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OCALI's Response to the Newtown Tragedy

December 19, 2012

OCALI joins the rest of the nation in mourning the tragic and horrific events that occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut. The pain and suffering of all who are impacted by this tragedy are unimaginable, and we extend our heartfelt sympathies and condolences to the parents, families, students, educators, and community members of Newtown during this extremely challenging and difficult time.

While we continue to try and comprehend the how and why of this tragedy, it is important that we frame our perspectives, conversations, understanding, and forthcoming decisions and actions in a thoughtful, objective, and informed manner. Many news organizations have reported that the suspect, Adam Lanza, may have been diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome, a neurodevelopmental disorder included on the autism spectrum. Whether or not this is the case, OCALI stands by the statements already issued by many of our partners, including the Autism Society, Autism Speaks, GRASP, and the Autistic Global Initiative, all of which have condemned any suggestion or implication that the tragic events in Newtown were in any way caused by autism.

As parents, families, educators, other professionals, and community members, it is imperative that we recognize:

  • There is no direct relationship between Asperger Syndrome and preplanned extreme violence
  • There is no evidence or research that links being diagnosed on the autism spectrum with a disposition towards or propensity for preplanned extreme violence
  • An individual with autism is no more inclined toward preplanned extreme violence than his or her neurotypical peer

In fact, individuals on the autism spectrum may be more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators of violence. A survey published this fall in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine indicates that close to half of all teenagers with an autism spectrum disorder are bullied at their school. This is far higher than the estimated 11% of neurotypical students who are bullied in school.

The CDC reports the current autism prevalence rate in the United States at 1:88 children. However, as noted author and consultant Dr. Stephen Shore once said, “If you've met one person with autism, you've met one person with autism.”

There are certain identified and recognized characteristics of autism and Asperger Syndrome, though an individual may exhibit any degree or combination of these characteristics. It is important to understand that children and adults on the autism spectrum are just as nuanced, complicated, and unique as neurotypical children and adults.

Characteristics of Asperger Syndrome

Individuals with autism may have significant language delays, social and communication challenges, and unusual or fixated behaviors or interests. Individuals diagnosed with Asperger Syndrome typically exhibit similar though usually milder symptoms of autism.

Some ofthe recognized strengths of individuals with Asperger Syndrome include:

  • Average to above-average intelligence
  • Highly skilled or proficient in a particular area
  • Careful, logical thinking
  • Loyal and honest
  • Values and adheres to routine
  • Desires social interaction, but often appears socially awkward or lacks comprehension of social rules

Some of the recognized challenges of individuals with Asperger Syndrome include:

  • Difficulty recognizing the thoughts and feelings of others
  • Difficulty making or keeping friends
  • Less involvement in group activities
  • Need for consistency and sameness
  • May respond in an unusual manner to sounds, smells, touch, movement
  • Difficulty interpreting nonverbal communication
  • Easily taken advantage of, bullied
  • Preoccupations with unique interests

As we continue to reflect on the events of December 14, now is not the time to live in fear or ignorance. Now is a time for healing, for reaching out, for cultivating understanding, for connecting with our students, our colleagues, and our fellow citizens in a deep and meaningful way.

Resources on Asperger Syndrome

OCALI's Autism Center provides a clearinghouse of information and resources about Asperger Syndrome and other autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Publications include Ohio's Parent Guide to Autism Spectrum Disorders, Service Guidelines for Individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder through the Lifespan, and What to Do When Your Child Exhibits Dangerous Behavior. Webinars include Autism 101 and the 5-part series on Social Competence. The Autism Internet Modules program provides online courses on topics such as Transitioning Between Activities, Language and Communication, and Social Skills Groups. All of these resources are available at no cost through the OCALI website.

Ohio residents can take advantage of our statewide lending library, which provides free shipping and return of books, DVDs and other resources to residents anywhere in the state. Most of the below list of additional resources can be found in the OCALI Lending Library.

Additional Resources on Asperger Syndrome

Parents, families, educators, and other professionals seeking to help their neurotypical students better understand classmates with Asperger Syndrome might wish to check out these resources:

Coulter Video DVDs

  • Intricate Minds I: Understanding Classmates with Asperger Syndrome
  • Intricate Minds II: Understanding Elementary School Classmates with Asperger Syndrome
  • Intricate Minds III: Understanding Classmates with Asperger Syndrome

Books

  • Starting Points: The Basics of Understanding and Supporting Children and Youth with Asperger Syndrome, by Jill Hudson and Brenda Smith Myles
  • Everybody is Different - A Book for Young People Who Have Brothers or Sisters with Autism, by Fiona Bleach
  • Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes, by Jennifer Elder
  • That's What's Different About Me! Helping Children Understand Autism Spectrum Disorders, by Heather McCracken
  • I Am Utterly Unique - Celebrating the Strengths of Children with Asperger Syndrome and High-Functioning Autism, by Elaine Marie Larson
  • A is for Autism, F is for Friend, by Joanna Keating-Velasco
  • Friendly Facts: A Fun, Interactive Resource to Help Children Explore the Complexities of Friends and Friendship, by Margaret Carter and Josie Santomauro
  • Social Rules for Kids - The Top 100 Social Rules Kids Need to Succeed, by Susan Diamond
  • Staying in the Game: Providing Social Opportunities for Children and Adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Other Developmental Disabilities, by Jim Loomis
  • Totally Chill: My Complete Guide to Staying Cool A Stress Management Workbook for Kids With Social, Emotional, or Sensory Sensitivities, by Christopher Lynch

Contact OCALI

614.410.0321 - support@ocali.org