Tag Archives: Lanza

This or That

So over on the Asperger’s Support Network page on facebook, someone asked a question:

How do you determine what behavior is due to Aspergers and what is not?

Turns out I wanted to answer this question in a blog post, as a comment on a facebook post just wasn’t good enough for me. Actually, the way I first read this question was “what behaviors are due to Aspergers?”

My answer to that one is “all of them and none of them.”

This question worries me. They are always presented without context, unless the anonymous asker included context in their question – which they usually don’t. This one, of course, also did not. So I don’t know who asked or why they want to know or if there is any particular behavior they are worried about. If there is, obviously I am not sufficiently informed to answer.

However, as to behaviors in general… well, here’s the thing. Autism is pervasive. I can’t really put my different behaviors into neat little piles and say “these are the autism behaviors” any more than I can have “female behaviors.” My behaviors are simply my behaviors. Asperger’s syndrome affects everything I do, all the time.

What I really want to say to questions like this is – don’t. What is the purpose of saying “this behavior is due to Aspergers?” What are you hoping to accomplish? Ultimately, I cannot imagine a good reason to do this, and I can think a whole lot of reasons not to.

Before I go rambling away more, I just want to make my point really clear – never, ever, write off a behavior as simply “part of autism.” Never.

I imagine this topic has been coming up a lot since that article about Peter Lanza (Adam Lanza’s father) came out. The writer spent quite some time interviewing Peter Lanza, and wrote a lengthy, rather sad, article about his perspective. There was one bit that is particularly relevant here:

Peter and Nancy were confident enough in the Asperger’s diagnosis that they didn’t look for other explanations for Adam’s behavior. In that sense, Asperger’s may have distracted them from whatever else was amiss.

As I’ve said really quite often by now, I am a fan of labels. Having words empowers me, gives me direction and coherence that I might otherwise lack. The word “Asperger’s” drastically improved my life. Knowing what’s going on, being able to have a handle on it, having a WORD, that was amazing to me. IS amazing to me. Yet sometimes people respond to labels in troubling ways. Ways that show a lack of insight, of this “theory of mind” thing that allistic people like to criticize us about so much.

Sometimes, some people will see a label and just stop there. An anomalous behavior will be attributed to the label, they will simply say “well, people with [label] just do that sometimes.” and not look further. It’s why Landon Bryce of Thautcast fears “wandering” becoming a diagnosis. Because yes, sometimes autistic children wander, but it’s important to look at why. It’s important to not just write it off as something autistic children do. Sometimes the wandering is, in fact, a matter of self-protection. Of getting away from painful circumstances, whether those circumstances consist of a painful noise, or sensory overload, or gay reparative therapy, or abuse. If we get to the label and stop there, we can’t find out if there’s more there.

A diary of a mom wrote about the same issue. About a child who banged his head in a desperate attempt to cope with constant pain, and no one looked into it because “autistic children do that.”

If a child withdraws, you can’t say “that’s just autism.”

If a child is hurting themself, you can’t say “that’s just autism.”

If a child wanders off, you can’t say “that’s just autism.”

It is SO IMPORTANT to look at why. And yeah, maybe sometimes there won’t be much of a why. I regularly get distracted by shiny things, to the point that Nee tries to keep me in sight when we’re out and about, because he’s never sure when I’ll suddenly feel an intense need to study some random thing. Yeah, it happens. But it also happens that sometimes people need to get away from something that hurts them. Sometimes an autistic child may not be able to say “that hurts!” in any way other than getting away from it. I am quite sure the same is true for some autistic adults. We don’t always have words, and when we do we can’t always use them in the way people think we should.

NEVER stop at the label. NEVER say “that’s just Asperger’s.”

Oh, and please don’t try to split me apart into “asperger’s parts” and “non-asperger’s parts.” Asperger’s is throughout me. I may not be a coherent whole, but it isn’t Asperger’s that divides me.

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Erasure

I think I want to attempt to talk a little bit about erasure. It is something that has sat around on the fringes of my mind and I’ve talked about subject matters that have been experiencing erasure, but I have never actually named it. Nor have I explicitly pointed at something, called it out as erasure, and said that it is not ok. But I want to do so now.

