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La Stampa, Italy

An Autistic Person Doesn’t Shoot!

By Gianluca Nicoletti

Adam Lanza couldn't have been autistic. Once again, a disease that's among the most common forms of disability is wrongly cited.

Translated By Linda Merlo

15 December 2012

Edited by Gillian Palmer

Italy - La Stampa - Original Article (Italian)

The young killer of Newtown was autistic? It is an approximation that cannot and should not be bandied about; for many it could be understood as an explanation as to why a young man killed 27 people, including children, teachers and himself. I'm sorry to sound pedantic, but this thing burns me personally because for 14 years I've had to deal with an autistic child every day and I often find myself having to speak up for other parents like me. I want to ask all my colleagues who have written or signed off on these headlines, probably trusting what they read from a news agency, “Do you have any idea about what an autistic person is?”

An autistic person is someone who's incapable of autonomy, who couldn't leave the house to go to school if he were unaccompanied, who would hardly be able to rationally use a firearm in such a repeated manner, but above all else, it's a person who covers up his ears, terrified, if he hears only a hand clap or if he enters a room with loud music playing. Of course it's easy to associate the term “autistic” with “anti-social” and then share absolutely unfounded conclusions. Autism is a pathology where deciding who belongs to the category is something we're evidently profoundly ignorant about. Yet it's the leading cause of disability: There are more autistics around than blind people, deaf people and people with Down syndrome put together (that's not my word; that's what the census says).

In Italy there are at least 360,000 families who have to deal with problems like this; I assure you they're doing it in complete solitude and with a lack of adequate facilities. When an autistic child grows up to be as old as Adam Lanza, he doesn't have schools to attend; there are no parts of the city where it's possible for him to walk around risk-free. He especially doesn't have conflicts with his mother. On the contrary, in most cases, his mother is the only person who still looks after him, at least as long as she has the strength to do so. A few weeks ago, in this very blog, I made my protest on behalf of other parents of autistic children, who had been very puzzled reading the headlines of many newspapers calling the girl everyone knows as Ruby Heartstealer “autistic.”* That piece I wrote was the lucky forum where the psychologist who carried out the evaluation of the girl could rectify and explain how a journalistic simplification had created the misunderstanding. [The evaluator defended herself in the comments section of Gianluca's blog: http://www.lastampa.it/2012/11/27/blogs/obliqua-mente/ruby-soffre-di-autismo-ma-fateci-il-piacere-PJ5OaxYeuNJHGgFtRj69DK/commenti.html]

I don't want that so many parents like me, as of today, in addition to the weight of the indifference of institutions, the marginalization in inadequate educational facilities and the lack of preparation of our medical profession in the face of a growing problem (one in every 100 children born is autistic), should also have to shoulder the suspicion that her young son or daughter could pull out a weapon and commit a massacre. I read with relief in [the Italian newspaper] Corriere della Sera that at least one psychiatrist as authoritative as Professor Vittorino Andreoli says, “The killer was probably not crazy (and so far there haven't been reported signs of mental illness).” [http://www.giornalettismo.com/archives/661761/adam-lanza-il-killer-della-strage-di-bambini-a-newtown/comment-page-1/] I can't let myself suggest to anyone of a news episode that's already so piercingly over the top, so surreal, any conclusions and deep readings of cruelty. For me, though, having consistent dealings with so many authentically autistic people, I've got to ask myself why a good mother needed to have two pistols and an assault rifle in her home.

*Translator’s Note: Silvio Berlusconi is accused of paying Ruby for sexual services when she was underage. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Silvio_Berlusconi_underage_prostitution_charges]



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