A couple of weeks ago I received a telephone call from a mother who was recently visited by local law enforcement and the FBI. This mother was clearly frightened as she related the horror of being intimidated by the FBI because her son was seen on Facebook with a toy gun. She cried and wept about how she felt by this awful experience. Her son attends high school in a metro Atlanta school system. According to the mother, he is a bright student. He has not been a behavior problem nor has he threatened others. Yet, he was singled out by law enforcement as a potential threat to others at school. The FBI agent told the mother to remove the Facebook page of her son and to remove any guns, weapons and ammunition from her home. Why? Because the FBI believed that her son with a diagnosis of Asperger’s could be potentially violent to students and staff at school. He based this opinion upon the shooter at Newton, Connecticut that killed 20 innocent school children.
We still do not know much the shooter in Newton. We know he was twenty-one years of age and lived with his mother. According to a few witnesses in the community, the shooter had a diagnosis of Asperger’s. But we do not know this for a fact. We also do not have any verification or concrete information that the shooter had a diagnosis of a mentally illness. Nonetheless, the public, law enforcement, media and others have erroneously equated Asperger’s Disorder with a mental illness. For this reason, there is a perception that an individual with Asperger’s is now considered “dangerous.” There is no scientific evidence, however, that an individual with Asperger’s is a greater risk of harming others than the average person.
The lesson and message from this experience is that students with Asperger’s Disorder, in particular, may be the target of suspicion, bullying, and over-reaction by peers and educators just because they have this diagnosis. It is terrible that students with Asperger’s have to suffer from the stigma of this disorder and its symptoms. But to add insult to injury and lump such students into a stereotype of being potentially dangerous to others is totally unwarranted. We must educate our family, friends, educators, administrators, the public and the media that Asperger’s is not a mental illness and individuals with this disorder are not inherently or intrinsically dangerous to anyone at school. To the contrary, many students with Asperger’s are more likely to be bullied and taunted at school because of their lack of social cues.
What has been your experience or knowledge of children with Asperger’s? Does your experience and knowledge of such children warrant that they should become the pariahs of the school system and should be watched closely because they may become violent at school? What can we do about it?