By Guest Blogger Scott Badesch, Autism Society President
Our hearts are broken for the community of Newtown, Connecticut, where 26 innocent people, including young children, were killed during a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School last December. What happened that day is an unimaginable tragedy difficult for all of us to digest, and we join the nation in mourning these terrible events.
When tragedies happen by the hand of one individual, those of us in the autism community tend to have a somewhat shared response: we fearfully anticipate speculations that the aggressor had an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Making autism a part of these stories threatens to stigmatize the nearly 2 million people with ASD in the United States alone.
Autism is likely never the cause of premeditated violence. A 2012 study found there to be no more prevalence of premeditated violence in the autism population than in the general population. The exception, the study noted, was that co-morbidities, separate conditions occurring along with the autism, may increase the risk of violence.
In 2008, a study looked at cases in which an individual with Asperger’s Syndrome committed an offending behavior. The researchers found that in the majority of cases the offender had a coexisting psychiatric disorder.
Studies also show that individuals with autism are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. It’s also suggested that injurious behavior in individuals with autism is often in response to threat or frustration from the environment.
Not only do these studies quickly dispel a link between autism and planned violence, they also highlight a nationwide crisis – the fact that people with ASD often have little access to help. While continuing to mourn the tragic events at Sandy Hook, the Autism Society would like to turn the conversation from blame and speculation, to appropriate diagnosis, supports and services for people with ASD.
Research shows that early intervention for children with ASD drastically improves outcomes. But individuals and their families continue to lack access to early intervention and other services they need, due to a variety of factors, including affordability, availability and location of these services. Ask any parent seeking help for a son or daughter, and you will hear about the difficulty of getting services and support.
But lack of early intervention access isn’t the only problem that needs attention. Children with special needs grow up, and they need appropriate educational programs that nurture their transition to independence in adulthood.
The solution to fixing a broken mental health system does not fall on the government alone, nor can the government bear the blame for our current problems. A true solution falls on society – religious and human service leaders, elected officials, educators and families living with individuals with special needs.
The Autism Society stands ready to help, and we are asking for your assistance as well. This is my call to action to all of you: please share information, including the facts about autism (which you can always find on our website, www.autism-society.org), with your family and friends, local schools and online networks. Direct those in need to AutismSource™– the Autism Society’s online resource directory that offers a nationwide listing of autism-related services and supports. You can also get involved with local programs that help families and individuals living with ASD. We hope you will join us in our fight, so that everyone living with ASD has a chance to live a meaningful life.
The father of a young adult with autism, Scott Badesch was appointed as the President of the Autism Society in July 2011. Mr. Badesch joined the Autism Society’s national office in 2010 as Senior Vice President of Development and Operations. Previously, Badesch served as President and CEO of the Autism Society of North Carolina. He has more than 30 years of experience working with nonprofit organizations, particularly in fundraising, chapter outreach, advocacy and public policy and transformation of organizations.