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Dear Joe Scarborough,

Today, you made some comments that infuriated the autism advocacy world.

You stated:

“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.


Flappiness Is

28 responses »

  1. angelina258 says:

    Hey there. I wrote a post about this topic as well. You might find it interesting. My little brother has autism, and I’m also a behavior therapist.

  2. Robin says:

    Beautifully stated!

  3. Curtis says:

    For those that haven’t seen it yet, Scarborough did retract his statement. In terms of an appology it was somewhat weak, but he was at least remorseful.

    • FlappinessIs says:

      I agree. I wasn’t thrilled with the execution of his retraction, but I still feel his intention wasn’t malicious. I wish he had gone on to throw out some facts, however. I’m finished talking about it, but I wish he wasn’t…

  4. Val says:

    I’m the parent of an Autisic son (Aspie). A sweet, loving teen, anti-violent, mellow, giving — but with with very few friends who accept him. As he ages, i am seeing that he is having more trouble finding friends to connect with. I worry about his future – i worry about social isolation when his parents cant be with him every day. Anyone who is isolated from society can succumb to mental illness. Im sure that is what Scarborough meant.

  5. Beverly J Sherman says:

    May I include my bravo to the above reply to Scarborough’s statement. I have 2 grandchildren on the spectrum. Neither one of them would or could conceive a plan such as in Colo. They wouldn’t even know how to shoot a gun ……I repeat what has been said, autism is not a mental illness! Autistic people have enough to contend with let alone ill conceived statements broadcast to the public at large who are unaware of the depth and truth of autism. This is why I for one do not listen to “talk” radio/tv. etc because that’s all it is is talk.

  6. Ann Burt says:

    This is possibly your best post ever. That’s saying something. Why oh why do people continue to equate ASD with being mentally ill? I realize that may be rhetorical, but it is very frustrating. It’s obvious the young man that committed this hideous crime is (as my grandmother would’ve said!) crazy six ways to Sunday. It is also possible that he may be on the spectrum as well. He may also be left handed. We all need to continue to educate the public regarding ASD, and not become too angry when people display such shocking ignorance.

  7. cathykal says:

    Well said! I agree, people who have the ear of the world have
    a responsibility to speak carefully & thoughtfully. Thank you for
    writing a beautiful commentary from an informed autism mama perspective– you rock! 🙂

  8. As the grandmother of 2 with autism I do not take any offense at his comments. There are children on the spectrum who lack empathy and social connections. It is very possible this man is on the specturm. Who knows? I think it is more likely the man is a sociopath or some kind of mental disorder. It could be schizophrenia that has worsen throughout his adult like. His parents would be the key to understanding this though. They should have seen signs before now

  9. judithornot says:

    I sign my name to your “letter,” too. Judith Burke

  10. Jenn Cusumano says:

    Joe Scarborough has an Autistic son….why would he say such a thing? As the parent of an Autistic son, I am always sensitive to how the world perceives him and Autistic children/adults everywhere. His comments perpetrate a stereotype of “social disconnection” that is hurtful to Autistic people everywhere.

  11. Marlene says:

    I agree that what was said on national TV was very inappropriate. It will be up to the specialists, after rigorous evaluation of the shooter, to determine his mental status. It is not without saying that this may, indeed, be a young man who has gone undiagnosed, who slipped through the cracks of the system all these years, because he has shown the ability to make high grades and demonstrate intelligence in areas related to the sciences. We have to wonder.though, if this young man was ‘really’ fine all these years, or were there signs that were overlooked? When students make good grades the rest is chaulked up to being just fine, even if there is something somewhat off. My point is that schools/education ought to address the ‘whole’ child to ensure that nothing is overlooked, should there be early signs of potential disorder. We had a young student dx with Asperger’s who killed another student here in my area about five years ago. His parents had expressed their concern regarding the need for more supports prior to the incident…we learned afterward that much had been overlooked by the school that could have prevented this terrible event. He had been a good student, made good grades and that was the most important part as far as school was concerned. The young man was convicted of murder and sentenced to life…his Asperger’s dx was not considered relavent to his actions. Clearly, someone let this young man down.

  12. I’ve signed a petition to get Joe Scarborough to retract his vile statement. My son is strong and angry but I don’t believe he would ever go out and shoot 12 random strangers in a cinema! Autists – even the profound ones – are, by their very nature, gentle and compassionate human beings.

