When I told my 12 year old ASD son that the media’s reporting of the recent Santa Barbara tragedy had spotlighted the killer as having autism, he was angry. He threw his hands up, stomped the floor, cried out in frustration.
“Why would they do that, Dad?” he asked. “Why would they make it seem as if autism can cause mass murder? As if someone like me could take the lives of other human beings?”
“I don’t know, son,” I replied.
“Do they realize they’re hurting lots of ASD people who’ve done nothing wrong? Do they understand they’re making innocent people suffer?”
“I don’t know, son.”
“And it’s no use apologizing later. Once you’ve said it, it’s out there. You can’t take it back.”
“I know, son.”
There was great truth in my boy’s words…If only they were his words.
None of this conversation, in fact, happened.
My son – diagnosed with moderate, classic autism – has the functional verbal communication of a two-year-old. He also plays catch with beautiful soft hands. He sings the ‘Alphabet Song’ for karaoke. He loves letting balloons fly up and away into the sky. If I were to tell him how the media have associated his life challenge with unspeakable evil, his response might be to plug his ears, wander over to the iPad and fire up a session of ‘Pocket God’.
That’s the abhorrent injustice of the media’s lazy, irresponsible, dangerous, vile suggestion. My boy has no voice of his own. He won’t take them to task for their indefensible conduct. He won’t leave a comment or write a blog post or express his disgust on a radio call-in. He can’t rally support the way an African-American or a gay person or a Muslim can. He is ASD. Muted. Defenceless. A soft target. He will never fight back.
And the implications of that vulnerability are even greater in the wake of the Santa Barbara tragedy. Malevolent people have a new source in their sights, and it’s the easiest mark they will ever know. I’ve witnessed the frightening vitriol in comments sections already.
Is there a step forward? A way to mitigate this colossal damage? As indicated in my feigned exchange above, it’s not a media retraction, or even an explanation. If that impossible turnaround was to occur, it would make no difference. The genie is out of the lamp.
No, the hope for change lies with us. Using our voice. Sharing the truth. Challenging the hate.
My son and I can’t share a conversation, but you and I can.
The media can’t take it back, but you and I can.