Dear Joe Scarborough,
Today, you made some comments that infuriated the autism advocacy world.
“As soon as I hear about this shooting, I knew who it was. I knew it was a young, white male, probably from an affluent neighborhood, disconnected from society — it happens time and time again. Most of it has to do with mental health; you have these people that are somewhere, I believe, on the autism scale…I don’t know if that’s the case here, but it happens more often than not. People that can walk around in society, they can function on college campuses — they can even excel on college campuses — but are socially disconnected.”
There are a lot of angry folks out there who sincerely believe you are ignorant, fear mongering, reckless, and using your own child’s diagnosis as a prop for your ratings.
And you know what? I’m not one of them. And that’s not because I am a fan. I don’t watch a lot of TV these days and haven’t watched your show enough to have an opinion of you one way or the other.
So no, I don’t think you are evil. I think that, like every parent of every child, you probably love yours just as much as I love mine. And I’m not so jaded in my political views that I assume you and other talking heads don’t care about real people and the effects of your commentary. I may be naive, but, like Anne Frank, I think most people are essentially good at heart. I’m going to have faith that applies to you as well.
But I do think that you fell victim to one of the easiest pitfalls of personal experience — that of envisioning yourself as an expert. Probably all of us in the autism parenting/advocacy world do that to some degree when encountering the subject open for discussion. Herein lies the problem. Unlike most of us, you have the ear of the world. And a world that may simply be distractedly listening in while cutting up a salad and listening for the rinse cycle. They likely will not follow what I believe is your hypothesis — that of communication disorders being linked to social ostracization and social rejection often being a cause of young mass murderers. I’m hoping that this what you meant — that any noticeable difference can lead to social rejection/bullying and that the sometimes subsequent depression can be a breeding ground for hatred and retaliatory violence.
But, Mr. Scarborough, that’s not what you said. What you said was so general as to imply that autism is directly related to mass murder. And this scares me. Because much of the public will perceive this to mean that autistics are inherently dangerous to the general population. When, in reality, it is the opposite. Statistically, persons with developmental disabilities and mental illness are more likely to be harmed by the rest of us. They are more likely than you or me to be harassed, bullied, abused, and defrauded. And, if the public suddenly begins to fear them, we can be assured more of the same. For it is always fear that begets violence. Whether it was your intention or not, you have now contributed to that fear. For the sake of my autistic child, yours, and everyone else’s, I am now more afraid than before you spoke.
Mr. Scarborough, if you unintentionally misspoke, please correct it. Clarify your position, and take some time to do some damage control — not on your own behalf, but on behalf of your son and the autistic community you have mischaracterized. And, if you spoke intentionally, then I challenge you to do some research on links between violence and autism and report back. I think you might find yourself surprised.
You, sir, have an opportunity to do what most of us as parents of spectrum children cannot — brighten the path of our special children by educating and preparing the world to understand them.
That is a blessing that most mothers and fathers of autistic children would not cast aside lightly. Neither should you.