case to Sandy Hook in 1996 also had no connection to Autism, nor did the one in Aurora, Colorado, or Columbine.
Regardless, there is no link between planned violence and Autism Spectrum Disorders. Those with ASD are victims of crimes like this, not the perpetrators.
We call on the public for its support in undoing the damage of erroneous media reporting. Individuals with Autism are deserving of love and compassion – not fear and mistrust. They are often misunderstood,ostracized, bullied and abused. Please do not allow irresponsible reporting to perpetuate violence against more innocent human beings.
In closing, it is our hope that the focus remains on the victims of this unthinkable tragedy, and that immediate measures are taken to protect society’s most vulnerable and innocent citizens, including those with disabilities.