Wednesday, 19 December 2012

Secondary Effects

A few days ago, I spent the afternoon with a group of women. We had met, generally through online groups or professional contacts, and kept in touch. Some of them I was meeting for the first time, others I already knew in person. We laid out food we had made the previous day or picked up hastily on the way, cold meats and cheeses, quiche, boiled potatoes with butter, chocolate brownies. We sat on the deck in the sun, drinking ginger beer and talking. We gossiped - yes, gossiped! - a bit. We told jokes where we knew what was coming and laughed before the punchline had been spoken.

I don't think at any point we mentioned the Sandy Hook massacre. News had only just started to be filtered through to us. Maybe we didn't feel like there was much worth saying. Maybe, with the majority of us working in education in one way or another, it hit too close to home. We hadn't yet realised that - like every one of us - the shooter was autistic, and that once again the term would start being banded around as synonymous with lack of empathy, lack of feeling and violence.

Parents stepped up their search for normalcy, because normal people don't commit violence, because clearly forcing your child to stop moving or communicating in the way that's easiest and most natural to them is the best way to prevent a massacre. Someone claimed to have phoned the police about an autistic person they know of, fearing they may become violent with no further evidence than the fact they're weird.

Not many people have talked about the six year old autistic victim, Dylan Hockley. We haven't much either. We're too busy trying to defend ourselves. We haven't talked much about the other issues that relate to us as the gun debate - and I can't believe it's even a debate - steps up, about the number of autistic people, predominantly young men, shot by police, and about how that's supposed to just be accepted.

A lot of what I want to say can be summed up by Julie's post, There is no Depression in New Zealand, which mostly but not altogether could apply to my experience of being autistic (and mental illness is not something entirely foreign to me either) - this is just my version of it. There is of course a need to challenge the stereotypes that get applied, the associations with violence that have no basis in fact, the refusal to meaningful acknowledge perpetrated against those with mental illness and autistic people.

And of course it's hard to process events like this. We all want to live in a world without them, to find some magic key that means they won't happen again.  But if the cost is prejudice, if it's our acceptance of child abuse, if it's persecution and ultimately leads to more violence, we are only floating further from any kind of solution.

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