Standing Up

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Like so many since last Friday's event in Newtown, I've done a lot of crying.  I cried for the children. I cried for the teachers. And oh, how I cried for the parents.

Having a child in that age group made it too big for me to process, and initially I opted for an ostrich approach. 

Until the first "hey, did you hear..." from a fellow spectrum parent.  The first whispered rumor that the shooter had Asperger's. 

The whisper grew into a roar, and suddenly an entire community was painted as potential killers by a clueless, ratings-hungry media.

We applauded the voices of reason who challenged the blathering heads on the ridiculous notion that autism causes premeditated violence - but they were too few to stem the ignorant tide. 

Dr. Sanjay Gupta to Soledad O'Brien in a CNN interview: "Autism not a mental illness, it is a neurodevelopmental disorder." 

Nine days ago I was optimistic.  1 in 88 is a powerful number, and awareness is growing.  I could see a day that awareness grew into understanding.  I could see a day that my son would be able to hold his head high and choose to disclose his diagnosis without fear of repercussions.

And then a careless news machine - desperate to scoop the latest in a heartbreaking string of tragic shootings - threw responsible journalism out the window and told the world that autism was to blame.  Who cares that this man had documented mental health problems unrelated to his spectrum diagnosis?  That's complex and nuanced and takes time to verify.  It's not a sexy sound bite.

And I wasn't going to write about it, because this has been thoroughly covered by more eloquent writers than I.

Except that now my baby has a target on his back.

There's a man on Facebook offering - for every 50 Likes on his page - to track down an autistic child and "burn it."

There's another insisting autistic people be tracked down and submitted to what he claims is a cure in order to "save the children from psycho killers."  (For the record, Facebook's response was that labeling an entire population as potential murderers based on their disability is not hate speech.)

One parent had Child Protective Services knock on their door.  They had been called by the school their son attends with the idea that he might present a threat.

Think about that for a minute.  The school. Where this autistic child is supposed to be understood and educated based on that understanding. Called in the authorities because this week's flood of misinformation put it in their head that his diagnosis made him a threat to other students.

Lest you suggest I'm over-reacting, let me make this clear: I saw these examples in one hour on one website, and I wasn't even looking for it.  It doesn't take much to imagine the scale of the internet and extrapolate the scope of this ugly campaign. 

We are genuinely afraid for our children's safety.  We are forced to wonder how long it will be before one of these delusional monsters walks into the nearest school for autistic children with a loaded gun.

It's time to stand up for my son, and push back at the misinformed masses working so hard to paint him as a monster.  I am only one mom with one voice. But I found others like me, and we are working to be heard.

Last night, I saw something wonderful.  A beautiful message from a fellow parent.  I was inspired, as were many others.  We came together to share our own positive messages, and by the end of the night a new page was dedicated to them.  By the time it was 15 hours old, it had over 1000 fans.  A website is already in the works. (Update: It's live!

Less than a day in, our campaign of positivity is already getting negative feedback.  One parent called us "sick" and wanted us to take down the page because she was so hung up on her opposition to the phrasing she overlooked the message.  Another suggested we shouldn't be claiming that people with Autism are peaceful and joyful and loving because "some of the can be combative."

To which I say: what can your point possibly be?  You don't get to discount the truth about Autism because some individuals occasionally experience a negative aspect of the disorder.  If combativeness is a litmus test for legitimacy, then you'll have to dismantle the NFL. We accept their "combativeness" as the cost of doing business - even when that cost is murdered wives.  So why is it a problem when someone whose torturously overloaded sensory system accidentally injures a well-meaning caregiver while in the throes of a genuine neurological crisis? 

I encourage you to visit the Autism Shines page on Facebook. Look at the beautiful children who should not have to grow up fearing for their safety.  Look at the adults brave enough to overcome their fear and publicly acknowledge they are on the spectrum.

Look at them and understand they are people.  Just like you.  People who - just 9 days ago - were living their lives. Just like you.  People who need you to hear the truth so they don't have to walk around with a target on their backs.