Where Fear Leads Us…

I used to work at an ad agency.  One of the first things I learned was that there is one emotion that motivates people more reliably than any other.  Fear.  Fear compels people to do a great many things they might not otherwise do.

Once we’ve become convinced that something is worth fearing it is extremely difficult to reverse.  When we speak of Autism using words and phrases that cause us to fear Autistic people, we are doing tremendous harm in the short and long-term to that population, harm that will be very difficult to reverse.   Convincing people to feel fearful about something or someone is one of the easiest things to do.  Convincing them, once they are convinced, that it was all a “false alarm” is extremely hard.  So when those first news reports came out linking Aspergers with the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it only took an unethical few to do tremendous damage to an entire population of people.  Despite the fact that if you google “Aspergers and violence” the first dozen pages that come up are articles stating that there is absolutely NO connection between Aspergers and violence.  And yet, my Autistic friends and I are terrified.

I am frightened for my Autistic daughter and for those I love and care about who are Autistic.  I am frightened by what people will assume and how they will then treat those they assume are Autistic.  I am frightened for my friends who are Autistic, will they be safe?  Will a non autistic person hurt them, say cruel things to them, treat them differently because they fear “autism” and therefore “Autistics”?  I am frightened even though the truth is neurotypical people are far more likely to commit acts of violence than Autistics.  Watch these videos on Youtube ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.  Videos showing Autistic and disabled people being tortured by others.  Read these reports ‘here’, ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘ about the systematic abuse of Autistic people, abuse that continues unabated all the time.

It is WRONG to condemn a group of people, people who have suffered at the hands of those who now accuse them, a people who have been marginalized, some of whom cannot defend themselves because they do not speak and have not been given the means to communicate effectively through any other means.  It is important that you know.  It is important that you understand the ramifications of connecting autism with murder.   I want you, no, I need you to understand why the words we use, the constant stream of negativity in relation to autism is causing untold damage to my daughter, to your daughter, your son, your Autistic child, to their futures, to the people I love, to my friends, to all who are Autistic and have had to deal with exactly this kind of prejudice their entire lives.  It has to stop.  It has to stop.

Children were killed, murdered.  The horror is unbearable.  But to add to an already heinous act by targeting a group of people and making it about them instead of what has happened, is adding more pain and agony to more children’s and people’s lives.  Innocent people.  Innocent children.  Don’t we see that?  Can’t people see we’re making it worse?   We aren’t ensuring our children will be safe with these beliefs.  We aren’t making the world a better place with more prejudice, bigotry, false assumptions, and our fear.  Our fear is what drives us to conclude that we are fighting a false enemy.  Our fear is what compels us to hurt, lock up, institutionalize, condemn and torture.  Our fear is what causes us to commit acts of violence against those we’ve deemed violent.  Our fear…

1Freedom Tower

47 responses to “Where Fear Leads Us…

  1. Fear…that is how Hitler motivated an entire nation to torture and murder over 6 million people, mostly Jews, but also gypsies, gays, people who seemed “different” and all because of the financial ruin of Germany after WWI. The easiest thing in the world to do is to find someone to blame, better still an entire group of people, then drum up the Fear Factor.

    We are to blame. Those of us who refuse to ban assault weapons. Without such weapons the USA would no longer be the one supposedly “civilized” nation that has the highest homicide rate by shooting globally.

    That I should have lived to see this day….


  2. Thank you for writing this post. I’ve been thinking along similar lines since Joe Scarborough made his reference to the Aurora shooting. My kids on the spectrum already faced substantial challenges. Society generally misunderstood people on the spectrum before folks carelessly throwing about “aspergers” and “autism.” Invoking the imagery of 9-11 is apt. Villifying an enemy led to the attacks and allowed some people in the aftermath to become vigilantes. My dread of what could come makes me think of the crimes committed against Emmett Till, who was murdered simply because he was black and people had formed opinions about the crimes he would be capable of doing.