First of all, it seems worthwhile to talk a little bit about what erasure is. Oddly enough, while the word is used often enough in various activism spaces, I was not able to find anywhere giving a basic 101-level explanation of what it means when people use the word. So I am going to take a stab at it, largely based on how I see it getting used. Disclaimer: this is a very broad explanation coming from someone who is new to activism. Not everyone uses the word in exactly the same way, nor does everyone define it the same way. So as far as I have seen, erasure is basically metaphorically erasing something. Perhaps it is whitewashing history to leave out the parts we would rather not admit to, or quietly pretending that certain groups of people don’t/didn’t exist or matter. It is explicitly or implicitly creating silence around an issue or a history or a people (etc).

I recently read an article comparing people’s responses to James Holmes, Adam Lanza, and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. By and large, I did actually agree with the article. It talked about how Tsarnaev’s actions have been labelled an “act of terror” while the actions of James Holmes and Adam Lanza were not. It talked about the different ways people have been judging large groups of people. Because Holmes and Lanza have names that American’s tend to find easy to pronounce and belonged to a religion that most Americans find familiar, we do not demonize the race or religion that they belong to. We use different words to describe them and make different assumptions and say different things.

While it would probably be possible to debate various points or conclusions that the article makes, overall I generally agree with the specific points about how we stereotype people of different races or religions. People who look different, sound different, believe different, and have different names.

Which brought up the question, why do I feel so ooky when I read that article? Where is this twisty, turny, unhappy feeling in my belly coming from? Then I realized – in not stating certain things that happened in response to Lanza, the article quietly implied that Lanza was an example of someone who is held responsible for his crimes independently of any group of which he is a part. That people simply did not demonize and hate a whole group of people due to his actions.

In reality, this is not how it happened.

There was very real ugliness in response to Lanza. Ugliness that prompted me and others to write about it in protest. It all seemed to start when news outlets implied a link between Asperger’s and violence, and implied that Lanza’s Asperger’s may have had something to do with what he did. From there, it all went to pot. People freely and happily demonized Asperger’s and aspies, and made ugly, hateful, and scary comments as such. People advocated violence against us. People yelled that we should all be locked away and the key be thrown away. There were people who, when finding that someone they are talking to is an aspie, would respond with “oh, like Adam Lanza?” There were aspies afraid to leave their homes for fear of violence and reprisals against them, for something they had nothing whatsoever to do with. People brought up the tired old empathy arguments, claiming that all aspies have no empathy and either implying our outright stating that this must make us all sociopaths. It was also broadened into demonizing mental illness in general, furthering the stigma and stereotypes.

It happened. It was scary and it was hurtful and it was bad. And this article is simply ignoring that entire history in order to make a point about race and religion. It is a point I agree with, but I am not ok with a very important history being ignored for the sake of that point. I am not ok with it being quietly but completely erased, leaving us with the quiet implication that when it came to Adam Lanza, nobody got hateful about an entire group of people, or implied (or outright stated) that aspies are more likely than others to be violent, or are continuing to do so.

It is true that Americans did not (and possibly could not) Other Lanza based on his race or his name or his religion. But they could, and they did, based on his neurology. If I wanted to, I could easily make my own point that no one is demonizing all allistic or neurotypical people based on Tsarnaev’s actions – but it would be wrong of me to ignore the impact that his name, his country of origin, and his religion is having. It is equally wrong to ignore the impact of neurology and how people will respond to that.

I also find myself wondering about why, or even how, it was omitted. I do not want to assume malevolence, but I am hard pressed to believe that the author was simply unaware of this history. It was not hidden or secret or difficult to find. It was all over the place. Even if it is simple obliviousness and nothing more malicious than that, it is still disturbing to me. Whether deliberate or not, there is still an undertone that the way aspies were maligned just doesn’t really matter. That it certainly doesn’t matter the same way that demonization based off race or religion matters. That we can go ahead and overlook it, even though it would be highly relevant in a conversation about how people will hate anything that is Other in this sort of situation. Regardless of how deliberate it was, there was definite bias here. This is not ok.

Don’t erase me. Don’t erase my history or my activism or my fear or my hurts. A whole group of people was blamed for the actions of one man. Do not forget it.

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