I don't want to talk about gun control. We all have opinions about it--for or against. However, the conversation that should be taking place is that of mental illness and mental health services--not only for the person suffering from the disease but from the family members who often suffer in silence.
When my son, Caleb, was first diagnosed with Autism, most of the books out there dealing with the disorder still referred to autism as childhood schizophenia. Basically, a child with autism was considered mentally ill and the mother was to blame. It was because she was cold and indifferent. (sarcasm here).
The following is taken from Web MD and a brief history on the "origins" of Autism.
"Where Did the Term "Autism" Come From?The word "autism," which has been in use for about 100 years, comes from the Greek word "autos," meaning "self." The term describes conditions in which a person is removed from social interaction -- hence, an isolated self.
Eugen Bleuler, a Swiss psychiatrist, was the first person to use the term. He started using it around 1911 to refer to one group of symptoms of schizophrenia.
In the 1940s, researchers in the United States began to use the term "autism" to describe children with emotional or social problems. Leo Kanner, a doctor from Johns Hopkins University, used it to describe the withdrawn behavior of several children he studied. At about the same time, Hans Asperger, a scientist in Germany, identified a similar condition that’s now called Asperger’s syndrome.
Autism and schizophrenia remained linked in many researchers’ minds until the 1960s. It was only then that medical professionals began to have a separate understanding of autism in children.
From the 1960s through the 1970s, research into treatments for autism focused on medications such as LSD, electric shock, and behavioral change techniques. The latter relied on pain and punishment.
During the 1980s and 1990s, the role of behavioral therapy and the use of highly controlled learning environments emerged as the primary treatments for many forms of autism and related conditions. Currently, the cornerstone of autism therapy is behavioral therapy. Other treatments are added as needed.
What Are the Symptoms of Autism?One symptom common to all types of autism is an inability to easily communicate and interact with others. In fact, some people with autism are unable to communicate at all. Others may have difficulty interpreting body language or holding a conversation.
Other symptoms linked to autism may include unusual behaviors in any of these areas:
- Interest in objects or specialized information
- Reactions to sensations
Ok, so that's a brief synopsis of autism. But that little blurp or the other blurps you read about the disorder are not going to tell you about living with the disorder each and every day. They are not going to tell you the hell that most families experience not once, not twice , but on a daily basis for months and often years on end. As I continue Caleb's story in subsequent blogs, I'll relate some of the hell we went through. But for today I want to focus on the obsessiveness of the disorder.
First of all, before I go on, I want everyone to understand, autism is NOT mental illness. It is a disorder. It is not schizophrenia. It is a neurological disorder that no one has found a cure for (regardless of what some say).
Second, the one thing you can count on with autism is that you cannot count on autism and it's symptoms and behaviors being the same in every person that has the disorder. One may be verbal; another may not be. One may be highly intelligent, and another may have mental retardation. One may be basically happy while another may be basically despondent and sad. EVERY SINGLE PERSON WITH AUTISM HAS DIFFERENT SYMPTOMS AND DIFFERENT REACTIONS. Therefore, it is difficult to treat autism.
Third, one thing you CAN count on with autism is that ritualistic behaviors and obsessions are unilaterally present. Over my son's 23 years I have not met one person with autism who did not have certain obsessive behaviors and rituals that were performed and perseverated upon.
We are fortunate. Our son is obsessed with all things Disney. In particular, he is obsessed with Winnie the Pooh. Winnie the Pooh is gentle and kind and not violent--ever. Some people with autism are obsessed with purses, or trains, church, or whatever. However, some are obsessed with superheroes, and yes some are obsessed with video games--violent video games. And this can be a problem.
You must understand Autism to understand why this is important. As described above, persons with autism are interested in objects. Well, it goes further than that. They tend to TREAT people like objects. They completely lack empathy. They aren't being rude or insensitive. It is just not in their nature to have empathy for people--at all--ever.
Now challenge their obsession; take it away; destroy it; then you might get some emotion. But for people-no. Here's an example:
Several years ago, our dog, Sunny, was killed in a car accident. Caleb loved that dog. That dog slept on his bed. But when Sunny was killed, Caleb laughed and hooted about it for days. We would tell him it was sad and for a time he would put on a frown but then he would go back to laughing about Sunny's death. And to this day, three years later, Caleb will still laugh about how Sunny's head was squished by a car.When my father in law died, Caleb laughed about that. When he visited my mother in the nursing home and saw her crying in pain (she is dying from cancer), he laughed. It's inappropriate--yes--to us. But to him who lacks empathy and understanding of empathy, it is perfectly normal.
Caleb does cry. If you take away his dvd's or his toys or restrict him from the television, he will have big old tears pouring down his face. Challenge his "world" and he is terribly unhappy. Those who know Caleb love him. Most people would describe Caleb as gentle and kind. And he is. But he is still autistic and he will never act in a way we think he should. People are objects --plain and simple.
For better understanding of autism, read Temple Grandin's book "Thinking in Pictures: My life with Autism". She is a person who has autism and can artfully explain it.
Now why did I just write about all of this? Because the media is reporting that Adam Lanza, the shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School, suffered from Asperger's. If that is true, then he would have seen people as objects. I don't know (and we may never know) what caused him to pick up a gun and decide to kill 20 children and 6 adults that day but I do know if he was a player of video games, if he was obsessed with them, the games would have been real to him. It is conceivable on every level of autism that he would carry out what he was watching on his games-because the people would only be objects to him and the games would be real. This does not mean that all people with autism are going to pick up a gun and harm others. I am not saying that at all and I do not want anyone out there to be afraid of people with Autism. That would be stupid and a step back for our society. I am merely trying to offer an explanation from an autistic point of view.
It will be interesting to see in days to come, if Adam Lanza's mother had reached out for help and was turned away. Services for children and adults with autism are STILL spotty at best. Unlike other disabilities, adults with autism have difficulty interacting with others, maintaining employment, and developing any meaningful friendships. Many agencies are less than thrilled to offer services to adults with autism--especially those who display violent tendencies.
My husband and I are fortunate. Even though we live in a small town, services over the years have been good. Caleb has had wonderful, caring teachers through the years who made sure that he was integrated well with peers his own age. We are also fortunate that for the most part, Caleb is happy and easy going. He does still have rituals and behaviors that he must perform (like wearing pink on Sunday's--he has six of the same pink shirts) but most of his behaviors are harmless and only annoying to us, his family. Other families are not so fortunate. Many children with autism become unhappy adults with autism. Hormones tend to play havoc with their moods and behaviors. Their families often find them difficult to deal with and also find no where and no one to help them.
Although the natural tendency is for society to judge Adam Lanza and his mother harshly and call them monsters, please be careful in your judgements. What happened was wrong and a tragedy. However, you do not know the hell that either Adam or his mother were suffering from. You do not know if they reached out for help only to be turned away again. Remember, they too lost their lives and only by the Grace of God go we.
Disclaimer: I WILL delete any and all posts that are rude, ignorant, or basically not helpful so please before you comment on this blog, think about that. This blog was intended to uplift not harm. Thanks!