  3. I really enjoy your insight but wanted to share another viewpoint as a sister to a brother with severe Aspergers ..My family dealt with this in the 1960’s when no one knew what this diagnosis meant, we were way early to this lifestyle of confusion at times.. With that said and the years I will have put in being legally responsible for my brother who cannot hold down a job I think it is not always fair though to not look at what can happen..We had NO idea my brother had any inclination towards aggression and destructive behavior until he hit puberty and then all bets were off.. Does he have another diagnosis-yes, anxiety but really that is it..I think to not be honest with my brother as a nurse and a sister who loves him so much I have to accept the reality that a diagnosis of Aspergers or Autism carries with it the possibility for other issues, they are higher risk for anxiety, schizophrenia, ADHD and OCD-this is documented. Should we live in fear, of course not, should we ever stereotype an entire group of people for the horrible behavior of one-of course not.. However, if I am not totally honest with the fact that there is a large grey zone and “unknown”-with my brother sometimes, I feel I would be failing him just as much as an advocate. I feel confident to say he would PROBABLY never hurt a fly but I am just as confident to say-there were times he might have been “unknown” at puberty-I witnessed him throwing waffles at my mother and he changed in his demeanor aka ‘unknown at times behavior to his baseline”… He is not mainstream and I think it is sad when we have people trying to “make him normal”-he is special, brilliant beyond measure but he is not mainstream nor will he ever be… I forever have to remain on the vigil for him as his executor but I also have to question his behavior too when he isolates and do my best to protect him and others-that is my responsibility to society and to our family but most of all to accept him, good, bad and with the “grey zone”, too…

    • Hi Jules, the thing is countless people behave in unpredictable ways, one could argue that this is the human condition. We, humans, depending on our circumstances, can be volatile and behave erratically. It is a mistake to pin this on neurology. The fact is, Autistic people are no more (and some studies show are LESS) likely to commit violent acts than non autistic people. And that is really what this is about.

  4. I am with you 100% and spreading the education and plea to all I know.

  5. I agree but how do you then account for the fact that they are higher risk for comorbidity of other diagnosis that have to be dealt with? No, unstable mental illness is not the same as “anyone can behave erratic”-disagree. I am saying people with this diagnosis ARE indeed higher risk for other issues that could predispose them to the comorbidity of mental health issues, this is VERY well documented…This violent act was not due to his Autism it was though probably VERY WELL due to him having a higher risk of comorbidity for a mental health diagnosis that caused him to be violent at a higher rate.. My brother has anxiety issues, that is a mental health diagnosis in ADDITION to his Aspergers. I agree but your divorcing the comorbidity aspect of this diagnosis and that is unfair to their entire picture potentially..If they diagnosed this young man with Aspergers then guess what, they have to be on the lookout for comorbidity issues, that is only fair to evaluating them completely and not compartmentalizing them into one vein ANY diagnosis of Autism and Aspergers carries with it the higher risk of comorbidity issues-not debatable at all if you look at all the research behind that. I get frustrated when people choose to ignore this aspect of their entire picture and I would lay my life they ignored it in this person too. If you are African American you run the risk of being a sickle cell carrier that much more, Jewish Tay Sachs disease, Autistic comorbidity for mental health diagnosis..FACT.

    • “It was probably VERY WELL due to him having a higher risk of comorbidity for a mental health diagnosis…” This just isn’t true. Even if someone does have autism and a co-occurring mental illness, people with mental illnesses are no more likely to be violent than people without.

    • Mental illness and autism are not a cause of violence, there is no association, both groups are normally victims.
      When there is an violent behaviour it’s caused by something, it might be hard to understand what could cause it but strange behaviours have reasons behind it, most non-autistic and non-mentally ill people don’t understand why I do many things I do until I explain.
      Any person can be violent, if there is a need to plan an act of violence it’s less likely to be caused by mental illness or autism.
      I refuse to defend autism and be quiet when people associate mental illness with violence.
      In the end if a person is violent it should never be about an entire group but about one individual.

    • No one is talking about co-morbid conditions, if he had any, and if he did have one that could help explain this act, then talk about THAT one. Don’t use Autism as an explanation, because it doesn’t explain this.

