8:30 PM EST, December 20, 2012
Usually, at this time of year, I write my "Stanta" column, complete with a mug of me decked in a red Santa suit and hat — and giving good-natured, gift-giving jabs at some notable Nutmeggers.
It's meant to end the year with a little merriment and frivolity. "Stanta" is not feeling up to it this year; not when our state is mourning the 20 children and six women massacred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown last week.
Humor, like recalling memorable anecdotes from a young child's life, can be an important part of the healing process. But, with so many bodies still being buried, we are still grieving.
I spent a significant chunk of my life in the Danbury area, which borders Newtown.
As Elaine Zimmerman, executive director of the Connecticut Commission on Children told me this week, there are four circles of people impacted by this tragedy — those who live in Newtown, those who live (or have lived) near Newtown, residents of Connecticut and folks across the country.
There are so many random thoughts as we all reflect. First, of course, is trying to figure out why. The increasing reality that we may never know what depths of pain and depravity triggered such a monstrous reaction from a 20-year-old. The best we can do is piece evidence together and engage in conjecture. We do know that mass killings have increased in frequency in America in recent years. The "why" question is always the one that perplexes; particularly when young people become victims.
With Newtown, I implore my media brethren to be very careful about misguidedly linking autism spectrum disorders such as Asperger's syndrome as a possible contributor to this slaughter.
There is simply no evidence to make such a correlation. Far too many journalists have gotten sloppy in their reporting and in subtly suggesting that autism is the "ah-ha" reason for the Newtown slaughters. Stop it!
Autism, for the most part, is a neurologically based development disorder that influences communication, social interaction and sensory issues. It can result in repetitive behaviors. Autism is not a "mental illness" or a "personality disorder" such as schizophrenia.
There is no body of work, and you would be hard-pressed to find any reputable development or behavior specialist, who would associate autism to planned acts of violence. Again, uttering any such notion is irresponsible and reckless. Autism is the fastest growing developmental disorder in the country. It is highly likely that most of you reading this have a relative or close friend who has a child on the spectrum. So, conjure up an image of this person you know on the autism spectrum and ask yourself if you have seen any behaviors that indicate this individual is capable of becoming a mass murderer.
Autism has as much relevance to the Newtown tragedy, as if we learned the suspect had muscular dystrophy or diabetes. I'm not saying the suspect's condition should not be reported, as part of his overall personal profile; just put in its proper context.
As a father of a playful, engaging, mischievous and non-verbal 9-year-old autistic boy, who does not have the high-functioning Asperger's disorder, I'm offended when — in our haste to answer the "Why" question — we rush to conclusions.
What we know is that the suspect at some point became a deeply disturbed man, not unlike the NFL football player who killed his girlfriend and himself this month, or the shooters in Aurora and Columbine. The Christian Science Monitor notes that America's deadliest school violence incident occurred in Bath, Mich., in 1927, when a local farmer used an explosive to blow up a school in the small town, killing 45 people, including 38 children.
In March of 1996 in Dublane, Scotland, a 43-year-old shot up a school gym killing 16 5- and 6-year-old children and injuring 16 others.
The "why" questions in Bath and Dublane were never answered.
So, let's redirect our energy and anger away from "why" and instead to "how.''
How can we make our communities safer places to live, without turning our schools into prison-like fortresses? How can we get more information about early detection of mental illness — and how can we become more educated about the distinction between a mental illness and a developmental disorder.
Stan Simpson is host of "The Stan Simpson Show'' (www.ctnow.com/stan and Saturdays, 6:30 a.m., on FOX CT).
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