Wednesday, December 19, 2012
Sandy Hook Elementary: The Face of Autism?
Currently, the face of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is being implicated as a potential reason for the unthinkable acts of nightmare-type violence that occurred on December 14, 2012. These acts of violence stole the lives of 20 innocent children and seven school staff members. These acts were so well planned out that the most experienced experts in our nation are having difficulties finding evidence to answer the loudest & most resounding question bouncing off the minds of the people. WHY did this happen?
Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) may have social impairments, communication & speech delays, and atypical behavioral expressions. These impairments, deficits, and expressions are due to neuro-developmental components of their brain cortex that function differently than the typical person. A neuro-developmental disorder is not a mental illness, although some individuals with ASD may suffer from comorbid mental conditions (e.g., depression & obsessive-compulsive disorder). Aggression is also an area of concern for many parents and caregivers of individuals with an ASD. However, aggression is typically reactionary to an inability to effectively communicate, heightened environmental stimulation, or being abused. Understanding the feelings of others is another criterion used to diagnose a child with ASD. This is typically an issue during the infant years, although there are some individuals that keep this as they age. However, it is no more prevalent than the typical individual that lacks empathy. The most effective evidence-based treatment for ASD is applied behavioral analysis (ABA) beginning at an early age. This intervention is used to increase useful behaviors and decrease problematic behaviors. Many individuals with ASD also receive speech therapy and occupational therapy. Mental health medications are not typically used to treat ASD symptoms. I would like to highlight the fact that neuro-developmental disorders are not the same as mental illnesses.
The day after 14 December 2012, my husband asked me to watch a documentary on the 1997 North Hollywood Bank Robbery - Shooting Rampage. As I watched, I literally felt as if I were watching a movie. I could not believe these men were using illegally modified fully automatic guns, with high capacity drum magazines and ammunition capable of penetrating police body armor, as if they were playing a video game. I was so thankful no one was killed (except the shooters). Later we did a Wikipedia search on this shooting rampage only to find out that these men had been picked up four years earlier with a trunk load of guns, ammo, and everything one needs to kill a mass of people. Interestingly, these men were released from jail after 100 days and given back most of their property. Now we, the readers, were privy to a short & limited background on these two individuals, but there was clearly a lot of "history" missing. This history may have given us a reason as to why these men "went out" as they did.
What history do we have on this current mass murderer? Was he on medications? Was he also diagnosed with mental or medical conditions?
The scenes of the DC Sniper, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech and another recent senseless shooting rampage will always be fresh in the minds of the reigning generation. What do all of these mass murderers have in common besides their preferred choice in weaponry? Perhaps we need to press the experts to assist us in answering that question instead of using the face of autism as the answer. Especially knowing these other mass murderers were not diagnosed with ASD.
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