      Personally, I’m not fearful. I’m pissed. Pissed that after how much we have to struggle with social bonding, after having to bridge the gap between ourselves and NTs by ourselves because we’re seen as the sole problem in our relationships, after all the teasing and bullying and ostracism we deal with, we get more crap dumped on us every. single. time. an event like this occurs.

      I don’t disclose my diagnosis much offline. Shit like this reaffirms that decision.

    • We ARE at higher risk for comorbid conditions like depression, anxiety, and OCD, often in large part due to social isolation and the ways in which we’re treated by dominant society…and EVEN STILL, we commit less violent crime than the population at large. He may have had some comorbid condition, and it still wouldn’t be sufficient to explain his individual decision to plan and commit an incredibly evil act of this scale.

    • Let me tell you what unfair is. Unfair is that mother naming her child as a future mass murderer. Unfair is that mother shaming her child in public for a blog post. Unfair is shifting the blame to an entire class of people.

      Ariane is leading with love, not fear. I’m following her.

  6. I feel guilty if I accidently step on an ant. Though I do know, and work, with those that have terrible angst built up within them. I call it the diminishing. Those that I work with have lost trust in people. 8 of the 10 self harm. 1 neglects self. 1 is bipolar. None present danger to the public; all are self blamers. All have the capability of genius. All are feared by my co-workers. All fear the fear.

  7. The problem with the alleged documentation is that the Autism definition is so subjective that you can have 3 professionals look at the same person and come up with 3 different diagnosis. It is a fact that autistic people have higher anxiety than NT people in general due to the way we process the world and the work we do. The rest is really a lot of mis-diagnosis and misunderstanding from my viewpoint. We need a cure for those things first and foremost before we can go around throwing specific groups of people under the bus.

  8. I think that there is no doubt the young man who committed these atrocities had mental health problems. Lots of people do. But we shouldn’t be putting assault weapons into ANYBODY’S hands. Without that factor in the equation all those children would still be alive today.

    • I’m sorry but I have many doubts about it, if he did have a mental health reason to do something so cruel it would be hard to plan something like this. Many people with mental illness can hardly plan daily living and end up homeless, how would they plan mass murder?

      I agree about the assault weapons, people don’t need those, there is no reason for weapons like that.

  9. I’ve been really shaken by some of what I’ve read over the past few days and I’m so grateful to everyone (including you!) who is speaking up and speaking out about this. I can’t. I’m barely holding on to my urge to write at all right now because so much about the world suddenly feels unsafe. But I’m standing beside those who do because it’s important that this message gets repeated over and over again. Thank you for speaking out so eloquently.

  10. People with mental health issues do not have a higher risk to be violent? I am really shocked you think someone who is a sociopath or has schizophrenia could not be more prone to violence and is always the “vicitim”. I worked in mental health nursing and they were MUCH more prone to violent outbursts that had to be managed with medication aka Ativan..Wow, this flies in the face of the following 28 shooting massacres that have transpired since Columbine MANY of the shooters were diagnosed with mental health issues..Autism NO but mental health issues-yes, they are prone too such, sociopaths, schizophrenia all have issues with acting out on delusions..Rationalize however you want too but that is just way off base to not address that concern with someone who can be higher risk for such..I am sure had that component of this young man EVER really been diagnosed and addressed NO MENTAL HEALTH EXPERT WOULD EVER ENCOURAGED GUN USE IN THE HOME WITH HIM..So you believe a psychiatrist would say, “sure guns in the home with Aspergers and mental illness is no big deal, they are usually the victims and no more prone to violence then anyone else in the general public”…That is denial beyond belief and yet another reason I have zero faith in this country for dealing with mental health issues, you are irresponsible at best…

    • Jules, I hear how upset you are, but I cannot and will not allow anyone on this blog to name call or accuse people of things such as being “irresponsible” because you disagree with something someone else has said. If you are able to rephrase what you want to say without making personal attacks, I’d appreciate it. This issue is very emotional for all of us. I fear for my child’s well-being at the moment, many who are commenting here are fearing for their lives. Friends of mine have written me that their children are being ridiculed and called “killers” at their schools. Friends of mine have been asked to not mention their diagnosis at their workplace, others are worrying what will happen if others find out. Dialogue is good, conversation is wonderful, exchanging ideas is terrific, but attacking does nothing constructive. If you have some links to send regarding the documentation you’ve noted, I know I’d like to read it. Thanks.

