SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: I’m Worried That People Will Think I’m Dangerous Because of My Autism

Hello, Auntie.

I attend a university half an hour from Parkland, where the recent school shooting occurred. The tragic event made me anxious not only because it hit even closer to home than the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando (I live in Broward County), but also because the shooter in question is autistic just like me. (I’m an Aspie, which is a nickname for people with Asperger’s syndrome.) Now I’m scared to death of being stigmatized by my classmates for sharing the same disorder with Nikolas Cruz, even though psychologists and reporters have cautioned people against minting autism and violence on the same coin.

After the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, after reporters revealed that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s syndrome, I spiraled into anxiety because, since I was a senior year in high school at the time, I was scared that other students were going to start treating me the same way everybody treated Muslims after 9/11: like crap. Being bullied for maintaining a high GPA without effort was bad enough, but I didn’t wanna be punished for a mass murder that I wasn’t involved in. Thankfully, that didn’t happen, but that didn’t stop me from taking anti-anxiety pills (which I kinda needed to cope with my high school’s transition from the 4×4 block schedule to the Straight 7 schedule that school year, anyhow).

Now, five years and two months later, the savage mass murder of over a dozen students and three teachers by the guy who got expelled from the same school for displaying homicidal tendencies is calling me to task (again) because I’m autistic. The professors, friends, and loved ones whom I’ve disclosed my autism to know that I’m the sweetest, most hard-working girl they ever met, and I haven’t behaved in any manner that suggests otherwise. Some of my classmates, on the other hand, might blame autism for the massacre the first chance my professors begin the discussion, given today’s hellish political climate. Do I have to get up in front of the class and explain that autism and violence are non-symbiotic, therefore I don’t pose a threat to anyone?


And to be perfectly honest, Sparkler, I’m surprised you even had to ask—because the answer to this question is right there in your letter. You should know better than anyone that you don’t have to worry about being held accountable for the bad acts of other autistic people, no? As you yourself pointed out, this same exact horrible thing has happened before, five years ago in Newtown. And despite your fears, nobody blamed you for that mass shooting, either.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that other members of a group never get some blowback when one of them does something terrible—for no other reason than that traumatized people have a tendency to lash out in search of someone to blame. That happens after any tragedy, whether it’s a shooting or a car crash or a freak playground accident. And in the wake of Parkland, people have pointed fingers at everything from mental illness to the patriarchy to the FBI to the Trump administration (although thanks to the advocacy of brave students, it’s the NRA and politicians supported by it who are really bearing the brunt of our national outrage).

The thing is, the finger-pointing is neither rational or predictable, which makes it pointless to fret about someone pointing the finger at you until or unless it actually happens. And that’s especially true when there are other, more important things to worry about… like, y’know, the fact that seventeen kids just died for absolutely no reason. Your fear of being stigmatized for sharing certain characteristics with the shooter is understandable, but I can’t urge you enough to stop fixating on it—not just because it’s unproductive, but because you run the risk of making yourself look incredibly insensitive to an actual, horrific loss of life. Please have the perspective to recognize that this tragedy is not about you, okay?

Meanwhile, placing your focus on the victims of the shooting isn’t just more appropriate, but it’ll also demonstrate to anyone paying attention that your sympathies are in the right place. If you’re concerned about being associated with the shooter, there’s no better way to distance yourself than by advocating for the people he hurt—and it’ll give you something better to do than wring your hands over an imagined bad outcome that hasn’t happened, and probably won’t.

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