When I hear about yet another dangerously misinformed autism parent killing their child because of autism fears, I literally fall to my knees with grief. What kind of world do we live in, if people can't bear the thought of having a child like my bubbly, affectionate, exuberant Leo? In which fears about the challenges and expense of caring for an autistic child snowball into murder? In which people are so unaware of the vibrant diversity of Autistic adult experiences that they view the possibility of life-long dependence -- which may very well be my son's future, and which does not exclude a fulfilling, happy, and social life -- with soul-destroying horror? In which autism is declared the catalyst for a mentally ill mother's unforgivable act?
The answer is that we live in a world where autism negativity and fear mongering are rampant, and I blame the media. Squarely. The Internet overflows with positive, respectful autism examples and role models that in no way downplay the difficulties that can come with being Autistic, but acceptance and even pluck don't grab eyeballs the way that tragedy does. This needs to change. The stakes are too high; we need balance in media portrayals of the autism experience.
I also blame autism organizations and websites like Age of Autism, Adventures in Autism, AnneDachel, and SafeMinds, which have made unilateral demonization of autism their mission; which do no outreach whatsoever based on building positive supports and communities; and which use calculated cult-like "us or them" mindsets, attack dog techniques, misinformation, and censorship practices to keep their almost exclusively autism parent and grandparent faithfuls' righteous indignation and self-pity at a roiling boil.
It doesn't matter how much you love someone with autism -- if you continuously and publicly declare them damaged goods, you are hurting them. And their peers. And telling everyone else it is acceptable to hurt Autistics.
Countering negative autism attitudes and the pervasive media influence that shapes them has been a driving force behind Thinking Person's Guide to Autism. Providing positive role modeling and information is one of the primary reasons our project exists. And, as successful as the website and Facebook communities are, this latest tragedy makes me frantic to get our TPGA book out (I'm marking up the proof right now, if there are no more hiccups with the publication process and thanks to the superhero manuscript powers of Jen Myers, it should be available in one week). I really, truly hope our book will make a difference.
Information is power. We need to use our own power -- our social media voices -- to get out better autism information, and influence the media towards balanced autism portrayals. I hope you'll help spread the word about TPGA, ASAN, and other adamant autism advocacy orgs. If you're on Twitter or Facebook, please take the time to make a public statement of Autism Pride or #AutismPride. Your message might make all the difference to a desperate autism-fearing parent like Stephanie Rochester.
Leo at age two, around the time of his provisional autism diagnosis, and 100% adorable.
Please also read Emily Willingham's post Autism is not the monster. Postpartum depression is, and it has some help.