Awkward…struggled to have a conversation…extremely intelligent…very few friends…loved to play video games…prone to temper tantrums. Murdered twenty gimlet-eyed, innocent children for no reason along with six, unarmed women. I have everything in common with the gunman except for the last sentence, of course. Nobody wants to admit they have even one thing in common with a mass murderer, but it is important to admit to bitter honesty. If that last sentence of carnage were taken out of his description then I would immediately come to the conclusion that this 20-year-old man also has Asperger’s syndrome.
I knew this day was coming and just was not prepared for the magnitude of monstrosity. All sorts of people from all walks of life commit mass murders and other atrocities. Evil is not confined to specific religions, ethnicities, or abilities. Eventually there would be someone who is posthumously revealed to have had Asperger’s or waves his diagnosis around the courtroom like a white flag in a vain attempt to shave off a death sentence from his lifetime behind bars.
Like the gunman, I used to live a life of solitude and the only friends I had were ones set up by forced play dates on behalf of my mother. During “Free Time” at Hillcroft Day Camp, I often preferred to be by myself peeling bark off of dead twigs or doing other weird activities. My adolescence and early adulthood were often quite sad. The lack of self-control and inability to filter inappropriate comments cost me two careers in Human Service as well as Teaching. There were moments of profound rage during this period of stasis and career impotency. I was angry because of my own inadequacies and society was not allowing me to earn my life back despite steady progress. The periods of hopelessness and rage continued as life seemed like it was showing little mercy. But during this time, I always maintained my humanity and that is the whole point. Adam Lanza may have had a very sad life and never received too many of the breaks that most people enjoy at least once in a while. But he was also not human. He may have been human at one point in his life, but lost any kind of respect for human life when he chose to enter that elementary school classroom.
I mourn for the victims of Newtown, CT and am also scared for my fellow peers who live with Asperger’s. There are definitely people who show compassion and know that Adam Lanza does not represent someone on the autism spectrum. But other people will be swayed only by their fight-or-flight response and will not want to take a chance. For the past seven years, I have been struggling to return to the field of education after a rough start. I cannot help fearing how this is going to affect my journey as a member of a already-misunderstood and vilified population. The gunman will create fear after his cowardly act and death that we must confront right now.
This is a time of action and the autism community will join the rest of society in helping the people of Newtown, CT heal after these unspeakable horrors. But they should also not be shy about advocating for themselves or letting the gunman’s legacy dictate fear for the rest of society. Last Monday, December 17th I had the chance to make a difference by traveling to New York City to film an interview with the television show, “Inside Edition” that will hopefully air sometime in the near future.
I definitely had mixed feelings about this rare opportunity to speak out in such a grand scale. This national, television interview came at the expense of 26 innocent lives, but it is important to make sense of tragedies by trying to make something good come out of the anguish. Sometimes we must laugh as hard as it may be. “Humor is the nectar that we squeeze out of our profound anguish.” I took the train into New York City with fear of saying the wrong things, but wanted to focus on the reality that the gunman is a freakish anomaly and not a representative of anyone in the autism community.
The interviewer was a young woman named, Emily, only one year older than myself. She made me feel at ease even as I sat in a chair with blinding lights. The setting was more like an interrogation room in one of those crime movies and not the fake living room of the Today Show, but my words flowed with surprising ease because of her kindness. Emily asked whether there is any link between Asperger’s syndrome and acts of violence. I gave her my best answer.
“Individuals with Asperger’s are capable of violence in the sense they are as human as everybody else. Human beings are known to commit crimes of passion or may react strongly if provoked long enough. But no human being with or without a disability is capable of what the gunman committed in Newtown, CT. My peers have a much greater chance becoming a victim of a crime than a perpetrator, as well.”
Emily asked more questions and I tried to very cautiously give her the best answers. I even got a little bit personal and revealed the extremes I have had to go through to give myself a fighting chance in society. I worked at a funeral home for a while to condition myself to stop blurting out inappropriate comments. My rage was never a threat to the rest of society and merely motivated myself to continue pushing for better realities. My anger was the catalyst for a bestselling book and skydiving adventure.
Unlike Adam Lanza…my failures and disappointments eventually waned. I still have not been able to earn my old life back, but am putting teaching on a backburner while embracing my new reality as a public figure. Like many of my peers…I have little ability to “let go” and will keep pushing. Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if nothing worked out for me as an adult and my failures continued. I would have been miserable, depressed, and could have given up hope. But no matter what…my humanity still would have remained intact. I would never have reached the breaking point and gunned down twenty-six innocent lives.
I am still waiting for my words to air on “Inside Edition” but my interview has been temporarily scrapped in favor of more pressing news stories. It is the nature of the media and nothing personal. They always go with the story that takes more of a priority. But I thank Emily and the rest of “Inside Edition” for understanding this tragedy will affect more than the victims of Newtown and my peers deserve a voice.
I would like to say a few final words. We have a right to be angry and search for blame in this senseless act. But I wish society would stop villain-izing the mother, Nancy Lanza and treat her as one of the victims. How could she have known? Maybe she and her child were only able to bond over this common interest and he showed no traces of violent tendencies until that fateful Friday morning? My kooky interests such as donating blood every two months and skydiving have separated me from the rest of my family. The only way my father and I are able to bond is over our mutual love of Blackjack at casinos. Maybe she needed that bonding or anything at all.
When a person loses both their parents…they are known as orphans. When a person loses a spouse…they are described as widows. There is no existing word for when someone loses a child because it is just too damn painful! Perhaps this will change and those who have survived the death of children will be called, “newtowns.” They should have this legacy because they are surviving this tragedy with dignity and are not displacing any anger on my unique peers. The legacy of the heroic children will hopefully live forever as the legacy of the gunman dies soon…