Once Again, the Media's Focus on Adam Lanza's Autism Is the Wrong StoryJoslyn Gray
The list of items confiscated from the home of mass murderer Adam Lanza is all over the news today. It includes an ungodly assortment of knives, samurai swords, rifles, and ammunition. It includes a six-foot, 10-inch pole with a spear at one end and a blade at the other. It includes a Christmas card to Adam from his mother, Nancy Lanza, containing a check to purchase a firearm. It includes Adam Lanza’s journals, and a 2008 clipping from the New York Times about a school shooting at Northern Illinois University.
Also confiscated were some books, described by NBC News as “books from the house, including books on living with mental illness.” NBC News goes on to specify: “The books included Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s and Born on a Blue Day: Inside the Mind of an Autistic Savant.”
Not listed in NBC’s article, but included in a separate list, are two more books: a self-help book called Train Your Brain to Get Happy “with pages tabbed off,” and the NRA Guide to Pistol Shooting Basics.
None of the networks mention that people with disabilities, including autism spectrum disorders, are far more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than to perpetrate them.
I hope there’s never a search of my house, because I own both of those books about autism, along with at least a dozen more. Look Me In the Eye is by John Elder Robison, an adult with Asperger Syndrome (who happens to be the brother of writer Augusten Burroughs). Look Me In the Eye was one of the first books I read when my son was diagnosed with Asperger, and it really helped me to understand my son more, and to be a better parent to him.
Born on a Blue Day, by Daniel Tammet, is the autobiography of a man who has an Autism Spectrum Disorder and has the very rare savant syndrome. Unlike the vast majority of people with savant syndrome, though, Tammet lives independently and is able to explain what’s going on inside his uniquely brilliant mind.
If we’re going to focus on autism, how about we remember first grader Josephine Gay, who was killed along with 27 other people on December 14. Josephine’s behavioral therapist, Rachel D’Avino, died trying to shield Josephine from the bullets.
“She protected them and provided them with comfort and love when they really needed it,” Josephine’s mother, Michele Gay told AP . “I can’t say enough about the people that worked with Joey. They were amazing.”
Josephine’s family has set up Joey’s Fund with the Doug Flutie Jr. Foundation for Autism. On the fund’s website, Michele wrote,
“Joey was autistic and severely apraxic. She could not speak, yet she touched the lives of so many around her: teachers, therapists, friends, neighbors, all loved and cherished her. Joey was social and affectionate; she smiled, she loved hugs, and she even had a wonderful sense of humor. Her spirit was indomitable. She participated in rigorous therapy and treatment on a daily basis without complaint. She loved to play with her Barbie dolls, iPad, and computer, swim, swing, and be anywhere her sisters were.
“We will not let this tragedy define her life. Instead, we will honor her inspiring and generous spirit. We have established Joey’s Fund in her name through the Doug Flutie, Jr. Foundation for Autism. The proceeds of this fund will help families raising autistic children. It’s our way of dealing with this pain and never letting go of her love.”
I know I’m probably overly-sensitive to the way autism is discussed in the story of Adam Lanza and the heinous crimes he committed. I have two children with Asperger Syndrome, and they are bright, wonderful, caring people. Right now, I shield them from news coverage like this; they’re aged seven and twelve. They know what happened in Newtown, CT. I grew up near Newtown and the tragedy affected people I know personally.
But I can’t have my children see the world linking the words autism and Asperger with the words mass murderer. I can’t have them seeing books that are basically about them listed along with weapons and 1,600 rounds of ammunition, or even that police found books about autism worthy of being confiscated.
I can’t, and shouldn’t, shield them from the news forever. It just breaks my heart to anticipate the day I have to explain all this.
You can read more about Josephine Gay and contribute to Joey’s Fund here.
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