Last Friday, the unimaginable events that transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary School forever changed our society and left our nation mourning for the unnecessary loss of so many young lives. As a network, we offer our deepest sympathies to the families of Sandy Hook. As a community, we are heartbroken.
As a nation, we must now collectively seek a cause for these events and subsequently address the complex issues that lead to such tragedies. However, we cannot stress enough, the importance that the media, public and our elected officials approach these issues with the level of thoughtful, evidence-based care that they deserve.
In the wake of this tragedy, the media has erroneously and repeatedly reported a link between Autism Spectrum Disorders and planned violence. The Autism Program of Illinois, the nation’s largest collaborative statewide network of autism resources and services in the nation, joins our colleagues nationwide in calling upon the media to exercise restraint in their reporting and to protect the 1 in 88 young Americans with ASDs, who are among the most vulnerable in our society.
Unfortunately, this is the second event in recent months in which the media has made statements without evidence, linking ASDs to planned violence. Following the tragic shootings in Aurora, Colorado, the host of a show on MSNBC claimed that the shooter displayed characteristics of an individual with autism. In that instance, other media outlets were quick to condemn those statements and report that the shooter did not have an Autism Spectrum Disorder.
In recent days, our communities’ most outspoken advocates and the nation’s leading medical professionals have unequivocally stated that there is no evidence that Autism Spectrum Disorders are linked to planned violence and that there is a clear distinction between developmental disabilities and mental illness.
Unfortunately, the mere mention of Autism Spectrum Disorder in reference to any such tragic event, threatens to unravel decades of public awareness efforts by government agencies, medical experts, service providers and advocacy groups to better educate Americans on the signs, symptoms and treatment for ASDs. Now, more than ever, the autism community needs to increase our efforts to provide critical supports for individuals on the spectrum and work harder to educate the public about the true characteristics of, and challenges faced by, the children and families we serve.
In the coming weeks, The Autism Program of Illinois will reasses our community outreach and public awareness efforts to help address the additional need for public education about autism. Working together with our partners, parents and organizations nationwide, our community will overcome these misperceptions and will heighten awareness of the epidemic that now affects 1 in 88 children, including more than 30,000 children in Illinois.