March 1st was the annual Disability Day of Mourning. Since then, I’ve been thinking about the people our community has unjustly lost. They could have been teachers, doctors, scientists, fellow activists, moms, dads, and friends. They were robbed of a future, and our world has been robbed of their potential. Many of them were killed at the hands of parents or caregivers. These people we mourn, including London McCabe, had every right to trust their killers. The murderers not only failed in the duty to provide care, but spat in the face of it by committing crimes so heinous that it would seem impossible to imagine anyone expressing sympathy for them. Fear of autism has undoubtedly played a part in these tragedies.
Fear of autism has come from awareness campaigns that feature autism as tragic, scary, and depressing. Filled with puzzle pieces, weary parents, and beautiful but sad children, most of the campaigns have been of little to no educational value. But they get the public’s attention. Like a train wreck, these campaigns have been so disturbing and gut–wrenching that people can’t help but pay attention. Autism Speaks has busied itself with convincing the world that autism is the scariest thing on earth. Since it’s possibly the largest autism–related group, its perspective dominates the airwaves. Since the perspective is that autism is terrifying, each time the murder of an autistic person is reported, sympathy for the killer has dominated the national conversation. Like clockwork, talk show hosts listen intently as Autism Speaks’ Founders repeat their usual buzzwords, and depict the killer as just an overly burdened caregiver. It’s appalling to witness this in the wake of someone’s murder. There’s all kinds of problems with the way these murders have been reported to the public.
The most obvious problem might be the fact that someone has just been killed, and that person gets little–if any– attention. When the victim is autistic, the focus inevitably turns into now–common talking points about autism as the tragedy. Pity is expressed for the murderer. I’ve yet to see talk show hosts convey sympathy for people who kill non–autistic children. Remember the jerk who left his child strapped into a hot car? When that story was reported, it seemed to be treated like the horrific crime that it was. People mourned the actual victim who lost his life. If anyone would’ve expressed sympathy for that killer, they’d be shamed all over the place. Surely they wouldn’t get to promote their views on the Today show. But when the victim is identified autistic, the message put out to the public is that the killer may have just needed some extra help. The focus goes right back to promoting an irrational fear of autistic people. This is a huge problem. And what about the fact that through these messages, parents are portrayed as potential murderers? Continue reading