The Real Faces of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

To be honest, I haven’t seen or read a single new story about the events in Connecticut last Friday. I’m deliberately ignorant of the news and media as much as possible, not because I don’t care, but because I care too much.

Being over-sensitive and extremely empathetic, the only thing that would be achieved from me watching the news would be me laying in bed crying for days at a time, and I can’t burden myself or my children that way. My heart is breaking in all this just the same.

I have heard through a few friends on Facebook that the shooter was possibly an Aspie, like myself. Does this make me a killer? Does this make me capable of hurting a perfect stranger? I don’t believe it does and I want to explain why I feel this way. But first, I’d like to tell you about a little girl.

Sissy in her "I look just like Junie B." outfit.

Sissy in her “I look just like Junie B.” outfit.

This is Sissy. She is almost seven years old. Her blonde hair is the envy of many; her blue eyes a stark contrast again her pale skin. She is nearly a blonde version on Snow White. She likes to draw Disney characters using tutorials on Dragoart.com. She has a list of her favorite colors that is ten colors long, in order they are: pink, purple, yellow, grey, black, white, blue, red, green, and orange (subject to change on a whim) . Sissy loves clocks and time. She was reading chapter books at the age of 4. She is halfway through the second grade a full year ahead of schedule. Her favorite subject is math and she loves to write large numbers (6- or 7-digits long) in expanded notation. She is learning to multiply. Last year, in first grade, she helped to teach her classmates to read. One of her best friends was also in her class and through encouragement and being a good friend, Sissy was able to help her friend gain better reading skills. At the end of the school year, both girls had more than 50 Accelerated Reading points, Sissy had more than 75 points. The end of year goal for first grade was 10 AR points. She collects Lalaloopsy dolls, sucks on her index finger when she sleeps and sometimes, she wets the bed. She is six years old. She is the age of the average Kindergartener, and has a joy that is impossible not to infect others with. Sissy watches Disney Junior with her little brother, often times reciting the dialogue of Jake and the Neverland Pirates, word for word along with the show. Her love of life is contagious. Her love of others innumerable. Last Christmas, she gave all of the money in her piggy bank to the Salvation Army bell ringers at our local Wal-Mart store. Each trip to Wal-Mart we make, she and her brother ask for coins to put in the Children’s Hospital Charity Bank. They like to watch the coins spin down down down until they drop into the bottle of the large clear cylinder. This year, she nearly cried when I told her we would have to wait to donate toys. She asked to give her own doll away. Her spirit was so great, that not only did we buy toys that day, but we drove across town to take them to the donation drop off point. (Heart of a Child) If her heart were any bigger, I’m convinced she would explode and burst love and happiness onto everyone around her. Sissy is also autistic.

photo by ©Lynne Hough 2012

photo by ©Lynne Hough 2012

She has an impressive memory, can recite whole songs or show episodes from memory without prompting and has renamed my Honda CR-V “Bucky” in honor of the pirate ship from Jake and the Neverland Pirates. She puts too much pressure on her pencils when she writes. Sissy is incredibly intelligent and helpful, but doesn’t understand normal social cues, often times invades into the personal space of others and needs a lot of direction to complete tasks. She has autism, but contrary to what the media would have you believe, she wouldn’t hurt anyone, ever. I say that from experience. This is a child who sobbed heavily when watching the newest Tinkerbell movie. In the movie, a leading character breaks a wing and when that happens the fairy will never fly again. I had to pause the movie to console her because she was beside herself with grief over the fairy’s predicament. She cried when Jake lost Bucky to Captain Hook in the episode “Jake Saves Bucky“. She couldn’t hurt anyone intentionally and not feel tremendous guilt and anxiety over having harmed someone.

Now with all the news outlets claiming autism makes killers, and people all over Facebook claiming we, those within the Autism community, should be “locked up for the safety of others” or “have to register their illness”, I fear for her safety and my own.

I want to explain why this event, though tragic, does not define me. Many of us with AS and ASD are questioning ourselves as a result of inaccurate and incomplete media coverage. Spreading ignorance is worse than spreading knowledge because people are quicker to believe a lie than the truth, particularly in times of fear and anger. I would never hurt anyone intentionally, unless I first feared for my safety or that of my children. I know this to be a fact because it took me NINE YEARS to learn to drive a car, and three years later, I’m still too cautious when I drive.

My sister (on the left) and me in high school.

My sister (on the left) and me in high school.

This might be hard for people to make the connection between it taking so long for me to drive and my ability to harm someone else. In my experience as a child, my step-dad worked in an auto body shop. When a car was in an accident, it would be towed into the garage he worked at where it would sit, mangled and deformed, until the insurance company, owner, and police had a chance to review the vehicle damage or make a case. Most of these cars were simple accidents. A few fender benders, maybe a hit and run, sometimes a single car accident, but one vehicle came in when I was fourteen. I was six months away from taking Driver’s Ed in school when this car came in and worse yet, the vehicle was then parked in the courtyard of my high school the week before prom as a warning against drinking and driving. The blue car, with it’s windshield shattered into the floor, the steering wheel resting flat against the front seat parallel to the floor, was a mangled mess of metal, broken glass, and what was left of the poor girl who had been driving.

