My heart has been grieved as I have followed the news here this past week. My prayers and thoughts are with the families of the victims.
As I read the reports coming in concerning the shooter what I heard concerned me greatly. I did not need to hear the word "Aspergers" or "Autism" to know that the man they were describing struggled with issues that I completely understand. (avoided touch, socially shy, wore only certain clothing etc.) I knew before the news even put it out that there was an autistic spectrum disorder that would be revealed as more information became available.
I was tuned in to facebook when Autism Speaks issued their statement about concerns for future issues that other autistic children will have to deal with because this mad man had a label that they too carry. I agree totally that Autism should not be blamed in this rampage.
I thought of the shooter's own mother. It sounds as if the past weeks had been terribly difficult for her as she tried to make decisions that would be best for her son and his special needs. My heart goes out to her.
Understanding autism because it is part of our everyday life makes this a little closer to home. I have felt the need to write a post in regards to this matter, because it is something that deeply concerns me. Right now, 1 in every 88 children are diagnosed with autism. That statistic concerns me. I am torn on that fact also. I do believe that there can be an over diagnosis of this spectrum disorder and that bothers me. However, because early intervention is so important I do understand the swing of the pendulum in that direction. So, I do think the numbers may not be completely accurate.
This is what has caused me the greatest concern: the knee jerk reaction that comes with a label. I am not a label person and any of our friends could have told you how hesitant we were to attach a label to Zak and his issues. However, the label did give us some understanding of what we were dealing with and why normal procedures were not producing the same results as we had seen in our other children. So, with that said a label was helpful. Unfortunately, what I have seen a lot of times is that labels are handed out and with the label comes a whole list of excesses for why the child behaves the way he/she does. This is dangerous. We have children given these labels and then we have parents who suddenly attribute anything the child does that is unacceptable to the label. (Jr won't eat his applesauce - it is the sensory issues and the autism, get him something else to eat. He won't eat that.)
I have seen this happen so many times. I have been guilty of doing this in the past - and I am sure that I will be in the future too. It is one of those fine lines that we parents of special needs children walk. Sometimes it is hard to understand when the behaviour is part of the condition, and when we cross the line and become enablers to bad behaviour. I feel it very pertinent to address this issue.
We can not handicap our children with their handicap! When we excuse bad behaviour because of their issues we are on a dangerous slope that goes down a good long way! Just because my son has autism does not mean that he can not learn to obey. (It does mean that they path to teach obedience is a lot longer than it is for the normal child!)
At the base of this shooting in Connecticut was not an autistic person - it was a willful person who had not learned (or would not learn?) right from wrong. (I am not saying his mother did not teach him right from wrong or failed to discipline. I have no idea of his home life.) At the root of this shooting was a person who wanted to do what he wanted to do. I do understand the issue of mental health (and I have trouble saying Autism should fall under a mental health label.) If however, there are mental health issues that show that a person can not abide by certain moral standards ( like not hurting other people or themselves) then drastic decisions need to be made for the safety of everyone involved. This is something that most mental health doctor's are hesitant to do. However, drastic situations sometimes demand drastic solutions, and parents of these types of children need to be listened to in the mental health circles of health care. (Another post - another time.)
Just because my son has autism does not mean that he ceases being a sinner. He still is selfish and willful - just like all of my other children. He is at a greater disadvantage and one that makes it imperative that I realize that I can not make excuses for his behaviour. Because of limited cognisance on so many levels a special needs child will go to great lengths to get what he wants. Some of the greatest manipulators are special needs children! (I don't say this mean - it is amazing to watch how they can get what they want even with limited reasoning skills.)
It is for this reason that we as parents of special needs children need to be vigilant to teach and to train. Special needs children must have before them constantly a reality of right and wrong. They must be taught what behaviour will be tolerated and which ones will not. We cannot as parents feel sorry for our children and excuse wrong behaviour because of their label. I hate that Zak has autism! If I could do something to take the autism label away I would; but if I treat him like a victim of this horrible ailment and don't go into overdrive to constantly teach him right and wrong and do my best to make sure every negative behaviour results in a negative consequence I am severely handicapping him with more than autism.
It is easier for parents to grab the label and hold onto it with all their might. I must fully embrace that Zak's greatest issue is not his autism - it is his willful selfish sinful nature. The same willful selfish nature that all my children processes. That is the greatest handicap; and when left unchecked or excused will limit any child in life especially a child with special needs or mental issues.
I boldly say that we must be vigilant to teach our children right from wrong. If our child has special issues that means those lessons will need to be taught over and over and over again. This is our greatest obstacle with a special needs child. If in time a special needs child starts to reach the upper teen years or adulthood and can not grasp the concepts of right and wrong then it is time for us to understand that they are a detriment to society and to themselves.
They can not be integrated into society if they can not learn and govern themselves on moral issues. (This also seems to be the conclusion that the mother of the shooter had reached herself.)
We must realize that we can not continue to handicap our children with their handicap. We must rise to the occasion and say that we must be vigilant to teach them; and if there comes a time when we realize that they are incapable of knowing and acting upon doing right then serious decisions need to be made to protect them and the welfare and lives of other people.
We must teach all children, normal and special, that they must obey! Their future and possible the future of many others depends upon it.