Stigma and Self-Advocacy
These past few weeks have been extremely tough for me. Two weeks ago today I lost my Grandma to a 15-year long battle with Alzheimer’s. This was hard for me because I was also dealing with school, taking final exams and suffering from a really bad cold. In the end though, we mourned my Grandma’s loss, I was able to fight off my cold and then able to finish my last in-person class ever for my Master’s in Strategic Communication. I thought to myself that now I finally had some time to relax. I was wrong.
The shootings that occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School just a week ago have left our society with a great deal of unanswered questions. Issues such as gun control and school safety are being debated like never before. The one thing that has been in the back of my head is the gunman in the shooting. Shortly after the shooting, speculation that 20-year-old Adam Lanza was on the autism spectrum began to circulate.
Less than six months ago during the shootings in Aurora Colorado, MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough stated that shooter James Holmes, 24, was most likely somewhere on the “autism scale,” leading to even more speculation that autism and violence were somehow connected. In response to Mr. Scarborough’s comments I did a YouTube video titled “Joe Scarborough, I Have Autism and Am Not a Murder”.
This time around I wrote a public letter, asking the media to not scapegoat our community. The next day I read this letter and responded more directly to the topics of autism and violence in the video embedded above. Although my messages in the two videos differed in many ways, the one constant point I wanted to bring across was how I believe in a non-violent lifestyle.
This issue has affected me on a very personal level because of the dehumanization of autism that has been happening for the past few decades. We have made INCREDIBLE strides since then but due to recent incidents I am uncertain how I feel about our future.
One problem I’ve been struggling with because of this crisis is my self-advocacy efforts. The only thing those two shooters and I have in common is our similar ages. It scares me, however, to think that someone could know I have autism and then possibly think of me as dangerous. I know that I’m not—nor ever will be—violent. But will I need to convince others of that in the future now? From experience I know being a self-advocate and putting yourself out there comes with its ups and downs because you open yourself up to potential criticism. When I was a Resident Assistant a few years back we used to call it “The Fishbowl Effect,” meaning everyone can see your every action.
It’s a tough situation for us to deal with and I expect it to get worse before it gets better but I’m optimistic that this will only make our community stronger. As a young adult who is also a self-advocate, I need to remain focused on letting people see who I am and also encourage others with autism to the do the same. With our community in mind as a whole, I believe our next step for the next few weeks and months will be to build on our awareness efforts while stressing the acceptance of all individuals with autism. This is a goal I really hope we can achieve.