Her brain matter had dried in places, sticking her hair to the windows like red puff paint. The seats were stained a shade of red I will never forget. A few of her teeth were in the floor board where they had come to idle after being forcibly evicted from her mouth as her body slammed against the dashboard, steering wheel and windshield. She had had only one drink. It had cost her her own life and nearly took that of her twelve year old sister who was seated in the front passenger seat at the time of the accident. The bio-hazard stickers gently covered the outside of the car as a reminder to others not to get too close. This car, with it’s mangled metal, broken glass and dried blood sat in the courtyard for a week. Every day I was forced to walk by this car, forced to experience the accident again and again, forced to feel the pain of her death each time I walked to the art building or science building or cafeteria. I saw this car everywhere I went.

The next semester, I took Driver’s Ed. I believe I got yelled at the most of the people who were in my driving group and I know for a fact that he hit the breaks more often when I was driving than my fellow students. I passed Driver’s Ed with a ‘B’. I was 15. In the next nine years, I had three learner’s permits (the ones where you have to drive with someone else who is old enough to teach you to drive). Three learner’s permits in two states. In those nine years, I went through a lot of bus passes. My mom tried to teach me to drive and failed. My step-dad tried to teach me to drive and failed. Two nice girls from my church tried to teach me to drive and failed. In those nine years, I got married. I had two kids. But I was terrified that driving would get me or someone else killed. In my experience, cars were dangerous and I still get anxious if I have to drive to unfamiliar places or over long distances. My husband and I drove three days to California this past summer. During those three days, I drove 100 miles on day two. My husband drove the rest of the way. My husband was finally able to teach me to drive when it became a necessity. He had signed the paperwork with the Army recruiter. He was leaving in nine months to go to Basic Training. I had to learn to drive. I am nearly 28 years old and I’ve had my driver’s license for three years this Friday.

Sissy and I at Sea World San Diego during block leave Summer 2012

Sissy and I at Sea World San Diego during block leave Summer 2012

Having Asperger’s alone, will not make you a killer. My daughter and I are the faces of autism. We are among many people with AS or ASD who would more likely harm ourselves than someone around us. This is the truth of autism. We are more likely to hurt ourselves in a fit of frustration, than we are to shoot up a classroom of children in a premeditated fit of rage. We are only two, but there are THOUSANDS of us out here, shamed and frightened, and questioning. So many questions.

If he is an “Killer Aspie”, what does that make me?

I would encourage you all, bloggers, Facebook folks, Tweeters, get out there and celebrate the people in your life who have AS and ASD. Together, we can quell this anti-autism media, but we have to get out there and say something. We don’t look at a serial killer and instantly brand him as “neurotypical”. We cannot let other define us as killers for the actions of one person. We are the “Real Faces of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome”, not the one person who committed a horrible act.

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5 thoughts on “The Real Faces of Autism and Asperger’s Syndrome.

  1. argylesock says:

    You’re not alone. I follow several autism-related blogs here on WP.

    • Thank you for reminding me of that. It’s often alone here because my husband is my main support and helps to keep me focused and grounded and he’s a long way from home this Christmas. I miss him and it makes all of these isolating emotions so much worse. I am grateful that my daughter is ignorant of the issues going on in our country. She’s just a baby and doesn’t need to be bothered with all of this. What’s odd for me is that with autism rates as high as they are, I was surprised that none of the children killed were autistic. Does it not occur to the media that while they are busy making all autistic people look like killers, they are also doing this to children? Children who may very well attend the school that was victimized? In their quest for scapegoats instead of answers they are further victimizing these children… It just breaks my heart.

  2. The heartbreak of this tragedy is beyond comprehension. But maybe one way to honor the lives of those children is to make the world better for all children. That includes “aspies.” Maybe a way to honor the lives of those teachers is to learn and understand each other better and not demonize any particular group. I don’t have the challenges you have, and I had to turn off the news to stop crying. To quote your reader above, “you are not alone.”

  3. ProfMomEsq says:

    I love this post, although I am sorry for the events that caused you to write it. You and your daughter are beautiful. Her smile is amazing. And, you’re writing is gorgeous.

    You are not alone. Are you ever on Facebook? If you are, please check out the Autism Shines project. A group of bloggers I know started it as a way to counteract the negative messages in the media about the autism spectrum. It is a photo project, and viewing the pictures takes a lot of people to a much happier place.

    Wishing you and Sissy a wonderful, happy new year.

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