As the young students of Sandy Hook Elementary return to school this week, we take time to pause and remember the lives lost much too soon last month in Connecticut. The terrible tragedy there still leaves us mournful and with more questions than answers; all of which will surely be debated in the weeks and months yet to come. Yet, it is our hope and prayer that out of this evil event God’s grace and peace will fall upon the hearts and souls of all those affected by the shootings.
It has been widely reported in the media that the shooter “suffered” from Asperger’s Syndrome (autism). He has been characterized as quiet, “socially awkward”, and lacked empathy. The media’s caricature of the killer has widespread negative implications for millions of people who live with autism, or are otherwise shy, timid, or “different”. It has been our experience at Crossroads of Western Iowa that the many people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities such as autism are intellectual, loving, unique individuals who have many talents to share but often time need supports which enable them to channel their frustrations in their challenges in communicating with others. While I don’t pretend to know the mental state or proposed diagnosis of the Sandy Hook shooter, I do know that slanted, sensationalized, rush to judgment media coverage of such events can do much damage to the community of persons with special needs that we and thousands of other organizations support. We must not let that happen.
There are many good resources which help us all to better understand autism and the persons and families living with this condition. Here’s just a few that I have found impactful:
Additionally, at Crossroads of Western Iowa, we have a company filled with direct support professionals and leaders who provide special needs support. They come to work everyday to do their part to ensure individuals with autism, or other intellectual and developmental disabilities, are engaged in an environment where they can express their unique abilities and live, work and play in their communities.
In closing, I realize the dialogue of gun control, mental illness, religion in schools, and other dimensions of gun violence will dominate the media we see and hear. It is my hope that in the midst of it all, that the personal stories of the lives affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy do not become drowned out in the debate. Furthermore, I urge our stakeholders to become even more vigilant in their advocacy for the unique individuals we serve and their special gifts they bring to our society.
I welcome your thoughts.