I thought in light of recent news coverage reports, I should jump in and offer my deepest condolences to those affected by the shooting that occurred on Friday, December 14, 2012. For far too long, incidents like this have been occurring across America. It seems that the only detail the mass media can agree upon is that the shooter may have had a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome. This is in spite of numerous contradictory reports on everything from the shooter’s identity to the location of some of his victims. But let me assure you all of one thing. This is NOT the norm for puzzle pieces.
The media wants there to be someone or something tangible to blame for incidents like Newtown, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, etc. If it’s not inadequate gun control, it becomes Autism. Can it really boil down to a single, one-size-fits-all, lowest-common-denominator? Most certainly not. This is a complex moral issue with many complex moral factors. To my understanding, there are multiple factors that have contributed to this particular incident:
1. Let me start with the most obvious. Guns. How did he get his mother’s guns? Why were these guns accessible to him? What do we do now to prevent tragedies like this from occurring again? This last question will be much harder to answer than the first two. Do we ban all guns? No. There are certain uses for guns such as Police Officers’ and Federal Agents’ protection when a perp pulls a gun on them. Population control is but another common use for guns. Do we make them much harder to get for the average civilian? Most certainly. The second amendment was written at a time when the British forces kept invading the newly formed United States of America. Since then, we have seen absolutely no foreign forces invading American soil in a very long time. Almost 200 years, if I’m not mistaken. Also since then, gun-related crime statistics have increased substantially. This can be attributed to the general public remembering we have a second amendment, but forgetting the whole reason why. Some choose to miss the point, entirely. There are others out there who feel that we need more guns for protection. I want to set the record straight, I am not simply “blaming guns” or advocating for “gun control.” Rather, I feel there has to be a better balance between the second amendment and sensible gun control and responsibility. Notice that the UK and Australia both have sensible gun control without outright banning them, and yet, their crime statistics have decreased substantially since those regulations were passed. So keywords here: sensibility and responsibility. That goes for any privilege. Yes I consider it a privilege, not a right, to own an object capable of blowing one’s own head off if one misuses it. The same goes for cars and anything else which requires immense responsibility.
2. Moving on to the next factor, the issue of whether or not Autism Spectrum Disorder had anything at all to do with this needs to be addressed. The argument for this one is that mental health treatment is very scarce in this country, and that it was his “lack of empathy” that is “characteristic of people with ASD” that enabled him to feel no remorse. I feel the need to address this before it spreads too far. Speaking as a puzzle piece, I know I’m not a shining example for emotional regulation. I will admit that I’ve destroyed enough inanimate objects around the house in an irrational fit of rage (those tend to be irrational, after all) over the years to fill a cemetery. This is normal to puzzle pieces. But here’s the important piece the general public needs to recognize. We typically do NOT premeditate a mass murder. Most of us… the VAST majority of us… shut down and withhold our emotions until they either A) explode, or B) fizzle out and we move on with our lives. Most of us explode at ourselves due to the fact that we do not have the communicational skills to tell others how we are feeling that day. In the event that we explode at others, it is a knee-jerk reaction to either A) our frustrations with our inability to communicate with others, or B) our over-stimulation to our very sensitive sensory perceptions and the frustrations that go along with that. I can tell you with 100% certainty that when I explode externally and tantrum (I still occasionally do, but it’s nothing like it used to be), it is because I am beyond my ability to adequately tell somebody, “Hey! What you’re doing or saying is upsetting me!” It usually tends to direct itself at my father, but that’s for a different post. And once these emotions do fizzle out (normally, I’ll just become terribly exhausted from my tantrum and force myself to calm down), I feel great remorse for my actions and take responsibility for them. I may sound violent when I am upset. I may say things like, “I’m going to beat you with a toaster.” But when that moment comes, I will typically just say something sarcastic and move on without the violence. And that is how I imagine the majority of puzzle pieces out there.
3. That all being said, I can now address the issues of whether or not mental health resources are adequate in this country. But before I do, I just want to say that Autism is a very social disorder; it likes to bring all of its friends when it crashes the party. Even if the shooter had a diagnosis of ASD, it was most likely simply the primary diagnosis, not the only diagnosis. There is a very high likelihood that there were other issues that went unchecked for quite some time. Now, then… I will go on the public record as saying that adults on the spectrum receive almost nothing in terms of treatment or resources unless it is a very symptomatic case. Just a few years back, I was told that my therapist and psychiatrist would no longer see me because of my age. I had just turned 21 at the time. Now imagine that, but you have no resources to begin with. That is the case with many, if not most, of adults with a psychiatric diagnosis (ASD is actually defined as a neuro-developmental disorder). Any of the resources that are available are only available to children under the age of 18. The system typically cuts them off at that point. The system knows how to diagnose an adult, but will usually not offer much outpatient help for it. This is a terribly underfunded aspect of the economy. The money is there, but it is entirely out of the patients’ pockets.
4. So let’s assume that A) guns were too accessible, B) he was Autistic (among other diagnoses), and C) could not obtain any treatment for his diagnoses. Most adults in this situation don’t typically do what he did. There had to have been signs that he was upset about something… signs that point to a very blatant stimulus. We all but know he was Autistic. Perhaps he was bullied in school and didn’t know how to express his emotions until they exploded into a flurry of premeditated bullets. His classmates are now starting to come out to say that he was very anti-social throughout this time. I would be, too, if I was bullied to a certain extent. All it takes is some unheard emotions and some reminder to make a person under duress snap like that. This wasn’t a typical, spur-of-the-moment “Ima punch you until you apologize” snap. This was a rare, premeditated “I will make you sorry and I know how I’m gonna do it” snap. The latter snap tends to come from years of psychological torment. If his teachers and parents were aware of these signs, they could have worked with him better to work through them. Together.
So what is my point with all this rambling? We can now paint a picture of what happened inside his head and how it was allowed to happen outside of his head. It is a picture that is all too common. So, how do we prevent tragedies like this from happening again? Simple. The key lies in understanding others’ and their human intelligence and respecting each other. If you suspect that your child may present a danger to himself or herself or others, you need to talk to that child NOW. You simply cannot wait and hope this doesn’t happen to you. There is nothing that you cannot solve together with determination and respect. If you feel that your child is beyond your help, seek professional help. If that fails, there is always the option to institutionalize him or her. More often than not, the personnel will be able to point you in the right direction, even if it’s only a temporary solution. If it is temporary, then it just may be long enough to help prevent tragedies like Sandy Hook Elementary School.
To say that because this one particular shooter was Autistic, that must mean all puzzle pieces are capable of this is an enormous fallacy to the greatest extent imaginable. We need to take each individual case as they come. But first, we must take ourselves to be a factor.
Please, I implore you tonight, hug your children. Let them know as much as you feel they can handle. Let them know they will always be loved, no matter what. If they ask, let them know that this is still a wonderful world full of hope and potential. Bad things do happen to good people. It’s up to each and every one of us to do what it takes to prevent this from happening as much as possible. Sometimes, when bad things happen to good people, we all play a role in it somehow. And above all else, TREAT OTHERS THE WAY YOU WOULD LIKE THEM TO TREAT YOU. This is the most basic principle we all learn from childhood. Let’s keep this principle alive.
I hope that we may all find peace with ourselves, within ourselves and hope that we may start healing as a nation sooner rather than later.
Thank you for reading all this. Good night.