OK, I am going to step into this post-Connecticut-shooting-debate and then try, God willing, to step out.
There’s plenty of buzz about the need for mental health resources as part of stopping such horrors before they happen. I agree with that to an extent, but not all things “mental” are “mental illness.”
The killer in Connecticut is described as having tendencies on the autism spectrum. Maybe so. But that’s not the stuff that makes mass murder. Autism is not a “mental illness” like paranoid schizophrenia. In layman’s terms (my native language),
autism is a disorder that impacts how one processes and responds to reality: it does not put one out of touch with reality. That is a big difference.
Bekah Cheppenko, Mrs. South Dakota, was on the local radio today. The interviewer asked about her support for autism research and care, but referred to autism as a “mental illness.” Mrs. Cheppenko was gracious but stated clearly that autism is a neurological, developmental disorder. It’s not “mental illness” as that should be understood for purposes of societal intervention.
We had an incident years ago in which our autistic kid became frustrated because a computer froze up and I couldn’t do anything to fix it. He grabbed a rope dog toy off the floor and started beating me with it. It is an awful memory, but I hope you can see that he was not out of touch with reality – not “mentally ill.” He was frustrated, there was a clear reason for it, but his response was wrong (to say the least).
Yes, he lacked empathy and impulse control. So do lots of “normal” people. Lots of “normal” kids have tantrums; lots of boyfriends don’t pick up on the hurt feelings of girlfriends; lots of girls keep throwing themselves at the same loser guys because their emotions get wacky if they “don’t have a man.” But autistic people, immature kids, dense guys and dumb girls aren’t wandering the streets, looking for rope toys with which to beat passing strangers that they perceive as demons. Mishandling reality is not the same as detaching from it.
Autistic people require lots of coaching, structured therapeutic and learning activities, and sometimes medications. Less seriously, bratty “normal” kids can get a swat on the butt and/or denied the toy of their craving. Insensitive guys can get dumped; serially used girls can get a clue. Sure, some cases are harder than others, and there are community implications of some behaviors and needs. But lumping them all under “mental illness” is a mistake.
Our son no longer beats on me with dog toys. That’s due to patient work by mom and dad, some medication by a very conservative psychiatrist who is as ready to reduce or remove a med as to order one, behavioral training in schools and community programs, and, in all honesty, a couple of hard (and well deserved) tackles by his big brother. He’s learned more appropriate ways to engage reality, such as griping and moaning when frustrated. Or taking up some other activity when the one he’s at isn’t satisfying.
If you’re looking at autism to explain the Connecticut massacre, you are going to be frustrated. So look somewhere else for your answers. Don’t make me confiscate your dog toys.