Friday, December 14, 2012

Healing, Hurting, Trying to Make Sense in Times of Tragedy


Healing, Hurting, Trying to Make Sense in Times of Tragedy
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Today I planned to work, do a bit of Christmas shopping, work some more, catch up on email, blog and attend a play in the evening with my sons to celebrate the end of a long week.

Instead, like many around our country today, I found myself transfixed to news reports about the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, CT. Being the mom of a 1st and 8th grader, the news resonated very hard as I know it has with so many around the nation trying to logically make sense of something which seems senseless.
As I watched the news, I kept thinking about earlier events this week. Events which hit just a little too close to home...
Three days ago, on December 11th, 22 year old gunman, Jacob Roberts shot and killed 2 before turning the gun on himself in a shooting at Clackamas Town Center in nearby Clackamas, OR. Our family had visited there not too long ago. Friends were to be there that day. Fortunately they were not.

Then the next day, December 12th, the feeling of terror continued in our hometown of Vancouver, Washington when lockdowns of several schools in Evergreen School District were announced, including the Early Childhood Center where our youngest son had attended preschool. The Columbian reported that a 15 year old student at Evergreen High School had brought a gun and ammunition to school with the alleged intent of selling it to another student for
$40 and an iPod touch.

Fortunately no-one was hurt in the latter incident however Facebook exchanges among Vancouver, WA and Portland, OR friends were understandably somber and reminded us to take the time to stop and appreciate each day with family and friends.

Then today happened. Gut-wrenching sadness. Innocence lost. A community that would never be the same. Tragedy.
On December 14th, in Newtown, Connecticut, the deadliest shooting in US history at an elementary school was reported... and reported... and reported. Everyone wanted answers, tidbits, some sense to understanding a horrifying crime that shook individuals to the core. Twitter and Facebook blew up with speculation. Conflicting reports about the shooter and victims were released throughout the day as different stations reported varying information. Finally it was confirmed in various reports that Adam Lanza, a 20 year old man had killed his mother at home, drove to the elementary school where he mom had once been an aide and then killed 20 children and 6 adults before killing himself.

With such horrific news being covered on every USA station, most people missed that in China on the same day, 22 children were reported injured by a 36 year old man during a mass stabbing. Twenty two children stabbed... Another community in mourning.

What is going on?

Although I’d like to believe I’m a quick thinker, in reality, it takes awhile for me to process situations. My initial thoughts were shock, sadness and sympathy.
As much as I tried to separate myself from the overwhelming range of emotions I experienced and the visuals that were constantly replaying, I couldn't shake one thought from continuing to permeate and jump into the forefront of my mind.

I prayed for all the families impacted. I prayed for my children and husband. No matter how I tried to distract myself, the nagging thought kept breaking through. How was I going to keep my innocent 6 year old son from finding out about the Sandy Hook shootings?
You see, my youngest son currently has a HUGE fascination with watching the TV news. Part of his routine is the daily news at 4 p.m. on KATU. He also likes ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer.  I’m not sure what initially prompted his news kick (generally, his passion is for cars), however it started in October before election time. For Christmas break he wants a tour of our local news station. He can rattle off the daily and weekly programming for our local stations quicker than you can sing the alphabet song.

I just am not ready for him to find out about this today.  I’m not ready for my older son to find out about it either. Is it my parental instinct? Yes? Wanting to protect their innocence as long as I can?

Absolutely.

My sons are both on the autism spectrum. So am I. Earlier this afternoon, much to my dismay and yet unfortunately not surprisingly, rumors started to surface and be reported on ABC News, FOX, etc that Adam Lanza, the perpetrator in today’s shooting may have been somewhere on the autism spectrum.  It started out with speculation that his brother had told officers he was “developmentally disabled” and morphed into “autistic”, “slightly autistic”, “Asperger’s Syndrome”, “personality disorder”, “OCD”, etc, etc, etc.

Now I REALLY didn’t want my children to hear about this because quite frankly, autism and Asperger’s gets thrown under the bus enough already. The last thing children, teens and adults with autism need is to be unfairly associated and linked with such a horrific situation. Individuals with autism and other developmental disabilities are no more likely to commit violent crimes such as these then those considered neurotypical. Many in the autism community have been victims of bullying and crime. They do not need to be further hurt by misunderstanding. They do not need to be feared. They need to be accepted for who they are. They need to mourn and grieve just like everyone else.
When I co-founded Autism Empowerment last year with my husband, I never thought I would have to be writing a blog like this. 
We are working very hard each day to take the stigma of autism away. Autism Empowerment was founded last year with four foundational pillars: Accept, Enrich, Inspire and Empower. By promoting acceptance, enrichment, inspiration and empowerment within the autism and Asperger communities, our mission and vision is to help individuals and families impacted by ASD to reach their highest potential. We promote positivity.
We work hard every day to destigmatize autism. To help people accept others for who they are, where they are at...

Today’s violence was the act of a troubled man who we know little about. No one will be able to ask him why he did what he did. No one will be able to question the mother he lived with. Many will be looking for answers that they just won't be able to get. There will be a lot of speculation, lots of stories, lots of Monday morning quarterbacking as people have visceral reactions to something that seems too horrific to be fathomable.

Whether or not Adam Lanza turns out to be on the autism spectrum, it is important for people to realize that it is unfair and hurtful for people to draw cause and effect correlations between autism and violence that are going to further stigmatize and isolate men and women, boys and girls who are on the autism spectrum trying to make the most of their lives every day.

Rather than speculate in the media where children and adults are going to be listening and searching for solutions, let us make sure we take time to mourn the victims of all tragedies and show support to all who are hurting. If we are in a place to do something proactive to help others heal, let us step up and do so. Let us be cautious about labeling and generalizing. Think before we speak, listen before we label and be people of integrity. May we be the role models that we want our children to see and emulate..

Let us do what we can with our gifts to make the world a better place each day that we have here to live. Let us
Accept. Enrich. Inspire. Empower.
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For those with family or friends on the autism spectrum who are currently experiencing loss, I would also like to recommend the recent 2012 release of a book by licensed professional counselor, Karla Helbert, “Finding Your Own Way to Grieve, a Creative Activity Workbook for Kids and Teens on the Autism Spectrum”. I recently received this book in the mail about a week ago. Please make sure to read the section in the front also for parents, caregivers, teachers and therapists.

My thoughts and prayers are with all the individuals and families impacted by recent events. My thoughts are also with the autism and Asperger community.
Be good to yourselves and each other, Aspierations friends.
With love and respect,

Karen