The tragedy in Newtown, Conn., last month reminded us all how precious life is and how we should guard it and our families as best we can. The heartbreak of Newtown also has propelled the autism/Asperger's discussion forward and compelled us to speak out.
We established the nonprofit FACES 4 Autism Support Group 11 years ago after our son, Kyle, was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, or ASD, which includes Asperger's syndrome. Knowing that Kyle would suffer from this lifelong medical condition was debilitating for our family. How do you prepare yourself and your child for a lifetime with a disability that has no cure? Many live this struggle each day with myriad maladies.
The young man who perpetrated the heinous act in Newtown was reportedly suffering from Asperger's syndrome. Since this has become known, the autism discussion as it relates to Asperger's has reopened on a national level and has repeated some things that many of us already know. However, a fair number of reports, from those who were described as "experts" and who suggested that Adam Lanza exhibited "a classic case of Asperger's," have done a great disservice. Some even claimed that any child on the autism spectrum is capable of harming himself, herself or others. That's ridiculous. A basic tenet was left out - no two cases of ASD or Asperger's are the same.
People with Asperger's tend to follow the rules to the letter. They will correct others to do things as mandated by law, and they respect law enforcement to do its job. Those with ASD are silent pillars of our communities, and some have created many technological and medical innovations we currently enjoy in our culture. You may not even know what Asperger's is, but you have met people with ASD and benefited from their gifts on a daily basis.
News media misstatements and generalizations could cause those unfamiliar with ASD to fear those who are on the spectrum, whether they have exhibited aggressive behavior or not. We know hundreds of people with ASD, and all have wonderfully unique qualities, just like you and me. In fact, one young friend with Asperger's told us that the media "must stop the lies. They are not seeing things clearly. They are blinded by their hearts." He knows that a person with ASD often sees right and wrong in black and white, and emotions rarely dictate their actions.
Of course, more needs to be done on a national level for those with mental illness, and it needs to happen now. What has been clear from the beginning, and not discussed, is that Lanza clearly suffered from mental-health problems that far and away led to this act more than his reported Asperger's did. Was he diagnosed early? Did he receive early intervention support? Did his parents recognize that he needed a lifetime of support programs? Sadly, these questions may never have answers.
Asperger's is not to blame. It is a neurological and developmental syndrome, and not a mental illness. Dual diagnoses of ASD and mental illness can occur, but trained professionals must deal with them as separate diagnoses. Perhaps a network of strong mental-health support for a family dealing with so many dangerous issues would have changed this disastrous outcome.
Our son Kyle, and many of his friends with ASD, received early diagnosis and early intervention. Sure, we still need more programs such as those provided by FACES 4 Autism and other support organizations to support Kyle and hundreds more with ASD. Ongoing community activities provide the resources needed for a productive life, with the support of family and friends.
If we are going to have this discussion regarding autism and Asperger's syndrome, let's have all of it, and let's start by re-educating our community so that all can understand.
People with ASD do well with professional, family and community support throughout their lives. Community awareness of developmental disorders and mental-health issues is key to creating solutions and preventing prejudice.
Isabelle and Ken Mosca, of Ventnor, are the founders of the FACES 4