      • I have a blog about this exact same topic from last night. There are a bunch of additional factors that make it worse. For example, there is the othering factor. Look at 9/11 and how Arabs were then assumed to be terrorists, even though many people knew Arabs who were great citizens. Not as many people will know someone on the spectrum. There is also the need for someone to blame, instead of dealing with the root issues. Such as no one needs an automatic weapon. There is also the fact that no president will be able to ban guns in America or pass very stringent laws. There is just too much money involved. Autistic people are particularly susceptible, since we are such a small minority. Then there is the fact that we fit all the characteristics. We are generally socially awkward, eccentric and as a result loners. All characteristics shared by these crazy gunmen.
        The fact that we are more stringent rule-followers than other groups because we have such a hard time adapting and making sense of the rules therefore, are hardliners for following rules instead of breaking them which causes us lots of anxiety and pain, is probably not known by the vast majority of people, because they have not spent any time studying the condition.

    • What I said about mental illness and violence is not just my opinion, it’s the result of many researches done by mental health specialists. It’s a scientific information, not just personal opinion.
      Guns are dangerous for many people, many crimes are commited because some was drunk or had a fight and a gun was close by, violence it’s not about only one group.
      I don’t really care if you worked in the mental health system and since I wasn’t speaking about my personal experience I don’t see how the cases you saw can be used to generalize because of your personal experience. I knew several terrible people without any diagnosis, can I say everyone without a diagnosis is terrible? No. Can I speak about the studied behaviour of the population without diagnosis? Yes, it is different.

  11. I’ve actually been deliberately avoiding watching the news too much the last few days because doing so sends me into a tailspin of anxiety. I only remember Aspberger’s being mentioned very briefly, from what I’ve seen since then the focus has been more on mental health in general – am I missing something?

    I agree with everything you said. I can only hope that the focus will remain on the victims, and what we can do to prevent such a tragedy in the future.

    The thing that bothers me the MOST is the conclusions people are jumping too. This is such a recent event, I’m guessing it’ll take a very long time to sort out what this person’s issues might have been.

    • Can you believe I have not watched a single thing about this on television? We don’t watch the news, and I have to say, I am so grateful for that. All the information I get is from reading, which has been bad enough!

  12. The other day you made a comment on something I wrote about how I traded my fears of Autism for understanding. As soon as I read what you wrote, I realized that yes, I had traded in my old fears, but to be more honest, I have gained all new fears along the way. Deep ones. Fears just like the ones you mentioned here. I am not afraid of Autism, I am afraid of the rest of the world. I can’t see any way to escape it either. I am just trying to live in our present moments, which are often hard, but really beautiful too. No one might ever understand it, but the reward will always be ours. We know better now what to fear. We have our children. We know them too. We get to love them. ((LOVE)) to you and yours.

  13. Nancy Lanza was a “gun enthusiast”. She often took her son Adam with her to the firing range to practice with her .223-caliber Bushmaster rifle — which can fire up to six bullets per second. Nancy was a “prepper” — a survivalist convinced of an imminent economic collapse. She had plenty of weapons and ammo, a “small arsenal” for WTSHTF.

    Adam was autistic, diagnosed with Aspergers. His mother was his sole companion and connection to life, and the first person he shot…four times in the face…while she slept. Why did he kill his mother? Young children? Himself? After reading this, is the first answer that leaps into your mind: Because he was autistic?

    Where does fear lead us? Let’s hope it leads to seeking thoughtful answers to baffling questions, instead of knee-jerk reactions that can cause even more violence and horror.

