Mental illness does not equate to “criminally insane.”

First, let’s start here: I actually prefer the term “mentally different” versus “mentally ill”. “Ill” implies that the person is sick and they can be cured. And when referring to Autism, specifically, that’s a developmental disorder. Not a mental illness. The mentally different, and Autistics, are wired differently, making it harder for them to learn and assimilate into society like neuro-typicals. But they aren’t broken; they can be fully functioning members of society. They have hearts and souls, and they need love just like the rest of us. We need to help those people even more – those people AND their families – some how, some way, so they aren’t made to feel bad for being different. Or resentful or angry.

And (in-an-oh-by-the-way-how-come-you-didn’t-know-this-already-tone) we really need to not keep guns near them too. Because, duh, impulsiveness is pretty common in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Autistics are not naturally calculating, violent predators. Their violence is reactive, unplanned and immediate. Generally a response to frustration and an inability to make themselves understood. Other conditions can influence this, of course, like ADHD or other neuro/developmental disorders, and those people who have combinations that can lead to violence, or a history of  minor violence, should be monitored and provided all the help and support they need. It’s incredibly heartbreaking but it doesn’t always have to be. They can learn to cope.

I don’t know why Adam Lanza did what he did. I wish I understood. I wish I knew. My son is Autistic with ADHD and has some emerging aggressive behaviors. Tell me – how can I help him? How? Am I doing enough?

I know the answer to that last question – NO.

I should be doing more. I should have every measure of support possible  made available to him. He is so worth it. I want him to be that kid on the news who has Autism and ADHD and beats the odds to give the Valedictorian speech at his school, or invents something truly amazing and scientific, or who uses his amazing heart & soul to develop a non-profit organization with grassroots support that spans the world.

I don’t want him to be that kid that everybody shakes their head at and calls a soulless coward, or a lunatic, or they say he’s “mentally ill” with a sneer in their voice and the implication that within that phrase is the answer to the whole story. It’s not.

Off the top of my head, I want my son to have these things:

  • SUPPORT. Unwavering, unlimited support from family, friends, authority figures, school systems and the government. He’s so sweet. How can everybody not love him and want him to succeed? How can he create something amazing if he isn’t given an environment where he can think?
  • Therapies (social, occupational, speech)  available regardless of ability to pay, and with minimal hoops to jump through.
  • A positive family environment. I think this is so important. Nurture your children. Help them learn. Lead by example. (I think we all forget that from time to time).
  • Uplifting, supportive teachers and staff to provide positive learning environments. Why would a kid want to learn or continue to pay attention in school if being at school is like torture for him? We need to protect our children. Sometimes I don’t think we recognize the dangers out there; the peer pressure, the bullying, the struggle of being an individual but also trying to fit in with the crowd. It’s especially hard since neuro-typical kids often learn to cope without help; we assume all kids can but often that’s not the case.
  • Insulation from things they don’t understand or can’t comprehend yet – like violence. If kids are exposed to violent acts before they have the proper perspective it can make it seem more acceptable some how. Like this violence is just a part of life so maybe I should embrace it. Every act of violence – targeting children or not, targeting Americans or not – should be shocking to us. ALL of us. We cannot continue to accept violence as a natural part of our lives.

Somebody told me that I should tell my 10 & 8 year olds about the shooting in Connecticut to “prepare them” and to “teach them what to do in that situation.” Sorry. No. I will NOT being doing that. We should NOT have to prepare our kids for a situation in which they may have to HIDE FOR THEIR LIVES. At their SCHOOL.

Let’s protect our children. ALL of them.

Yours, in despair, anger & heartbreak,

Stef (just another mother of a mentally different person)

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