Saturday, 15 December 2012

"I'm an autistic person, not a killer."

TOTKO supporter Shian has written us this following piece about the coverage of Autism in recent days due to events which have unfolded in Connecticut.  We would like to use this opportunity as an organisation that works to support schools, children and teachers, to extend our condolences to all those affected.

"We all know where we are when we hear about a crisis. We all remember our first thoughts. Some of us immediately think of who we could possibly know that might be affected. Usually the darkest prejudices of our subconscious hits at some point too. Judgement of cultures, race, governments. But for me it's not so much judgement, it's fear. Fear of how this affects me. Because I'm autistic.  More specifically, I have Aspergers Syndrome.   

Like the rest of the world I am shocked, appalled and heartbroken about the events which unfolded this week in Newtown, Connecticut, USA.    

Most of my friends see me as a motherly person, or at least someone safe to be around.  One of the ways my Aspergers manifests itself is that I am very sensitive to light, noise and personal space.  I may not be able to read emotion very well, but I can sense uncomfortable situations and will suggest to my friends that we move to another area, stand somewhere else, whatever it takes.  They usually feel the same way but can’t pinpoint why.  I, on the other hand, can.  I notice the things that other people don’t.  I'm quite acutely aware of these things and it generally makes my friends feel safer for being in my company.  So when I hear people stereotype people with autism as violent, I am blown away. I’m a motherly, caring and sensitive person.  I’m not a monster.   

Am I aggressive?   No.  People who know me well have seen me rant and rave and be angry about things, but never in a violent manner, and never without logical cause.  That’s the thing about Autistic people, we all have a very strong sense of logic.  If I am upset about something, there’s logic behind it.  Things that don’t make sense upset me.  Would I react violently?  No.  Reacting violently is never a logical idea.  My autism, in fact, stops me from being a violent person.  It simply won't allow me to override logic.  
When it comes to accusations that people with Autism are violent, my mind boggles.  It’s like saying “I got a splinter from a red pencil, therefore all red pencils will give me splinters.”  It’s completely unrelated.   

There are violent people all other the world committing mindless violent acts all the time.  Naturally people want answers.  So we pinpoint whatever we can and set it up for the blame. Gay?  Muslim?  Autistic?   Stereotyping is a dangerous thing.  I’m one of those people currently being stereotyped and I can tell you, hand on my heart, I am anything but a violent killer.  In fact, if people knew anything about Autism, the connection between violence and Autism wouldn’t even occur to them.   

Just because this person did something horrible is no good reason to judge all others who happen to share one similar trait.  The culprit here is the man who had a gun in his hand, not Autism. 

TOTKO works to help provide support for those with and affected by learning differences, learning disabilities and learning difficulties.  A large part of our work is challenging stigmas and providing an alternative, more positive, portrayal of conditions such as Autism.  Why not join our conversation on twitter @hellototko


  1. I wrote about how I feel about this, as a mother who has Asperger's.

    1. Hey Paula. That's so cool and your blog looks ace! We've put it in our twitter que it shall shortly be sent out to all our followers. Check us out at @hellototko

  2. My son is also on the autism spectrum, with a slightly above-average IQ and good academic skills, but comes across differently. He's huge, 6'5" and 220 pounds - a gentle giant. However, his body language doesn't match what he is thinking or doing. People interpret him as "threatening" even when he's just walking the dog, or shopping, or waiting in line for a movie. He's scary to many people who don't know him, he seems to be on the edge of violence all the time. But that's only because his disorder makes it difficult for him to express himself non-verbally. He has no idea how to relax, how to move softly, or to try to put someone else at ease. He doesn't understand personal space, and tends to get into other people's space. And he also can't read other people's body language, has no idea they're concerned, and can't read their unspoken signals to back off. Sometimes I fear for his safety, that someone is going to react in fear, and that either someone is going to take a swing (my son WILL defend himself, and is big enough to really hurt someone), or a cop is going to interpret his body language as a threat and shoot him.

    1. Hello Jean and many thanks for your comment. Your son sounds like typical autism so know that you are not alone. We work with schools, kids, teachers and parents and know yours is not the first story we have heard like this. What support have you got for him and where are you writing from? We may be able to put you in touch with some others who can offer you some support, even if its just an online chat on a forum! How old is your son?

  3. When this type of thing comes up, I'm thankful to be little and "cute" enough that my strange behaviors are more likely to have people think I'm lost or frightened when I'm actually OK than that I'm angry and dangerous when I'm actually OK. But even as a petite person I've had times where someone labels me dangerous. The "dangerous" label is so much scarier to have pinned on you.

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  6. I like your article, but I think you miss the point here: the problems with "blaming" autistic spectrum people for the Newtown shooting are manifold.

    1) If we as a global population apportion blame to minorities we perceive to have damaged mainstream society we dehumanise them. Shian has Asperger's syndrome, if I only use that label to identify her I dehumanise her, if I do that for long enough with enough of my friends it doesn't become so much of an effort for me to criminalise her for being different. History shows us that using labels to marginalise and dehumanise people reduces our guilt about destroying their lives - Stalin did it, Pol Pot did it, Hitler did it, Mao did it. Labels destroy because they remove humanity from the equation.

    2) To borrow the well worn and oft misused statement "Hitler was an artist and a vegetarian", does this mean we should be wary of all vegetarians who paint? Should we be leery of people who don't eat specific things? Just because one person who has specific traits does an awful thing it does not follow that all people who share those traits are capable of the same evil.

    3) People on the Autistic Spectrum have what in the UK we call "an invisible disorder" - it is hard enough for them to be taken seriously as being genuinely disabled and get the help they need to function successfully in society. Certainly the added trauma and set-backs that will most certainly accompany any sort of public opprobrium relating to the supposed link between Asperger's and the actions of Adam Lanza in Newtown will not help their cause.

    4) Adam Lanza and Gary McKinnon have raised the public awareness of Asperger's syndrome hugely and yet they couldn't be more different: Gary was a hacker doing what he did for curiosity's sake, and because of his deep discomfort at US foreign policy. The fact that Gary's extradition for trials in the US failed, and that all charges in the UK have been dropped against him suggest strongly to me that the US claims that he did thousands of dollars worth of damage were false. My point here is that the motivating factors of these two men are as different as they would be for any young men, their autism is not the motivating factor for their actions.

    It is important that those of us who are willing and able to speak out and support and defend the people on the spectrum who for various reasons may not be able to defend themselves do so. In the words of Martin Niemoller:

    "First they came for the communists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.

    Then they came for the socialists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,
    and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.

    Then they came for me,
    and there was no one left to speak for me."

    We have to defend those who cannot or will not defend themselves, because we all have value and we all deserve to be given the help and understanding we have a right to as human beings. Remember: labels dehumanise, the next time you call someone 'weird' or 'spergy' you're making them less than they are.

  7. Sad the way the media hypes whatever seems to generate more fear. I worked at a school for kids with autism and violence was just not in their nature. Acting out in those most afflicted did occur but nowhere near the scale of this event. I doubt his Aspergers syndrome had anything to do with this. Although I worked a few years in the school, there is so much more to learn. One issue with my learning was the fact that I worked in a residential school setting and many there had issues that made it very hard to live alone hence they needed degrees of supervision. I of course learned about those who did quite well working with and beyond any "disability" If I was only exposed to those at the school, my view would have been quite askew from reality. I did date a woman with two sons with Aspergers and if she had not told me about this, I'd have taken no notice at all (heck they acted like teenagers act is all) The write above makes a great point about the labels we use. I have depression and chronic pain what will I be labeled? Whatever the label it would miss the point