  13. Pam O'Connor says:

    I am so shocked and saddened to read about this man’s comments. People are really flailing about to try and put some “reason” on a violent event, aren’t they. Thanks for your (as usual) very level-headed and fabulous response. I hope your blog gets a lot of play on this issue.

  14. “… 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.” This is a beautiful, intuitive line, and I thank you for it. While the violence is never justified, I can’t help but feel that the people who commit these acts have been screaming inside for a long time over what they consider to be the evils of society, often repeated targeting and bullying without a pleasant social network to remind them that there are good people. I suspect that eventually they come to the warped perspective that there is either no good in humanity or not enough to justify any particular human’s right to life. Targeting someone because they wear a trench coat, are quiet or shy, or have difficulty fitting in for whatever reason won’t stop atrocious acts from happening. Being a pleasant person, standing up for those being bullied and rejected, extending a helping hand, and suspending judgment of those who seem different might could help keep some from being pushed over the edge.

  15. Madmother says:

    My compassionate child IS my child on the spectrum. My empathetic child IS my son on the spectrum. My patient, forgiving, loving child IS my boy on the spectrum.

    And so, as my SON who has Asperger Syndrome has taught me, I will forgive this man’s sad, misguided comments. And hope it is just a misuse or misrepresentation of his words, and not what he truly believes.

  16. Very few autistic people are criminally insane, which is surprising given the abuse and social rejection to which we are subjected throughout our lives. The man needs to add NPD and other psychopathies to his conceptual range to improve his guesses about lone gunmen.

    Were there no guns available to society in general, there would be no gunmen. Perhaps if manufacturers were to be fined heavily for every murder perpetrated with their guns or ammunition, they would turn from making products designed to kill people at a distance to making something good and beneficial to the human race.

  17. Wow. When I read the first few lines, I couldn’t help but shake my head and feel scared for people with autism who will be affected by this statement. It’s ridiculous how people think they’re experts… it hurts so many of us as well. Can you imagine if this scaremongering hits schools or colleges…where kids with autism can be shunned even more because of the assumption they’re dangerous?
    The media won’t call the shooter a terrorist. The media then brings autism into it. I’m so angry now.

  18. Patti Van Burkleo says:

    The more I think about this, the madder I get! I expressed my anger on their web page. I watch this show at times. What is surprising is that Scarborough has an adult child with Asperger’s or so I read. Confounding. Two weeks ago, one of his analysts called Obama “a d**k” – didn’t get shut down by 7 second delay. Anyway, parents were complaining that since they watched, so did their kids. Halperin suspended. Hope kids were not listening today. Get an executive producer or a grown up over there.

  19. Lisa says:

    Very well stated. I hope he listens to your wise words.

  20. parentsfriend says:

    Any time someone says “These people” you know the narrowness of their minds. Thank you for speaking out.

  21. Patti Van Burkleo says:

    As morning shows go…..I liked….liked. What an a**……write MSNBC and tell them!

  22. You just summed up perfectly how I feel about this entire thing. I am so disheartened by this man’s connecting Autism to this heinous crime. I really hope he retracts his very damaging comments.

  23. Autismville says:

    Very well said!! Thank you!

  24. Grammy Kaye says:

    He said WHAT?????? I am furious!!! To even suggest that my tenderhearted, loving, kind, caring, PRECIOUS grandson is predisposed to violence because of his autism is absolutely preposterous and insulting!!!! So in addition to misunderstanding him, finding him peculiar, questioning his intelligence and disapproving of his behavior, now people are suppposed to fear him, too. This man owes the entire autistic community a public apology. What an idiot.

  25. Nancy Naylor says:

    I think you are a beacon of common sense! Every time I read you posts I think “Wow! That’s what I think, but I never could have expressed it so well.” I hope Joe Scarborough heeds your advice!

  26. Jim Reeve says:

    Too often people like that say inappropriate comments about people who have autism. Which is why I don’t get too upset when one does. I just feel pity for both them and their families. Because with an attitude like that, what type of role model is he for his kids? And if an autistic person had the world listening, I’m sure they wouldn’t talk about all the stupid “normal” people, which there are plenty of.

    • outoutout says:

      I think the reason people are getting upset is that it’s not just some Joe Schmo off the street making “inappropriate comments” – it’s Morning Joe. When someone is a public figure, broadcasting to an audience of millions, many of whom have absolutely no idea what Autism is, it’s a whole different ballgame.

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