Editor’s note: That’s right folks… CCD has a beloved member of our staff who lives daily with Asperger’s Syndrome. He is a wonderful young man and excellent writer named Miles Bumgardner. Under the pen name “Alexander Miles” he has been writing our popular cult cinema column. Directly on the heels the horrific events in Newtown Connecticut Friday followed the shrieking, and un-nuanced claims that the murder, Adam Lanza, had Asperger’s or a “personality disorder”. Miles stepped forward on his own to bring you this article. We applaud young Bumgardner’s grace, strength, and courage in opening his heart up to our readers… and thank him for his insight.
By Miles Bumgardner
As individuals we’ve been taught from birth that the world is black and white, with both good and bad. The norm of society is usually contained within the small box or everyday life, though there are some who dare to think outside it. But as a young man who lives with Asperger’s Syndrome, these “normal” settings have never applied to me. My world is not black and white, but many shades of gray. And I can’t think within the box because I never had a box to begin with. This makes life with Aspergers not only exciting with its every day surprises but also very frustrating with its everyday challenges. Where some people find a certain problem easy and simple it can take me eons to figure it out and make it stick. And where others view something like, say, UFO’s a bland and weird subject I am drawn to it. Its not abnormal, nor is it normal. It just is what it is.
That still however does not mean that society understands completely. With the recent tragedy that happened at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, Autism and aspies have come into headlines, in a blood spattered brigade of misinformation. As with many, when I heard the news early that Friday morning I was horrified. One of the things Aspergers does is make me very sensitive to the things around me (another one of those everyday challenges). The image of little children, just babies, lying in pools of their own blood so close to Christmas, brought many tears to my eyes. I couldn’t imagine what happened, nor why it should even be allowed to happen. I recovered only by remembering a saying by musician George Harrison, that all things must pass. Yet, while it was horrible and completely unfair, life had to pass from those poor souls. I regained composure enough to know that all those children and teachers are all ok now and will never feel pain or hate again, but peace, and proceeded with my job.
That night is when I started hearing more about the man who did all this. I was shocked to hear he was a kid himself, 20 years old, just 3 years my junior! Even more shocking were the five words I saw next to a picture of the kid: “shooter believed to have autism”. I thought, “What? He had autism? No way!” I found out that the older brother of the killer had issued a report that he ” had last saw Adam (the shooter) in 2010 and that Adam was autistic.” Of course that is all the press needed to hear and proceeded forth with an array misinformation. Although I have recently read that he also had a personality disorder, which isn’t even near autism in the slightest. That’s a different ball game altogether.
One informative error that was printed a lot, and I’d like to clarify, is that autism is a personality and mental disorder. I can assure you, speaking from 23 years of experience, it isn’t. Just because I am an aspie does render me as simpleton. I prefer to think of my “disability” as social awkwardness. For example, I can talk to people one on one in any setting. No problem. But when 3 or more people come and get involved thats where the awkwardness starts to bubble. I can’t explain why except that I’ve always been that way and I’ll always be to a lesser degree. And the same goes to many other aspies whom I know and have great respect for. We aspies are misunderstood as being something we’re not, like having down syndrome or mental retardation. Many of us are highly intelligent people, with a variety skills. Look at Albert Einstein and Temple Grandin!
But in today’s modern techno-utopia, ignorance outweighs intelligence and understanding, which is a such a shame.
I feel great disappointment toward news outlets such as the New York Post , because it seems that they did little or no research in terms of what was wrong with this fellow. The way it was all phrased an pieced together made it look like that he shot up the school because his autism made him mentally ill. He may have had problems, yes, and there may have been and effort to get him some help, but autism can’t be substituted for evil.
Because there is still so little known about autism and Aspergers, there is no doubt that there will be some uniformed soul who will try to put a label on the label. In the sense that “because this student has autism, there is a great risk of them doing something drastic”. Anybody can do something drastic or evil, just as anybody can do something special and good. Its the individual who decides, and who can’t judge a tree by just one bad apple. Because I guarantee you, folks, that where there is one bad apple I can supply ten good ones for them.
I suppose all I can do, as a individual living with the diagnosis, is to encourage the spread of Autism Awareness, to be more informed and not be misled by headlines. And while the whole gun control debate is now reopened, we’ll leave that to the politicians to sort out, we can all arm ourselves with proper knowledge. It is insulting to think that because one shooter had autism then all who have autism or Aspegers are potential killers. The truth is, taking out the autism factor, we are all potential killers. But we are all potential saviors and that the desire to shine our lights to the brightest point determines who we are as human beings. We know that all those children are safe now in a brighter world. All we can do in this wake is love our children more and learn as much as we can from these experiences. Then we’ll make progress in understanding how we’re more similar than different.
You can read more from CCD on this subject HERE.