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Ann Bauer on autism, violence

April 2nd, 2009

Ann Bauer on autism, violence | Salon Life

The monster inside my son
For years I thought of his autism as beautiful and mysterious. But when he turned unspeakably violent, I had to question everything I knew.

By Ann Bauer

I scan the story while standing, my coffee forgotten. Trudy Steuernagel, a faculty member in political science at Kent State, has been murdered and her 18-year-old son, Sky, has been arrested and charged with the crime, though he is profoundly disabled and can neither speak nor understand. Sky, who likes cartoons and chicken nuggets, apparently lost control and beat his mother into a coma. He was sitting in jail when she died.

This happens to be two days after my older son’s 21st birthday, which we marked behind two sets of locked steel doors. I’m exhausted and hopeless and vaguely hung over because Andrew, who has autism, also has evolved from sweet, dreamy boy to something like a golem: bitter, rampaging, full of rage. It happened no matter how fiercely I loved him or how many therapies I employed.

Now, reading about this Ohio mother, there is a moment of slithering nausea and panic followed immediately by a sense of guilty relief.

I am not alone.

This is a profoundly disturbing story. I feel great sympathy for anyone who is a victim of family violence. That’s a given. But this is not an article about family violence. It is an article about autism. And that people with autism become dangerous, and should be locked up. Others say that people with Autism should be subject to therapies that will render them more social, sometimes even recommending electric shocks.

And people wonder why I never got myself assessed when I was a teen? Well, I had a wise teacher named Michael who took me aside and counseled me that it would be better to work on trying to pass as neurotypical than… well, I won’t go into that now. Anyway, it was a success, and through choosing my education very carefully, and being lucky enough to have good mentors, I am where I am.

I feel that, and I’m no expert, that the attempts to normalize people with autism is a ticking time bomb that will explode one way or another. Why wouldn’t that happen when you disrupt the way someone wants to interact with the world and ‘train’ them to model appropriate practice? The best way to cause someone to explode is to wrap them up tight, put them under stress and give them no way to release that pressure. Voila.

The notion that it would be better to have cancer rather than autism is particularly sad to hear, and personally threatening. I can see what Michael was saying when he said don’t get an assessment… that it is worse than cancer. My brother died of cancer. Died in my arms. And we did bone marrow transplants and lots of blood products sharing. So I know what that’s like.

The conclusions of the article are compassionate, “Our adult son’s behavior could be the outcome of living daily in a world where everything hurts and nothing makes sense.” and “Autism does not always equal violence. But I do believe there may be a tragic, blameless relationship.”

So the over all sense of the article is that people who are autistic must be watched for signs… whereas I wonder if there isn’t a relationship between how neurotypical people treat people with autism and violence. If you want to push someone over the edge, and need advice, perhaps the people to ask are those trying to normalize autistic individuals so that they can fit in.

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