    • I agree Richard, who actually needs an assault rifle. Even, if you can justify all other kinds of guns, for reasons such as hunting or self-defense an automatic weapon like that simply shoots too many bullets to be acceptable as a self-defense weapon. I also hear that kind of gun is easily accessible at any gun shop which just blows my mind.

  14. Chou Chou Scantlin

    Oh, Ariane, I know how hard it was to write this, and how carefully you must have chosen your word. Once again, you did so with such insight. All is so hard right now, and I want to send much love to all of you. As an entertainer, it is my mindset to boost morale and lift spirits, as entertainers have always done in the worst of times. When I need to do so, I always focus on the word valor, and resolve to meet danger with fearlessness. I resolve to fight fear in myself and comfort others.
    I think a PR blitz should happen immediately, listing the names of all the famous Aspergers people, with their faces and accomplishments. I see great potential for drowning out the bad buzz with good. I probably didn’t say that too well, but I think you get my drift. Positive imaging of all the wonderful people in the autistic community, and reaching out to the larger community in whatever way we are able, in order to dispel the fear. Let them point a finger, and we’ll kiss it, or put a bandage on it, or whatever they need to make it feel better, and let them know it is the autistic community that is making them feel better. We must take the high road and, as they say, “appeal to their better angels”. We need to remind ourselves that people are scared and become peacemakers. Yes, bad things will happen, and loved ones hurt. The weak and misunderstood have always been targeted. There is evil, but it’s name is not Aspergers. The many good faces of Autism must smile and inspire, just as Emma inspires you and all of us. Little shots of goodness, while we heal. A few laughs. A lot of hugs. And, yes, valor.

  15. Ariane, I love what your blog has done for me and also emma.
    sometimes….we cannot explain insanity with a sane answer. I am pained by all I have read, this just cannot go into a box that fits.

  16. Not sure the famous people approach will help as much as the concept that what happened cannot be attributed to autism alone. I knew a shooter on the spectrum years ago. He was depressed, angry and getting increasingly paranoid. He tried for weeks to get help commenting how much easier it was to just get guns. People tried to alert the authorities in his area again with no real interest taken until after he had killed two people, himself, and wounded another neighbour. While his autism was a factor in his depression which had slid into the irrational state by then those people died because there was simply no help to be had for him. This case was more horrific but the same premise holds. There is nothing specifically about autism that would cause that. The kind of extreme social isolation that can be a byproduct of inadequate support, combined with depression and anger makes more sense and yes for some people those things are rooted in autism but for the vast majority they have not been even though Asperger’s gets batted around as a reason every time now and for nearly all of them there is nothing to substantiate it. Before Asperger’s was added to the DSM people interviewed after something like this would talk about the shy, quiet, loner etc… Now even when that’s all the person was ever identified as there’s more hype to attaching it to autism.

    Much like when parents kill their autistic kids there is discussion of inadequate supports (and no that’s not a really good reason for killing is it?) there should be here. Where are the supports for the adults that would lead to happier, productive lives? If you have a cognitive deficit or are a child people work on community engagement and so on. Why are people who are significantly disabled thrown to the wolves as far as support goes for being “too smart”. Like being smart ever helped with anything beyond getting through school and not even then if you stir in bullying.

    It’s tragic without words that this happened. Horrible how it will find it to the perception of autistic people as less than human. Something useful has to come of this because a few months from now when the next spree happens in the US whether it is true or not it will get tied to autism. There won’t be better gun control, there won’t be decent adult services. Instead of talking about arming teachers the failures along the road to address needs as they emerged should be looked at.

  17. Ariene I cannot put into words, how much I appreciate your blog and what you are doing in general. You are not only speaking out for Emma but are a voice for the whole Autism Spectrum community when we really needed someone. Your voice in your writing is eloquent and passionate. Simply writing about it myself would not be as heard as loudly online as you writing about it because I could not do it as well and don’t have as large and as committed of a following.

  18. (((((Ariane)))))) Just needed to give you a big hug and tell a friend I love her. 🙂 Imagine replacing fear with love. Imagine…

  19. Pingback: “Love Not Fear” | Emma's Hope Book

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